For our overseas readers, New Zealand has a liberal divorce construct. You can divorce with less discomfort than enduring a winter cold. It is easier to break up a marriage than de-incorporate a company, or extract yourself from a business partnership. In New Zealand, the bar is so low and such is the social and legal disrespect for marriage that the State has introduced a plethora of competing variants, so that everyone can slide down the snake to the bottom of the ladder with equal facility.
So, we have social relationships called “partnerships”, “de-facto’s”, people “living together”, homosexual marriage, serial monogamy, serial polygamy, and anything else that takes your fancy. Two lesbians living together with a budgie constitute a family in New Zealand.
But more, the State will create a noun to name your preferred relationship variant, and a legal recognition of your preference faster than you can say “human right”. Each of these have their legal warrant, protections, support, and endorsement from the law, officials, politicians, the Chatterers, the Commentariat–you name it.
The State tells itself that it is being liberal, open, fair, just, non-discriminatory, and so forth. But the long, lingering anguish coupled with the human wreckage of a lifetime of regret, it has decided not to recognise, for that would cut far, far too close to the bone. It would risk confronting them with the Maker. As poet, Daniel Lanois put it:
Oh, oh, deep water
Black and cold like the night:
I stand with arms wide open
I’ve run a twisted line.
I’m a stranger in the eyes of the Maker.
Facing up to that reality must not, ever, be countenanced. We, being the Masters of our own fate, are entitled to define, refine, change, and abuse marriage as we wish. But the consequences, the long-term lingering effects, are real. “Divorce regret” is real.
There is a tiny chapel perched in the meadow above Judge’s Bay, in Parnell. White and wooden, it’s the perfect setting for a romantic summer wedding. A 10-minute drive from there, crouching low over the wind-tunnel of Albert St, is the Auckland District Court. Above the entrance, a large patch of mould is creeping down the facade to meet the New Zealand Coat of Arms.
Of the 10,000 or so couples who marry in New Zealand yearly, roughly a third will eventually end up filing the papers here, on level 6, to dissolve their marriage. Divorce has never been easier and, for marriages where abuse or genuine incompatibility is at play, shooting the horse can be the best option. But for others it’s not so straightforward: according to several British studies, upwards of 33 per cent of those who divorce will regret their decision within five years. Google “divorce regret” and you will find the internet is littered with those regretting their decision to end it. . . . [NZ Herald]
Whilst many who divorce endure a lifetime of “divorce regret”, the opposite is also true. Those marriages where the husband and wife work through their problems and issues constructively testify–in later life–how glad they are that they stuck together. They contemplate what life would have been like without their spouse and they find it difficult to conceive, let alone imagine. They have experienced that state which Adam, our first parent described as “Bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh”. No regrets. Not so, for many who have divorced:
Clinical psychologist Trish Purnell-Webb, founder of the Relationship Institute Australasia, says most of her divorced clients have to resolve their regret. Mostly regrets take the form of “Why didn’t I make more of an effort?” and “Why couldn’t I see how great they were?”
She estimates 90 per cent of the couples she sees could happily go on to have a successful relationship, providing they up-skill to overcome their individual and joint weaknesses. The other 10 per cent have genuinely made a mistake in their choice of partner.
Here is a description of what many experience after a “divorce in haste, repent in leisure” situation:
But even in marriages that are fundamentally sound, when things get tough, as they inevitably do, a proportion of people choose the quick death and perceived fresh start of divorce, rather than hanging in there for the hard slog of overcoming difficulties. . . .
One Hamilton woman, now in her 50s, says this was the case in her former marriage. They allowed, she says, the chaos of having a young family to swamp, and eventually capsize, their marriage. “That joy you have on seeing your partner come home is lost to desperately needing them to be home so they can share the load,” she says. “While there’s great happiness in having a family, it’s a lot of pressure on a relationship.”
Their marriage drifted, and in the end her husband made a stupid mistake – seeing another woman. It would be easy to blame him for their eventual divorce, but she is adamant that’s not the case. “Blame is completely out of line because you’re just as responsible,” she says. “You both got to that point. If you honestly look back at the previous time, you can see cracks.” They tried marriage guidance, but she had already checked out, even before his adultery. “You leave it until everything’s about to break.”
Divorced more than a decade, she says, “I regret not hanging in. I have lain awake, years after, in the middle of the night, woken up thinking, ‘Oh my God.'”
Christians testify that, like the great Gothic flying arch, the buttresses of their marriage is their fear and love of God. It holds their marriages together–through the toughest times. They fear doing that which God declares He hates. They also believe that God loves them, and that the Lord of heaven and earth, the Maker of all things, does not make mistakes. Their spouse is ultimately God’s choice for them for their good.
Unbelief has no such buttresses to marriage. When the world advises and whispers incessantly, “It’s better to be free” and when our social authorities long ago dismissed marriage as an institution not worthy of the least respect, many have swallowed the lies (doubtless willingly, for it was what they wanted to hear at the time). But the consequences are often devastating: “I regret not hanging in. I have lain awake, years after, in the middle of the night, woken up thinking, ‘Oh my God.'”
The poet should have the last word on that Hamilton woman’s cry of dereliction:
I could not see
For the fog in my eyes;
I could not feel
For the fear in my life.
And from across the great divide
In the distance I saw a light
Of John Baptist
Walking to me with the Maker.
My body, my body is bent
And broken by long and dangerous sleep.
I can’t work the fields of Abraham
And turn my head away;
I’m not a stranger in the hands of the Maker.
Brother John, have you seen
The homeless daughters,
Standing here with broken wings?
I have seen the flaming swords
There over East of Eden.
Burning in the eyes of the Maker
Burning in the eyes of the Maker
Burning in the eyes of the Maker.
Oh, river rise from your sleep.