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Monday, July 4, 2016

Marital.... and Post Marital Freedom


Some people who seek a divorce do so in pursuit of freedom.  They have felt locked into a bad relationship, prohibited by their marriage from being all they could be, tied down to a life that is miserable and suffocating.  They long to be free from the entanglements, free to be their own person making their own decisions, free to live their lives however they choose, without being encumbered by a spouse who no longer shares their values and dreams.  And divorce is the best way to freedom, right?

For those struggling in a bad marriage, viewing divorce from the outside the possibility of a divorce on the horizon, it certainly appears to provide a lot of freedom.  There are, indeed, freedoms that come through divorce.  I remember some of them from my time of post-divorce singleness.  I had the freedom to sleep on the couch if I wanted and stay up watching television, or go to bed early.  I could make a 2:00 run to the all night supermarket if I chose.  I selected which movies I might go watch, what sports events to attend, what kind of car to buy or home to live in (within budget constraints), whether to do dishes in the evening or the next morning, and arrange my schedule or spend my money according to my own priorities as I saw fit without obligation to consult anyone else.  I could go where I wanted, when I wanted, with whom I wanted, and had to explain my choices to no one.  

After divorce, one becomes free from daily interactions with a spouse with whom those interactions had become difficult or adversarial.  If physical, emotional or verbal abuse were part of the marriage, there can be freedom from the daily suffering associated with that abuse.  This kind of freedom can certainly help with one’s sanity or physical safety. 

But there is another side to the issue that might be described as the hidden underbelly of divorce, for which the word “freedom” does not seem appropriate. 

For instance, after divorce my finances were my own to manage…subject of course, to court decrees which first divided them between my ex and myself, and for many, the decrees also entail regular withdrawals to cover child support or alimony payments.  There may also be other court-mandated financial requirements, such as continuing to provide health or life insurance for the ex, or making payments on bills that have been divided between the two of you, or a required back payment for some kind of restitution in the form of garnishment.  So the divorced individual is free to deal with his or her money as they choose, as long as it is done within the confines of the court’s invasion of one’s financial privacy and control!

Another example is that in an intact family, both parents have unfettered access to their children and the children’s events.  That free access also suffers the invasive actions of the court as it seeks to establish some kind of equity of access to children between the two divorcing parents.  More often than not, one party or the other finds their parenting access severely curtailed, often to every other weekend and a longer summer visit, though in practice even that time can fall apart over time.  To complicate matters, with divorces in which there was some kind of abuse, restraining orders restricting contact with the ex may be in place which end up also impairing free contact with children at even public events.  Holidays are also divided, resulting in the freedom, for example, to celebrate Christmas Day with your children every other year and between certain assigned hours.  Within those court ordered restrictions, the divorced spouse is free to attempt to effectively parent their own children.

Then, of course, there is also the freedom from the ongoing hassles of a daily relationship with a difficult spouse.  Most of us have heard stories or seen movies about individuals divorcing to escape from abusive relationships, only to find themselves living in fear and hunted by an angered abuser, sometimes even losing their lives because of it.  Certainly not the freedom expected when the divorce was filed!  In some cases, the ex may not go to those extremes, but may choose to continually harass through letters, emails, phone calls, visits to the home or other annoying behaviors.  Restraining orders may be filed to prevent this, but making those orders have the impact intended is not such an easy process.  Though the abuse may be curtailed, often one is not entirely free from ongoing hassles.

Even short of that, when children’s lives and schedules are to be dealt with, the difficult spouse may turn out to become an adversarial ex who no longer has incentive to compromise or has become focused on self-serving interests, and what was once a difficult relationship turns into an impossible situation.  Though the court may order that you have opportunity to spend Father’s Day or Mother’s Day with your children, the residential spouse may choose to make other arrangements for the day, leaving you with no recourse but to file contempt charges that have no real impact in the form of consequences for the offending spouse.  So though one is free from the daily hassles with the spouse, there may linger ongoing interactions that are just as difficult if not worse, even if on a more occasional basis.  

Lastly, let me suggest that there also exists an entanglement of an internal or emotional nature.  The soured relationship of the past may haunt divorcees in interactions with others in the future, as they overreact to simple statements or actions of other people who, with the best of intentions, may have innocently stumbled into a painful memory.  There may be a lingering heartache over a failed marriage that impacts one’s sense of self-worth or remains a deep hurt in one’s heart for many years to come.  One may go on in life seeking to move forward freely, but the individual may not have come to grips with all the emotional impact of the past, resulting in a life cluttered with current reactions to past events.  An example might be that one might decide that if he or she remarries, it will never be to a person who keeps house the way a former spouse did.  As a result, every new person is judged not on his or her own merits, but on a scale based on the actions of a former spouse.  Rather than choosing freely a future, the individual is living in opposition to the past.  Emotional freedom requires intentional, serious introspective work and healing.

I believe that all freedom is within appropriate boundaries, rather than the anarchical notion some mistakenly call freedom.  And I believe that true freedom is only found when the boundaries are those established by God, rather than the whims of society or one’s personal preference.  (Hence, Jesus’ statement in John 8:36—“So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” NASB)  This kind of freedom can be realized within even a bad marriage that finds renewed hope, or it may be found in working through the aftermath of divorce with the help of God.  But make no mistake, the “freedom” so often perceived as the promise of divorce is not nearly as free, and certainly not as automatic, as some would hope.  If you are a person choosing to divorce, make sure that you have a realistic view of what you are about to do, rather than assume it is the panacea that will heal all ills.  And find your real freedom in Christ, not in unrealistic expectations of divorce, which leaves lots of entanglements and ragged edges behind.

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