Shock Waves of Divorce

Just found this on the Smart Marriages website. I thought it was a good article about the broad ranging effects of divorce. I am inspired to keep trying to help marriages, but puzzled how to convince people that divorce is no easy road out of pain.

Sunday Reflections: Shockwaves of Divorce Slam Entire Family
Sunday, June 1, 2008
By Tracey O’Shaughnessy

Last night, my brother told his son that he is getting a divorce. It was the conversation he had dodged and choked on, the inevitability he had hoped to defer or evade.

Whenever he came near the subject, he saw himself 35 years before, weeping into my mother’s chenille robe, begging her to tell him that the rumors — my father’s flight, his irreversible departure — were not true. He saw the hedges going untrimmed, the shingles on the house rotting and then falling off, the basement ruined by an incontinent dog, the illusion of family bliss irremediably shattered.

And in spite of all these ghosts, my brother had come to the same conclusion his father had: He could no longer live in the same house with his wife.

I wish I could say I was sanguine about this decision, or that I stood resolutely at my brother’s side, supporting him in every barbed assault and eviscerating invective. The truth is, I was shamefully equivocal about the whole thing. To be a child of divorce is one burden. To watch another unfold is an acute form of torture, laced with poisonous memories. Misery to an adult is comprehensible, and even soluble. To a child, it is merely cruel and incomprehensible.

Nevertheless, my brother was resolute. As his sister, I am bound by blood to support him — even if it meant distancing me from a sister-in-law I loved.

Divorce has become so common in American society that it is often viewed as just another pothole on the highway of contemporary life. So common are its features — the single-parent household, the divorced-dad condos, the joint-custody juggling act — that divorce has been declawed. The sidelong glances and collective shunning that my parents endured when they divorced in the early 1970s has been replaced by a collective shrug. Today , we have books about “The Starter Marriage,” as if the implosion of a first marriage is inevitable.

Statistics bear this out. Nearly 43 percent of marriages in the U.S. end in divorce, the federal government reports. The first years of a marriage are particularly vulnerable ones; one in three first marriages end within 10 years and one in five within 5 years. Today, a married couple with children is the exception rather than the norm.

There should be safety in numbers — or at least some semblance of solace.
Divorce shouldn’t hurt my brother and sister-in-law as much as it does. But it is hurting them acutely and perhaps irremediably, largely because they are both children of divorce and intimately acquainted with its cruelty.

When my brother’s chocolate brown eyes meet the wounded, familiar eyes of his 6-year-old son, the anguish is exquisitely familiar. It is, in fact, unbearable.

Unlike a marriage, divorce is excruciatingly lonely. Marriage, with its lavish drama and celebratory rituals, is lavish with witnesses and supporters. It’s easy to forget that the reason we squeeze into uncomfortable, dazzling clothes and embrace a couple exchanging intimate assertions of fidelity, is to support and sustain their pledge.

So, when a couple unravels so fabulously, it is easy for family members like myself to feel a wee bit guilty.

It has not gone unnoticed by my family that my brother and sister-in-law have spent thousands of dollars on professional advice in an attempt to keep their marriage alive. I often wonder where the rest of us were during these pricey therapy sessions. Certainly, geography and employment have flung us into disparate quarters. But I remember my grandmother’s quiet assertion that there was nothing that couldn’t be solved with a cup of tea, a kitchen table and a little forbearance.

When my grandmother had inevitable travails with her volatile Irish husband, her sister Ruthie would come “up the house” for a cup of tea and sympathy.
In the end, it was mended. It was not perfect, but it was endurable. Today, things seem less endurable, perhaps because the choices are too robust, or perhaps because children of fractious marriages will not tolerate such chronic irascibility in their own lives.

Oh, for a few Aunt Ruths, in their polyester pantsuits and sensible shoes.
Heaven knows how many marriages they saved.

I, alas, saved none, in spite of my fervid entreaties. Now I am left to figure out how to sustain my beloved and bedraggled brother, my shattered and confused nephew and a sister-in-law I am supposed to excise from my life. It will be less of a struggle for me, than for him, to be sure. But a divorce’s effect on a family is not limited to the couple whose marriage imploded. It sends shock waves throughout a fragile web, ripples that are deep and tenacious, and whose end is unknown.

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