The Pain of Divorce and Remarriage in a Beer Commercial?

The Heineken Beer holiday commercial below “taps” into a sad reality for many families: divorce and “remarriage.”

In these situations, most of the focus is on the happiness of the couple, with little to no attention paid to the effects on the children involved. For children, it typically means being shuttled between two different “homes” on a regular basis. They also must endure the pain and awkwardness of seeing their parents dating and possibly “marrying” others. As their parents set down the cross in order to pursue “personal happiness,” the children must shoulder it.

Even when the children of divorce become adults, much of the suffering continues. Not only are the emotional wounds still present, but the logistics of dealing with blended families present many challenges.

Leila Miller has explored these and other issues in her excellent book:  Primal Loss: The Now Adult Children of Divorce Speak.

As for this commercial, it is lighthearted in its representation of the oddities, but it is ultimately a sad commentary.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard:

The Carnage of Divorce

divorceAlmost two decades ago, as a younger priest, I remember trying to save a marriage. Sadly, by the second counseling session I concluded that the couple really had no intention of trying to save the marriage. Rather, they were looking to me to assuage their guilt and to console them by telling them they were really “doing the right thing,” that God wanted them to be happy and would not mind if they divorced. I could do no such thing.

At a critical moment the couple said, in effect, “We are really doing this for the sake of the children. We don’t want them to suffer with all of our bickering.” To which I replied, “Then stop the bickering!” As they looked at me incredulously, I went on to urge them to get whatever help they needed to work through their differences. I insisted that God hates divorce and that divorce is not good for children; reconciliation is what they want and need.

Realizing that they were not going to get the approval and consolation they sought, the couple ended the session and did not return. They finalized their divorce. Their three children went on to be subject to things far worse than bickering: being carted around to different households on weekends, meeting Dad’s new girlfriend, accepting a stepdad, always secretly wishing that Mom and Dad would love each other again.

I thought of that story (and others like it) as I was reading this book, published in May: Primal Loss: The Now Adult Children of Divorce Speak, by Leila Miller. It should be required reading for anyone who thinks that divorce is “good thing” for their children—or even for them.

Consider the following passage from the book, in which a woman writes of suffering through her parent’s divorce during her youth:

My grandparents’ generation had to deal with a lot — war, undiagnosed PTSD, and alcoholism—but they had a noble idea: That you sacrificed your own happiness for your children’s well-being. You took on all the heartache so they didn’t have to. …

My parent’s generation inverted that. They decided it was better a child should have her world torn apart than that an adult should bear any suffering. Of course, they didn’t frame it that way. They wanted to believe that the child would suffer less, because children were just extensions of the mother, and the mother would theoretically be happier [p. 131].

It is shocking logic, but widespread in our culture. Indeed, the whole conversation about marriage today is about adults and what makes them happy; children are something of an afterthought. Marriage is said to be about romance, being happy, and “finding a soulmate.” But if one asks a couple about having children, a common response is, “Oh sure, that too. We’ll probably have a kid or two … when we’re ready.” Children are seen more as a way of accessorizing the marriage, as an “add-on” rather than the essential work of a marriage.

Yet the biblical and traditional understanding of marriage has its entire structure made sensible by its central work: procreation and the subsequent raising of the children. That a man and a woman should enter a stable, lifelong union makes sense because that is what is necessary and best for children. Marriage is about children and has its very structure directed toward what is best for them. Physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually, a child is best raised by a father and a mother who are stably present and who manifest the masculine and feminine genius of being human. To intentionally subject children to anything less or anything different does them an injustice.

The divorce culture casts this aside and insists that marriage is about adults and what makes them happy. If there are children in the picture, don’t worry, they’ll adjust; kids are resilient. Or so the thinking goes.

Leila Miller has done a wonderful service in showing that children are not so resilient after all. In fact, even long after attaining adulthood, these victims of their parents’ divorces still suffer painful and lasting effects. Ms. Miller interviewed 70 adult children of divorce and let them speak for themselves.

