Marriage and Divorce – Old Reflections on a Subject Aways New

by rthieme on February 27, 2017

Marriage and Divorce

And now for something a little different.

I was an Episcopal clergyman for sixteen years and this post derives from that time and that context (1977-1993). In the Episcopal Church, a lectionary specifies three lessons to be read each Sunday over a three year cycle – one from the Hebrew Scriptures, one from the New Testament, and one from one of the Gospels. So there are three different lessons every week for three years. It’s like turning over Tarot cards, in a way (Tarot cards contain archetypal images), in that the charge to the preacher is to “read the space” of the group mind of the congregation in light of the archetypal images in the lessons, which are generally narrative images (word pictures) of renewal, contextual change, deliverance, transformation, or healing. Clergy are expected to illuminate how one or more of the lessons make sense for the people with whom they have engaged during the week, often in counseling situations, and whose collective concerns they have internalized and abstracted, and on Sunday morning, with that internalized abstraction ready at hand, I would read the emotions or energies of the people assembled and follow the “ley lines” of the group psyche into the collective consciousness (and unconsciousness) that I intuitively discerned to be there.

Once in a while that lottery of lessons produced a zinger. On Sunday, October 3, 1982, when I had been divorced from my first wife for six months, the lesson from the Gospel of Mark confronted me with the tension between my all-too-human life and the ideal articulated in the Gospel. My charge, as always, was to do justice to that tension, preaching with honesty and integrity from my own experience in light of the call to a wholeness humans have difficulty reaching. This sermon was an attempt to honor both marriage and divorce and respect married people and divorced people alike.

I was married one year later, and I met the woman who was to become my wife on October 2, 1982, the night before I had to preach on this lesson. The next morning, after people in the congregation had gone home, I called her and said that everyone has been kind and loving but now they were all gone, and I had all these raw feelings left over and no one to share them with. She said, I was hoping you would call, and we spent the rest of the day together. Two weeks later, I told her, I’m going to marry you, she said, you’re crazy, and we were both right. On October 15, 1983, one year later and one third of a century ago, we were married. We have been sharing feelings and more ever since.

The sermons I preached then were attempts to articulate a genuinely spiritual perspective true to my experience and also true to the upward call. The charge was to close the angle if one could, a little bit, and tack (as it were) closer and closer to the wind. Sailors know you can never align perfectly with the wind, just as humans know you can never become the ideal, so life consists of tacking back and forth across the wind, closer and closer to the wind but never hitting it just so. It’s like a Lorenz attractor, a fractal to the defining point of which we can come infinitely close but never touch. I encourage you to watch a simulation of the Lorenz attractor in action on your computer. (Another way to say this is, we notice that golden mean over our shoulders as we pass it, going back and forth, and turn around to come back toward it, hopefully coming closer and closer).

So this post is not about politics, security, or technology. It is about life, and as I am more and more inclined to reflect on genuine spirituality at this point in my life, I am choosing to publish past reflections like this one. It was delivered from an explicitly Christian base, but can be understood in the context of any tradition or no tradition. It is about life, real life.

Richard Thieme on Divorce and Marriage, a sermon delivered at St. James Episcopal Church on October 3, 1982, on Mark 10:2-9: “Some Pharisees came up to Jesus and in order to test him asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his. wife?’ He answered, ‘What did Moses command you?’ They said, ‘Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to put her away.’ But Jesus said to them, ‘For your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has Joined together, let not man put asunder.”

Some gospels are easier to preach on than other gospels. When I checked these lessons a week ago, I thought, surely I must be in the wrong Lectionary. Surely I can use Lectionary A or C instead of B. But no matter how I tried to get around it, this was the gospel for the day. So I presume from that that this is the one on which I am intended to preach. Also, as I try to do with all the gospels, it is one about which I am intended to tell the truth of my life as much as possible, both God’s truth as I understand it and my own truth as I have experienced it.

I was sitting the other night with a couple new to St. James, and we were talking about divorce. We were talking about the process of going through a divorce [pause] – I just realized that I assume that, since the whole parish family is my family, everyone knows what I have gone through this past year. For those of you who don’t know, I was divorced about six months ago after separating nearly a year ago, and that was an occasion for the whole community to deal with the issue, in an implicit way but not in an explicit way, because at that point I didn’t think it was appropriate, given what I was experiencing, to speak in a way that did not yet have distance and therefore authenticity about what I was going through. I would have just put out my personal situation and emotions in a way that was not helpful.

