Marriage and Divorce



Diocese of Badulla

Customarily, when a man and a woman marry there is a celebration. It may be a very expensive feasting with much merry-making or a very modest one; but there is always, as there should be, a celebration because getting married is very special to the marrying couple, and they want to share their happiness with their closest relatives and good friends. It is all as it should be. All those present wish them well, that their married life be happy, fruitful and long lasting.

When exchanging marriage promises, no one says "I am accepting you as my husband/wife for a temporary period", but they all say "I will love you for the rest of my life." They look forward to a life of marital bliss and happiness. The two partners are not feigning, but truthfully committing themselves to a lifelong partnership and being true to the promises they make. Their promises should not be like that of the prominent politicians who act quite contrary to the promises they have solemnly made. However, Sir Winston Churchill was a politician and a statesman who was faithful to his marriage promises until death.

Winston Churchill, when he was 29, fell in love with 18-year-old Clementine Hozier in 1904. They got married four years later when he was about to become a cabinet minister and she was a penurious daughter of an Earl. Though Churchill had attracted the attention of other women, which made Clementine very angry, he told her on the Ides of March 1908, "1 do not love and never will love any woman in the world but you". Getting engaged on 15th August, he presented her an engagement ring with a large ruby and two diamonds, one of three that his father had given his mother. He married her on September 12th. Years later he would say he "lived happily ever after". To Clementine, he was indeed a faithful husband true to his promises until his death in 1965. However, in their marriages, not all Presidents, Prime Ministers or even kings and princes and prominent persons are like Winston Churchill.

Many successful marriages

Though unsung, there are many marriages whose partners stay faithful to one another with mutual support over several decades, facing many challenges of life together and happily too, with the help of their children and grandchildren, in later years. The two who get married are far from perfect. Temperamentally they are different, having different habits and even a level of selfishness. And the defects begin to stand out clearly as the days go by. But their commitment helps them to adjust to one another, each one doing for the other what one cannot do for oneself.

They have learned to give the first place in their life to the spouse, that means spouse before parents, friends, and one’s amusements. They have learnt to speak and share their thoughts, to listen to each other, spend time together, reflect, pray, meditate, contemplate and worship together, engage in charitable, social and religious work together and to respect each other, and never to be critical of the spouse with parents, family members or friends. These are things that need to be discussed only with one another or with a counsellor. Most couples are at least vaguely conscious that their exclusive relationship is special and that a sacrosanct and holy bond binds them.

A transcendent love

In any case holding on to one another only is insufficient for a marriage to endure and for a couple to be happy. To truly abide in marriage, both should look beyond themselves, transcend themselves and live for the values they should hold on to and are worth living for. Being faithful to the other, being hopeful of the good of the other, going beyond whatever is disliked and discordant in the other, and yet truly loving the other, is to live with and for the other and live beyond one’s own narrow limits; it is to live transcendentally. Knowingly or unknowingly, consciously or unconsciously this transcendent element should be there for a marriage to endure through ‘good times and bad’.

Then they learn to bear one another’s burdens and learn to collaborate, esteem and appreciate each other and even help each other to surpass one’s own self and reach a high level of altruism. Unselfish love sustains them and many bonds bind them together as the years pass. Such successfully ,married who stay together ‘until death’ of one of the partners, are there among all classes of people. Their main preoccupation has been not only each other to the exclusion of everyone else, but also going beyond themselves and accepting the enrichment that others in so many ways bring to their lives.

Happily for most of us, our parents lived such a life, not without challenges and problems, and provided us great care and a peaceful home environment in which to grow to maturity and adult responsibilities. And while so growing, we too learned to face trials of life while there were many occasions of bountiful rejoicing and mirth. In many ways, the parents by the example of their own lives remotely prepare their children for a responsible life of their own.

Why marriages fail

Yet some marriages end in disappointment. Conflicts arise and the marriage ends in divorce. They are sad events. If there are children in such marriage-break ups, they bring on traumas to the children’s lives, which are always felt by the children whether their manifestations are pronounced, much subdued or suppressed; these traumas could be especially marked when they are teenagers who may suffer internally for a long time until they are addressed through proper counselling.

There were more than 175,000 marriages in Sri Lanka in 2015. It has been found that more than 50% of the marriages break down and end in divorce. Some marriages break down sometimes within a brief period of married life, some others after several years. There are over 400 divorces every day in Sri Lanka. Causes of divorce vary. Lack of commitment, quarrelling too much, infidelity, marrying too young, having unrealistic expectations, much inequality in the relationship, unpreparedness for marriage, abuse and violence are some of the main reasons. Why do they happen?

When the ‘why’ of divorce is examined, it could be observed that due to lack of mutual understanding, the very necessary element of sharing a common life, the ‘give and take’ of marriage, the vitality of relationship has irretrievably broken down. Each one has experienced an impoverishment within, proceeding towards a growing emptiness, darkness and finally meaninglessness. Marriage has not enhanced and enriched, or brought a new brilliance and zest into one’s interior self that brings with it a deep sense of belonging and an inner joy. If their marriage was successful, the couple would know and feel that they are far richer beyond the mere pooling of their individual resources, however big even a dowry might have been.

Inner preparation

While there is, before marriage, some sort of exterior ‘getting ready’ or even an elaborate preparation for the wedding, there is usually a lack of serious interior preparation of the mind, heart and spirit and a will to risk it all and succeed in the adventure, required for a marriage.