Many were surprised that anyone was interested or even cared about what they thought or had experienced. One of the more common experiences shared was a “we’re not going to talk about the divorce” mentality. Never mind the awkwardness of Mom and Dad marrying others. We’re supposed to go along with the drastic changes and be delighted, happily accept new siblings, and call some man “Dad” (or some woman “Mom”) who really isn’t. We want to make sure that no one’s feelings get hurt, so we’re all going to be nice and pleasant. The unspoken message in this is that the feelings of the children matter less and must be sacrificed so that others—mainly adults—can be happy and “get on with their lives.”

Some who have read this book say, “Finally, someone understands.” Or “Wow, that’s just how I feel!” The powerful, articulate testimonies in it will help those who had to live through divorce to name and understand their own hurts and feelings, not merely so as to brood or to reopen old wounds, but to the bring them to the light and seek deeper healing.

I cannot recommend this book enough. It is a healing for those who have suffered and, I pray, a strong medicine to prevent divorce. As Christians, let’s remember that God designed marriage to be what is best for children. The truest happiness any father or mother can find will be the knowledge that they made the sacrifices necessary to be sure that their children were raised well and prepared for life here, and even more, for eternal life.

Disclaimer: Not everyone who is divorced came to be so in the same way. Some tried hard to save their marriage but their spouse was unwilling. Others came to conversion later in life. Still others were physically endangered during the marriage. This essay is not to be construed as a general condemnation of all who are divorced. Rather, it is a heartfelt plea that amidst today’s divorce culture we count the full cost of divorce and that we remember that marriage is first and foremost about what is best for children.

Measuring Divorce Rates is More Difficult. But whatever the measure, Practicing Catholics Fare Better.

Feature-102813It would seem that figuring the divorce rate would be a rather simple thing. But like most sociological phenomena, there are many complicating factors (especially today when even simple definitions are breaking down). But however you measure divorce, it would seem that practicing Catholics fare far finer than any other group, believer or non-believer.

I recently read a CARA (Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate) study and would like to share a few thoughts from it. The fuller commentary by Mark Gray is over at the CARA blog here: Divorce Still Less Likely Among Catholics

First, the question arises as to how best to measure the divorce “rate.” There have been several methods used over the years, some of which have lost accuracy since fewer and fewer people are ever getting married in the first place. Hence, some problems have arisen in referencing traditional divorce measures:

Problem 1 – The “Crude rate” numbers have become skewed.  The “crude rate” is the total number of divorces in a year per 1,000 of the population. But the problem with this number is that the number and percentage of Americans who are married has dropped significantly in the past thirty years. In the 1970s nearly three-quarters of the adult population was married. In 2012, only 52% of U.S. adults were married. Quite a remarkable drop that we have commented on before on this blog.

And thus, the crude marriage rate in 2011 was 6.8 new marriages per 1,000 of the U.S. population. And the number of divorces that same year were 3.6 per 1,000 of the U.S. population (so the “divorce rate” using this statistic was that 53% marriages failed).

Note however, in the 1980s this measure peaked above 5 per 1,000. Now this makes it seem that the divorce rate has dropped (from 5 to 3.6). But that is illusive since the number of Americans getting married at all has dropped dramatically. Which such a dramatic social shift, the “crude divorce rate” provides only a snapshot in time, but is no longer very helpful in comparing to previous decades.

Problem 2 – The Divorce  rate or “percentage” compares two unrelated numbers. Thus to use the 2011 data from above, we see that the divorce rate was 53%. But that is a rather inaccurate way of putting it, since the number of marriages and divorces in any single year are for the most part unrelated. It is rare that people marry and divorce in the same year.

Thus, the divorces in any given year are accumulated from marriages that took place any and varied number of years ago in the past. Thus, one number (the divorces filed in 2011) is an accumulated number and the other number, (the number of marriages in 2011), is data for just one year.