That was almost a year ago, and I have had a chance to experience a lot since then and to think about it. So I think this is an appropriate time in which to bring in my own personal situation in a way that is appropriate – so, as I was saying, I was visiting this couple, and we were talking about divorce, I was talking about my divorce and each of them had been divorced before and were in a second marriage. And at one point she said, “Do you really think that God is angry with us?” It seems to me that that is a key question which this gospel invites us to ask. Because the gospel is very clear. It says a husband and a wife are a psychic unity and are intertwined in a deep and inseparable way that ought not to be torn apart. When I look out at so many of you who I know are divorced or have been divorced and are in second marriages, we have to ask the question, “What does the scriptural text really say to us about all this, given the circumstances of our lives? What in the world is going on here?”

We can approach this from a sociological perspective. It’s good background but we don’t need to dwell on it. We all know what pressures are on families today and what pressures are on couples. Couples and marriages used to be part of extended families, used to have uncles, cousins, brothers and sisters and so on and so forth around so that all the pressures of life did not come to focus on one primary relationship. They were diffused through a network of relationships. Most of us today move from one place to another and the marital relationship has come to bear much more of the burden and stress of modern life than it ought to. Home can’t be the only place you take your stress. It just doesn’t work. You have to find a way to diffuse it. Now, I’m talking about marriage really, although it sounds like I’m talking about divorce. Just as the work we do with the dying really is teaching us about life, and looking at the stages of dying is important for what we learn about how to live, while I’m talking about divorce, I’m really talking about marriage.

Divorce is epidemic. It is epidemic in that it is catching, and that tells us something about the social nature of reality. If you have reinforced for you over and over again that divorce is permitted, that it is tolerable, it leads to more divorce.

Everyone that I have ever talked to who is going through a divorce has had to deal with this question: What will it be like on the other side of the wall? That is a powerful motivator for not getting out of a marriage, for not leaving a marriage even after it has become destructive and painful. But it tells us again, in a backdoor kind of way, that we need to be supportive of one another’s relationships. This is one of the reasons I am supportive of Marriage Encounter. One of our obligations is to do what we can for those who are in marriages to relieve some of that stress and to create the opportunity for marriages that are good to come alive again and to be truly sacramental relationships. We have a corporate responsibility to people in relationships. We say that in the marriage ceremony. We ask those in attendance, Will you support the people entering into these vows?” We all shout out, ”We will”. That should not be just a rote bit in a rite. We ought to take that seriously. We have an obligation to do that. So the words, “The two become one flesh,” express a literal truth. It is not merely that two become “kind of together” or “get to hang out together.” Their lives, emotions, intentions become so inextricably intertwined that when they separate, the words “tearing asunder” are really what it 1s about. Marriage is an organic unity, in other words, and divorce means two human beings are being slowly, painfully, torn apart. So the answer to the arithmetic of marriage and divorce is that one plus one is more than two. Yes, of course there are two individuals, and it’s good to emphasize how important it is to be an individual and interdependent, and certainly one must have a commitment to oneself and one’s own life or the marriage isn’t going to work, but with­out a doubt, the two individuals come together in a way that makes them a psychic unity. They are more than merely two individuals cohabiting. Over and over again during the a marriage ceremony, the moment at which people say “yes” to each other and vow to intend to be together for ever, that moment, that declaration, that statement of intention transforms the nature of the relationship. Sometimes couples that have lived together for years make a decision to come in and say “yes” to a commitment to each other and then separate. Making that commitment, in­tending that your life be lived in the context of another person’s life, changes the nature of your own being.

One of the things I have had to look at in my own life is the question, “How did it happen? What caused the divorce?” I want to share these things with you so those of you who are married and value your relationships and value your marriages, can take a look at what may or may not be happening in your own relationships. The first barrier to realizing what is happening – [pause] – I just heard a heavy sigh of anxiety – look, I know this is rough, and if it’s any consolation, everybody is in the same boat. You are not the only one listening to this with a feeling of anxiety. This is heavy. I understand.