Marriages fail when they have entered married life without sufficient or any kind of interior preparation and proper disposition. The family background from which they came, the education they had received, the mutual understanding they had built up, if there had been any, the advice and counselling they had got about the relationship they were entering into, fell far short of what was required to equip them to face the challenges that married life entailed. It may have all been casual and in passing, not seriously focused on.

Lack of understanding of what marriage is, make some men to even imprison the wife to the confines of the house, and some women to be suspicious and so very possessive that they do not like the husband to have friends, engage in sports or any sort of recreation. Marriage is neither a free-wheeling escapade, nor a spousal enslavement, or just a means to get social benefits. Marriage should also leave each spouse much space to think and act freely so long as it is conducive with the marriage and family life.

Third party intrusions

Marriages also break down when a third party, whether married or single, sometimes a friend, invades the exclusive sacred space of a married couple who are well settled and happy, even with grown up adolescent children. Those who are unconscious and unrepentant about infidelity do not pay sufficient consideration to the harm they inflict and the injustice they do to one’s spouse and one’s children and to one’s other family members, as well as to the married couple into whose exclusive space one intrudes.

Marriages also irretrievably break down because of the ‘innocent’ spouse’s refusal to forgive a great wrong that has been done to him or her. Genuine forgiveness is for a real trespass not for a trivial or an imaginary one. There are even those who pray daily, "God, our Father, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us" and yet stubbornly refuse to forgive when the occasion to forgive arises. This means they have been mouthing prayer parrot like, without intending to truly pray. The one who forgives is magnanimous, generous in heart, benevolent, full of compassion, has a strong, noble and truly kind and loving character; the one who asks to be forgiven is full of remorse, deeply sorry, grateful, humble and appreciative of the forbearance shown and firmly resolved never to fail again. The spouse who forgives and the spouse who is forgiven could surely start anew their marriage relationship, even on a stronger footing than before, and that is indeed being true ‘in good times and in bad’ as they pronounced in their marriage vows. Arrogant and self-righteous people cannot rise up to this level nor those without a deep spiritual character or with a low IQ.

Some in Sri Lanka marry too young. Nearly 4000 marriages of those who married under 18 years of age have broken down in a year.

Recognition of competence

When someone wants to get a driving license to ride a scooter, motor bicycle, a motor car or a bus or lorry, one gets trained. The heavier the vehicle, more complicated its operation, more demanding and exact the training becomes. Those who go to for training to driving schools go to them for the single minded purpose of obtaining a driving license that certifies their ability to drive and operate a particular class of vehicle. Being licensed is a public recognition of competence. But it is easier to get a marriage license than to get even a scooter driving license, though marriage is more demanding in commitment and responsibility.

Those who enter into marriage are not prepared for that all important stage in life, even as much as a three- wheeler driver gets prepared to pass a driving test. While the three-wheeler drivers may cause accidents while driving and injure someone physically, those failing in marriage, sometimes by unfaithfulness to one’s spouse and alliances with other individuals or others’ spouses, cause deep interior suffering not only unto their own spouses in addition to doing harm to themselves, but also to their families, and most of all to innocent children they have together begotten. As a result of marriage, new bonds between families are also established. However it is unfortunate when some parents are indifferent, uncaring and not supportive of their children of marriageable age, in finding a partner or when they have found a partner. This lack of moral support alienates the parents from their children who get depressed over such matters and get further distanced from them. Marriage should not dissolve natural family bonds.

Responsibility of the state

Prior to getting a license to get married, hardly anyone thinks of children, sharing the burden of their upbringing in the family, their education and gradual growth to adolescence and youthfulness. Nor is anyone made even remotely aware of problems they will have over their children, how to handle them, how to help them face the challenges of life and problems of relationships as they grow, and how all these situations in life are going to affect both their lives and the healthy psychological growth and emotional maturity of their children.

Marriage and Family are social institutions. Married life begins as the result of exchanging mutual consent before witnesses and the person who officiates. It is a public contract that has social consequences as well as social obligations. However, there are today some people who merely agree to live together without binding themselves irrevocably to one another. This practice while it may be spreading due to a lack of sound understanding about marriage and family life, is also evasive of firm commitment and obligations either to one another or to the society at large. This is also a practice that dismisses out of hand the civilized and cultured development that has taken place in human society.

No one wishes to go back to live in caves and hunt for one’s food as our ancient forefathers may have done tens of thousands of years ago. Today, human development, knowledge, consciousness and sense of personal and social responsibility have taken vast strides and all are benefitting from it. This should also pervade the institution of marriage and family life. Towards these objectives, today there are many resources of service. It is the function of the government to regulate and channel such resources for the good of citizens and bring all citizens to participate and collaborate in the integral development of the whole person and of all citizens.

The government has an institutionalized concern about the general health of the people and the health and well-being of young expectant mothers, childbirth, nursing, nutrition and proper upbringing of the new born. But there is no clear concern or initiative of any minister, parliamentarian, provincial counsellor or any elected representative of the people over the important social institutions of marriage and family, even though they may frame legislation concerning divorce and other issues connected thereto. Politicians are far too busy with inter-party and intra-party intrigues which confuse the people, than looking for solutions to the numerous problems that bring tragic consequences to the rest of society. It is time they paid attention to the institution of marriage and family, which will be an important matter to their children as well.

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