To say that “half of all marriages in 2011 failed” does not actually address the reality of 2011, but a rather complex series of years in the past, that also includes some recent and dramatic sociological shifts that are difficult to factor in.

This does not mean that the 53% number has no meaning, only that its meaning is a little more  complicated that is usually reported.

Problem 3 – Simply Counting Divorces is ambiguous – This is for the reasons stated. Namely that so many never get married in the first place today or, get married quite a bit later in life. Without marriage you won’t ever end up in the divorce statistics. And so, simply counting how many have divorced is becoming a less meaningful number since it less often means that they have thereby been and successfully stayed married.

Thus, another common number, the number of Americans who have ever divorced, is becoming an increasingly meaningless number. It can provide a snap shot for the year, but what does in mean to say that XX% of Americans have been affected by divorce when the overall percentage of Americans ever getting married is plummeting? And even if some of those Americans are simply postponing marriage by some ten to twenty years, that still has a profound effect on how numbers can or should be interpreted.

For the record however, the percentages in 2010 of Americans who had ever been divorced are these[1]:

1. Americans in General: 26%
2. Protestants 31%
3. Other religious Affiliation 26%
4. No religious affiliation 24%
5. Catholics 20%

Thus, using this number Catholics are less likely divorce. But does this number possibly reflect other trends too, such that that Catholics are less likely to enter Holy Matrimony in the first place? It is difficult to say. We Do put more delaying tactics in place for couples that approach us for Matrimony, is that a factor? Does it have an effect on the number of Catholics not marrying or delaying marriage?

So what is the best metric to gauge the divorce rate?  Mark Gray at CARA offers that the most meaningful statistic measures the percentage of Americans who have ever married that experience a divorce. It is still just a snapshot, and does not fully exclude those who have divorced more than once,  but it does provide the most helpful view of something close to the “odds of divorce.”

If this be the case, here too, Catholics rank quite well. Here are the percentages of those who have ever been married who have experienced a divorce [2]:

1. Americans in general: 36%
2. No religious affiliation 42%
2. Protestants 39%
4. Other religious Affiliation 35%
5. Catholics 28%

So again, Catholics fare better in this second and probably most helpful divorce statistic.

There is one other statistic worth considering within the Catholic number, that further erodes the divorce rate for a Catholic. And that is that when a Catholic enters Matrimony with a Catholic, the divorce likelihood is far less than if a Catholic marries out side the faith.

102813-PopeNote the Chart from the CARA Study at left.

As will be noted, divorce is almost twice as likely when a Catholic marries a Protestant or non-believing person instead of a Catholic.

As a pastor, I notice a real difference, although my “data” is anecdotal, when the Catholic enters Matrimony with a Protestant who is devout. Frankly,  in most mixed marriages I celebrate, the Protestant is not devout or even practicing their faith to any real degree. However, in the cases where they are, I must say, the situation is often quite difficult the notions that love will simply conquer all is a conclusion that lacks sobriety for the most part.

As a general norm and experience, when a Catholic who is reasonably devout, marries a Protestant who is likewise devout, my experience tells me that there is trouble and pain ahead. I have less experience with Muslims, but the data is similar.

That said, I have also experienced that many mixed marriages (where intense devotion by the non-Catholic is not an overriding factor) are rich sources of converts. I have even seen happily, some Muslims come to the Catholic faith on account of their believing spouse.

So, bottom line, the Faith matters! Practicing Catholics, especially those who enter Matrimony with   a practicing Catholic, have significantly lower divorce rates. Of course it makes sense doesn’t it? The faith lived seeks God’s help, the power of the Sacraments, is rooted in God’s Word and teaching, insists on forgiveness as one of the highest virtues, and calls for regular self-examination in the Sacrament of Confession. Those who root their life in God are going to be more rooted themselves in the commitments they make.

The divorce rate, even among practicing Catholics is still to high. But, the solution of faith remains a strong remedy and a healing help.

What is an Annulment?