At any rate, one of the things I tried to do for a long time was not be conscious of what was happening. It’s almost as if we do everything we can to keep ourselves from looking at our own lives, from really looking and saying, ”This is who I am, this is what is there, and this is what is really going on in our relationship,” until suddenly one day you wake up and you realize one person is living in this part of the house and the other person is living in another part of the house, whether metaphorically or literally. You find that you are living separate lives. Resis­tance to truly being conscious of what is going on in your life is the biggest threat today to living a truly spiritual existence. The reluctance to explore with another person, resistance to therapy, resistance to talking with friends, resistance to being open about who we are, is the biggest barrier we have to allowing our­selves to look at the reality of our lives as if by not looking, it will go away. It won’t. You are not doing anybody a favor by ignoring what is present and is a difficulty or stress in your relationship, or in any area of your life. Not that you should brood on it, but you can’t ignore it. If you do, it will grow and fester into something much more difficult to confront.

Another thing that was going on with me, which is often going on, is that each of us were going through a lot of changes that the other just couldn’t handle. My wife was changing in ways that I didn’t want to see. and didn’t want to experience, couldn’t really experience,and I am sure she says the same thing. When you sign on for a lifetime contract you are committing yourself to the void, committing yourself to a voyage across an ocean which is trackless. And all you have is a sail and no map and no compass. And you are committing yourself to allow the other person not only to be who they are when you get into the relationship but to change in ways that are at worst tolerable and at best that you allow or support. We don’t marry people, we marry constellations of attributes, and when one star shifts and suddenly there is a bear instead of a wolf,we say, wait a minute, I bought a wolf. I did not buy a bear.

Another problem that is very common are the kinds of insecurities out of which we cling to another person as if they really can make up in us what is lacking, as if they can provide in our own lives what we haven’t got. Again, it doesn’t work. Synergy is one thing, with two people both alive and working together and going in the same direction, but looking to the other to make up what you haven’t got is not being a complete person. That was true in my marriage. I was looking to someone else to provide what I didn’t think I had.

This is why it is so shaky for marriages when one person wakes up in the morning and discovers that they are a whole being and that they do not need the other person in the same way or to the same degree. This often happens in mid-life – where I am, as it happens – as part of the process of what Jung called individuation. When we begin to include and integrate qualities from within ourselves that we had projected onto the other in youth and therefore felt as if they were completing us by providing those qualities, we round ourselves off, as it were, in a new way, and become more separate, and then the relationship has to be renegotiated on a new basis. We see this in the relationships of alcoholics and alcoholic spouses all the time. The insecurities of the one feed the insecurities of the other. The one encourages the other to do exactly that behavior which the other says they don’t really like. This is true not only of alcoholics and alcoholic spouses but of all of us. When one changes, either the other changes of necessity, or else. Al-Anon came into being in part because one pressure on an alcoholic is an alcoholic spouse. When an alcoholic stops drinking, an alcoholic spouse often goes through a deep trauma, often a depression, often a divorce, because we. count on the weaknesses in others to satisfy our own needs. And we sabotage their efforts to achieve a more healthy wholeness to maintain the stability we thought we had, based on mutually unhealthy dynamics.

Another thing to watch for is, where are you spending your time?Are you working longer and longer hours? Are you putting more and more into your job?Are you getting more and more of your strokes and praise from people who are saying,· “Good, keep it up, do more?” And are you creating a psychic home somewhere else?When you leave home, does it feel as if you are going home? It doesn’t have to be an affair. In our case it wasn’t. Some people asked, was there another man or another woman? It was a little irritating. There are always other men and other women in your life, but not always affairs. You kind of wish that if you are going to be accused you had had the pleasure. The real bottom line of this one is: we would sometimes go home and say what we really need is a wife and wish we had someone who would welcome us home, pour a drink, and come out and say to both of us, “How nice to see you come home,” because we weren’t able to give that to each other any more. The other person was no longer the home to which we could return.

Is the person with whom you are deeply interrelated, your spouse, is that where you feel you are home? Or does that become a place you have to leave in order to look for a home? Watch yourself on that one. If you find yourself justifying working longer and longer hours, doing more and more out of the house, not because it really needs to be done, but because of internal pressure, look out.

Then, through all of this there is a great deal of fear. Fear of it becoming public, which in our case it was. But really fear that someone else will find out who you really are. My God, if we go through with this thing, we are saying that we had a relationship which has died and if we do that people will find out that we had a relationship which has died. It’s amazing how many people were not surprised when we divorced because they saw us more clearly than we dared to see ourselves. Denial is a good friend, until it isn’t. We don’t really hide anything from anybody, although sometimes we pre­tend we do and we choose friends who conspire with us about pretending. We set it up so that we say, “If. you’ll agree not to notice what I know you’re noticing I’ll agree not to notice about you what you know I’m noticing.” We call that support. But it isn’t really. Sometimes your real friends are the ones who say, “Now come on, who do you think you’re kidding? What is going on in your life?” Support looks funny sometimes. So you’re afraid that everyone will know but you’re also afraid of finding out what you really feel. Who you really are. What your real life tells not others but yourself about how you deceived yourself.