The Biblical Root of Annulments.  The Lord says this in regard to marriage: “What God has joined together, let no one divide (Mat 19:6). On the face of it, divorce and any sort of annulment is forbidden would seem forbidden by this. But actually the text serves as a basis for the Church’s allowance of annulment under certain circumstances. The text says What GOD has joined together cannot be divided.

Now just because two people stand before a Justice of the Peace, or a minister or even a priest and swear vows, does not mean that what they do is a work of God. There have to be some standards that the Church insists on for us to acknowledge that what they do is “of God.”

There are a number of impediments that can render what they do ipso facto invalid. Things such as prior bond, consanguinity, minor status, incapacity for the marriage act, and crime to obtain consent. There are others as well. Further, it is widely held that when one or both parties are compelled to enter the marriage or that they display a grave lack of due discretion on account of immaturity or poor formation, that such marriages are null on these grounds. All these are ways that the Church, using her power to bind and loose, comes to a determination that what appeared to be a marriage externally was not in fact so based on evidence. Put more biblically, the putative marriage was not “what God has joined together.”

You may ask, “Who is the Church to make such a determination?”  I answer that, “She is in fact the one to whom the Lord entrusted, through the ministry of Peter and the Bishops the power to bind and loose (Mt 18:18) and to speak in His name (Lk 10:16).

Annulments are not Divorces– A decree of nullity from the Church is a recognition, based on the evidence given, that a marriage in the Catholic and Biblical sense of the word never existed. Hence, since a person has not in fact been joined by God they are free to marry in the future. In such a case a person does not violate our Lord’s declaration that one who divorces their spouse and marries another commits adultery (cf Matt 19:9).

There are some who wonder: Are we giving too many annulments? While it is clear that the Church has some pretty clear canonical norms regarding marriage, like any norms they have to be interpreted and applied. Certain American practices and norms have evolved over the last thirty years that some question as being too permissive and thus no longer respectful of the binding nature of marital vows. I am not without my concerns that we may give too many annulments but there is nothing intrinsically flawed with the Church teaching here, concern is directed only to the prudential application of the norms.

Annulment cases vary greatly. Often it isn’t as cras as somebody coming in and saying, “Well I got rid of my first wife and have got me another I want to marry, let’s get the paperwork going Father.” It is usually far more poignant than that.

Perhaps someone married early, before they were really very serious about the faith and they married someone who abused them. Now, years later after the divorce they have found someone who is able to support them in their faith. Perhaps they met them right in the parish. Should a marriage that was in young and foolish years and lasted all of six months preclude them from entering a supportive union that looks very promising? Maybe so, some still say.

Another more common scenario is often the case where in a person shows up at RCIA who has recently found the Catholic faith and wants to enter it. However, they were married 15 years ago in a Protestant Church to their current spouse who had been married before. Now, mind you, their current marriage is strong and they have both been drawn to the Catholic Faith. They have four kids as well. What is a priest to do? Well I can tell you that this priest will help the one who needs an annulment to get it. I can tell you a lot of cases come to the Church this way. It’s hard and perhaps even unjust to say to someone like this that there is nothing the Church can do for them, they will never qualify for sacraments. No, we just don’t do that, we take them through the process for annulment.

Perhaps too another person shows up at the door, A long lost Catholic who has been away 30 years. During that time he or she did some pretty stupid stuff including getting married and divorced, sometimes more than once. Now they show up at my door in a current marriage that seems strong and helpful and which includes children. The person is in desperate need of confession and Holy Communion. What is a pastor to do? He takes them through the process of annulment to get them access to those sacraments.

So there it is. There are very grave pastoral issues on both sides. The current instinct of the Church, given the poisonous quality of the culture toward marriage is to be more willing to presume there were problems.

If you are in a second marriage, please consider contacting your parish priest. Don’t presume you’re unwanted, or can never receive the sacraments. The tribunal process isn’t that difficult and the Church stands ready to assist you.