One of the payoffs of denial is not having to be responsible for your own life. By putting it out there, by finding out in therapy or in life or in any situation what you really feel, who you really are, and therefore who you really want to be, how you want to be in the world and then acting on it, is the most authentic and, sometimes, the loneliest way of being in the world. Sometimes it seems less lonely to just not look, not find out, not feel what you feel, spend your time and energy keeping away from your consciousness who you are because then you don’t have to have the courage to make a decision either to affirm who you are or to deny it. To act out of who the real self you know yourself to be can take courage.

I’m not advocating divorce; I’m not saying you ought to get divorced, I’m saying that you ought to know who you are, and if, out of finding out who you are, you can choose to be in a relationship and be alive, and aive to each other, then you will have the very best possible. I have no doubt that to stay alive in a relationship through your lifetime with your spouse is the best possible relationship. That’s what we ought to go for. So you do have an obliga­tion to work at these things and to do everything humanly possible, everything you know how to do, in order to allow yourself to be alive again.

We all resist therapy; we only get into therapy or counseling when the pain of not being con­scious becomes greater than the pain of being conscious. You choose a trusted person and find yourself saying things you’ve been dying to say. It’s an opportunity to find out what we really feel so that you can know what you want to do next in life.

And in the process of divorce, there is a moment when you know.I can almost pinpoint it. I was facilitating the divorce support group and someone was talking when suddenly there was a shift in my consciousness, and I realized I wasn’t listening and talking to a “divorced person”, I was talking to a person. It was like a light bulb going on. I thought to myself, this person was the same person when they were married and they are the same person now that they are divorced. I realized that I had set up a category of “divorced persons” and I wasn’t relating to the people of the divorce support group, I was relating to a category of divorced persons. I was saying, “You are divorced people and I can help you, I know how to facilitate a support group,” but I wasn’t able to just be there as a person because I did not see them simply as persons. And suddenly something shifted, and that was necessary in order for me to realize that I was a person and not a married person or a divorced person. I was a person who had been married and for the first time I was abe to think, I could be a person who was divorced. I stayed myself, as funny as that may sound, while the categories in which I understood myself changed. The context changed and therefore the possibilities of my life.

If you’re still asking questions, then you’re not ready for divorce. When you’re ready, there are no more questions. None. And if you’re not ready, you ought to thank God you’re not – because it’s no joke to go through it. We are also aware, we divorced people, that we are sometimes a very threatening kind of Rorshach test. Sometimes we have a very perverse pleasure in just showing up and seeing what kinds of projections get put on us. We do notice how much people reveal about their own relationships by responding to the blank page that we are. We get a variety of projections – sometimes anger and hostility, some­times condemnation and judgment, sometimes attempts to live vicariously through our supposedly liberated lives. It is true, of course, that you cannot know what something is like until you go through it. In the book “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” by Alexander Solzinitzin, we have a man who is very cold, who is in a slave labor camp in Siberia, who is trying to get something from a guard. For the first time that day he is inside in a warm, lighted office and tries to stay there as long as he can. “How can a man who is warm,” he says, “understand a man who is cold?”

I was talking to someone last night who said, “I’ve never been married but I can imagine what divorce was like,” and I found myself getting angry because I thought, there is no way you can imagine what it is like. There is nothing more magical in interpersonal relationships than saying, “I know,” in a way so that the other person knows you know. So it is a kind of club that you join by getting divorced. “I know” then resonates with a different harmonic.

I remember, when I was married, how smug I was and how defensive about my relationship when it was fraying. I remember there was always a feeling that I must be doing something right to be married. I· was doing something virtuous or communicating better than other people, doing something that kept my marriage alive. The difference between someone who was divorced and myself, I thought, was that they hadn’t had the benefit of my wisdom. It reminds me of a poem by Shel Silverstein called ”The Slithergadee”. It goes like this: “Oh you won’t get me, old slithergadee, you may get all the others but you won’t get me. No you won1’t get me, old slithergadee, you may get-” and then it ends, because he has been eaten by the slithergadee. As divorce which I thought had been impossible for a righteous person like me, ate me.

So what does all this say about marriage? How can I use my experience to get at the real lessons here? I’ll tell you what my attitude toward marriage now is. It’s much more pious, and I don’t mean that in a stained glass religious sense. I mean I have discovered a genuine piety in my attitude toward people who are doing everything in their power to maintain a bond which I have come to know deeply is extraordinarily precious and extraordinarily fragile. By piety I mean I have a kind of reverence for how special this relationship is. I respect in each one of you who is married how much you are doing to keep your relationship alive, and to keep energizing yourselves and your relationship, and to be true to your relationships. When you wake up in the morning and look over at the other person, and they are lying there next to you, you ought to say thank you. Thank you for being here. Don’t deceive yourself into thinking they are there be­cause you made them stay, no, they are freely· choosing to relate to you in a deep and sacramental way. It is a choice every minute of the time. Your attitude ought to be “thank you” in every area of your life for the same reason. Marriage, life, love – these are not things you deserve because you are better or because you are special but because they are gifts, freely given, undeserved, but we forget to say “thank you.”

And I now speak in premarital and marital counseling with a different kind of authenticity about the tenuousness and the value of the bond because most people do not understand what they are beginning when they marry. And now that I am on the other side of the divorce, I no longer subtly prevent the issues that threatened me most – because they were mine – from surfacing in the discussion. I am more effective, more present, more whole.

That brings me to the other part of the lesson. This is something every divorced person, every human being, does not want to look at. It is definitely not fashionable to try to interpret these words in our context. I mean the part that says, Moses made up this law for your hardness of heart. Jesus was pretty clear that what was intended in marriage is that we continue to find ways to stay alive to each other. And when we don’t, it is a form of sinfulness or separation from what is best, and the hardness of heart part means, simply, well, we can’t always do what we ought to do and so we break. We can’t make a dead relationship live again any more than we can always renew other areas of our lives. One of the hardest things for me to do after the divorce, and something you can only do it when you have reached a point later on in this process at which you can face yourself, because you can’t do it at the beginning when it’s just too painful, is take a look at how you were responsible for what happened. The divorce did not just happen. Something outside you didn’t make it happen. Who you are and how you expressed yourself in that relationship contributed to what happened. While the other person contributed to it too, it doesn’t matter any more what they did, not to you, but it matters a lot to you from now on what you did and choose now to do with your life. Have we learned anything, anything at all? Of course there are things you cannot help. I look at myself now and I just know there are ways I will always be cruel or insensitive. We all have to come to terms with the darkness within ourselves and say, “Yes, the darkness is .part of me too, part of who I am.” God help us distinguish what we can change or control from what we can’t.

In a climactic scene in “The Empire Strikes Back,” Luke Skywalker is fighting a phantom Darth Vader and Luke cuts off his head. When he tears off the black mask to see who Darth Vader is, he confronts his own face. That’s chilling. It suggests that life is a journey through the various per­sonas we all are, and we have to come to terms with the devils within yourself as well as the saints or we will doom ourselves to repeat past mistakes unthinkingly. You must ask, what am I responsible for? What have I done to contribute to things getting to this point? We are all the “other” we hate and fight as Luke fought his father but when we see that and integrate the darker aspects into ourselves, it is humbling and liberating. We nay not be who we thought we were, but we are who we are in a more robust way.

There are things we can do to keep from getting to that point. First, express anger appropriately. We talk about anger a lot because we know that when it is not expressed in a clean or healthy way, it undermines a relationship. It will come out somewhere. It will sabotage a relationship and intimacy as sure as anything. I’m not saying you have to get into an encounter group to feel and express anger. I am saying that in your primary relationship you had better find a way to communicate when you are angry as well as many other things such as joyous or tender or loving. If you don’t deal cleanly with who you are in the relationship you are going to do something which will express it covertly and it will accumulate until one day there are grenades going off and you look at each other and say,”What happened?? Where did that come from?” Don’t be afraid of hurting the other person in a clean expression of anger. We are not fragile. You are not doing the other person a favor if you do not express to them what distresses or upsets you. It will get expressed one way or another.

Then, there is always a fear of losing the relationship. So I had better not rock the boat. But really, you had better rock the boat. A rocking boat is a lot better than a boat on the bottom. Those are your only choices.

Now what all this leads to, all this hurt, the inevitability of anger, is the question of forgiveness. This is what the lesson is saying when, again, it states that divorce is given for our hardness of heart. We have the capacity truly to forgive the other and ourselves for what we have done and. what they have done. But do we have the courage to forgive and accept forgiveness? Much of the time many of us do not.

All marriages have hurts. Let’s be real. There is a story about a fellow who went to a divorce lawyer and said, “I want a divorce but I don’t know if I have grounds.” The lawyer said, “Are you married?”

The minute you said yes you started to go to work on each other. That’s not all that’s happening, you’re probably being pretty nice to each other sometimes too. Sometimes I imagine you are even wonderful to each other. And that’s what you don’t want to lose. But if you’re married, then you are real, and if you’re real, and then there’s garbage in the relationship, and you have to clean it up. So you have to look at it. You have to look at how important it is to you to have to win all the time. How much of the time, honestly, must you dominate? How important is it to you to survive rather than be vulnerable? I had to confront in my own life that I was not good at what we call “getting off it”. My need to be right and my need to dominate, my need to win, and the fact that when I did open myself up, I got hurt so I just shut down my feelings and stopped making myself available and vulnerable – that meant I was dying inside. What is hell about winning is that you’re not really winning. If you are winning you are losing just as much as when you are losing. We know enough about victim behavior to know that victims aren’t always losing. People who look like victims are often being a victim to win. Victims often do all sorts of covert things. People who are dominating and look like they are tyrannical are often not winning, not really. If it’s a win-lose situation, both are losing. The only way for both to win is for neither to be playing win-lose with each other in the relationship or at least, if they are, to be committed to get past that stage. All relationships have power struggles. .It’s an important part of relationships, but that cannot be the primary mode or only mode out of which you are being with each other. You just have to have the courage to continue to expose who you really are. Each time you expose yourself and you are hurt, yes, it does make you less and less inclined to expose yourself the next time and it does take incredible courage to keep coming but that’s what we have to do.

So what does happen in relationships that work? A friend of mine who had been married for 35 years said, “You know, we go through these same awful times that everybody goes through.” I said, “Then what is the difference?” And he said ”We always have been given the grace to fall in love again. Somehow we have been given the means to be able to turn to each other and enjoy each other’s company again and just be with .each other, and we fall in love again.”

So what all this really comes down to, I think, can be summed up in a quote by a good friend of mine who was divorced. He said, “Divorce is not something I would wish on my worst enemy nor hesitate to recommend to my best friend.” That is exactly the way it feels. It is not something you would ever urge anyone to go through and experience but it is liberation from a relationship that has become destructive and painful and there does come a time when you know that you have done everything you can and it’s over. That is not justification for avoiding doing everything you do know how to do or can do in order to keep the relationship alive. The rewards of being able to re­create your relationship and have a relationship that is alive are without equal.

So when I return to the question with which I began this sermon, “Is God really angry with all of us who are getting divorced?” I have to say “no”. I don’t experience God as a stern unforgiving presence. I experience God during my divorce as compassion, love, a presence during my deep grief, and then, as resurrection. I’ experience the image of a suffering God that Christians worship or contemplate as a way for God to say, “I know.” Had it been God’s will to pull strings and prevent things like divorce – or disease, or war – from happening, the crucifixion would never have happened and would not have persisted for two thousand years as an image of what it takes to be transformed. Instead we would have an image of someone sitting in a coffee shop sipping a latte.

I was with a couple recently, both of whom I love very much. The sense I got of the relationship was like a video game my son plays with tanks behind barriers. The tanks peep out, fire a salvo and then pop back behind the barricade. I had the sense that after 20 years of marriage that was what their relationship had become. There were huge barricades and they would kind of lean around with an almost desperate longing to connect, trying so hard to touch, to reach each other. They cried and I cried, because we all knew what was at stake. Either it gets put back together again and they find a way to reconnect, or it doesn’t.

Now if I, all too human me, with my imperfections and flaws and problems, can experience love and compassion in that situation, how can I believe that any God worthy of the name would not? That God would be angry? No, I’m sorry, but that dog just don’t hunt.

So ask yourself: Is there anything in your primary relationship that you are hiding? Is there anything that you want to have the courage to reveal? Is your marriage still sacramental? Are you alive to each other really or do you find your lives slipping away? Do you really give the other person room to change and grow? The miraculous is always a possibility. Rebirth is always miraculous. The point of all this is – if we stay in our relationships with hope and can still be alive to each other, the rewards are unsurpassed. That’s why we call marriage a sacrament. And that’s also why divorce breaks our hearts.

Richard Thieme ( speaks and writes fiction and non-fiction about real things as best he can.

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