Workarounds are interesting things. Most men, if they tinker with home or car repairs for example, have been shown some or even created a few. Painting corners or boundaries with trim for example, or nailing down the planks on a newly framed deck. There are workarounds. They are ways to NOT do it the textbook way. Sometimes they trade potential quality concessions verses the longer or harder way.
Emotional workarounds are different. They don’t risk sacrificing quality. They sacrifice honesty. They blur truth in the whole-truth-nothing-but-the-truth sense. They are not so much taught as learned. Creating them is a skill we learn as children. It’s a form of equivocation skirting up next to dissembling but as we get older and more sophisticated (or less) rarely crossing the line of outright lying. The worst thing we may be accused of, and its spot on, is being intellectually dishonest. Even that’s not a perfect charge because these workarounds are more emotional manipulation than overt attempt to bury truth. Some are even considered polite speech. Passive aggressive speech is an emotional workaround and some passive aggressive speech is considered good etiquette. “You probably don’t have time to help me with this this afternoon do you?” Or the always entertaining churchian, “We need to be praying for Patty’s husband Jim.” in place of “well, Jim’s gone off the wagon and is drunk by noon everyday again”.
Some of these are annoying, some are just the way we’ve structured etiquette in circumstances, but a few of these created ways of expressing things are lip glossing the pigs of social pathology. They are destructive in the manner they steal accountability from descriptors of sin. Divorce is my prime example.
Jen Abbas wrote a book nearly ten years ago called “Generation Ex”, for adult children of divorce. I’d come across her site before, maybe years ago, and had forgotten it. But this weekend Family Life incorporated some of her writing into their daily Moments With You articles (1,2) . In the first one they share a poem Jen wrote, then close with a paragraph that includes this:
This is the type of poem that breaks my heart because it represents so many children who are torn apart by divorce.
At first read, there is nothing wrong with the way they use the word divorce in that statement. It is not an overt workaround. But it still sort of imputes sapience on divorce where divorce is a thing capable of tearing, rending, doing something of its own volition. This is done more for expedience than to mask the fact that someone actually used divorce as the tool with which they rendered a family a family no more.
After reading that I went to Jen’s site and looked around. I read her bio and I downloaded and read the first chapter of her book where I found some basic solid statements.
After the late ’60s, marriage was seen as a choice of personal expression. With that choice came the freedom, even the right, to choose to leave the marriage if it was no longer bringing about the personal satisfaction a man or woman expected.4 Popular literature assured our parents
that divorce was like any other crisis and, after a short period of transition, we would all recover, if not be better for it. Happier parents made for better parents and, in a sort of trickle-down philosophy, happier children. As
a result of this shift in law and attitudes, the number of “expressive divorces” climbed steadily. (my emphasis)
I like the term “expressive divorces”. I also like the way she describes the fragmentation of a nuclear family as seen through a child’s eyes. I’ve written about the fact that family is a word with multiple definitions. On the one hand a definition that has permanence and on the other hand a fluid description of a potentially changing group of people. She describes it as a picture.
After a lifetime of looking up to Mom and Dad and
consciously or unconsciously viewing that marriage as a correct picture, they are overwhelmed by the thought that what they once knew as truth has been revealed as a lie.
She goes on the assert what family statistics reveal to anyone with the eyes to see truth, that being that those couples who stay together through even extraordinary trials look back on the block of years that is their marriage to date and see good, better, great, in the whole.
The athlete doesn’t quit practicing in the midst of pain.
He keeps at it because the goal of winning offers more satisfaction than any relief from his present discomfort. A mountain climber is not satisfied with attempting to climb Mount Everest. The pleasure comes with reaching the
summit. No one who’s been married will tell you that the union is easy, but any couple who has celebrated a fiftieth anniversary will testify that the sum of the ebb and flow of marital satisfaction is far more fulfilling than the
strain of any particular incident. In fact, it’s often through the trials, one might argue, that a marriage is strengthened. Few things are more deeply
satisfying than accomplishing that which was thought impossible.
But I was searching for some clue about what actually happened. What was the genesis of not one but two divorces. There is not a single intimation as to the cause, reason, or the identity of the person primarily responsible. The only thing in her first chapter that had any bearing on what specifically destroyed a marriage was a quote from a guy she calls Bob:
“I hated my stepmom because she was the one that broke up my family. And yet I had to visit and eat turkey
and mashed potatoes with her and always treat her as if she were an old friend of the family.”
Bob’s dad left his mom for another woman. Maybe Jen gets more specific in later chapters but the only clue I have to go on is something the second Moments With You said:
Actually, Jen experienced this twice–once at the age of 6 and again at the age of 18, when her mom and stepfather divorced.
This tells me she lived with her mom and step dad and that they divorced too. Its looking like the mom has a hard time staying married. She either chooses men very poorly and they have affairs, get addicted, use too much porn, or they leave her her for some reason. Then again, she may be leaving them because she is unhaaaapy. These may be “expressive divorces”
Lots of workarounds are needed to discuss divorce in general in polite company. Even more are required to discuss a specific divorce (or two) and make divorce the bad guy in and of itself. That same second article from Family Life included these words:
Divorce had taught this young woman that if you’re not always alert, constantly scanning the horizon for warning signs, love could leave.
There it is. Divorce taught her. What’s odd about all this treatment of divorce as sentient, sapient, volitional even is that if it truly is that way, then why, if we took it up as a cause to kill that beast off, eliminate divorce, exorcise that devil, why do women go ballistic? What would Jen say to the idea that divorce be simply banned? I bet she’d suggest we slow down and reconsider. I say that because she goes on to say the thing that I consider one of the most family damaging empathy driven pat statements we frequently hear when a preacher decides its time he get tough on divorce:
Our parents’ decision to divorce was
sinful, but it is—like all sin—forgivable. God is compassionate and gracious.
He forgives all who seek to be forgiven.
I have never once heard any other sin pre-wrapped in soothing words of grace. Imagine, “a man’s decision to use porn was sinful, but it is-like all sin-forgivable”.
Rampant is a word often coupled with divorce. It means unchecked, out of control. Its a problematic word in that its used, correctly, to describe things that people do. “Violence is rampant.” I suppose so, but someone is perpetrating it. Would it not better describe something like disease or hunger, not violence and divorce? Yea, its just a word, and its being used correctly on technicals, but without it being followed with a description of who is doing what, its merely a newsreader version of the truth, long on sensationalism and short on accountability.
That’s what we have done. We’ve worked around the fact the people do things to other people. People use the thing called divorce to rid themselves of other people that they once promised and contracted and made a covenant to associate with in a formal group legally defined as a family and spiritually linked as one with a spouse before and by God.
When we have outbreaks of violence, some mad gunman goes berserk and shoots to kill, like that, we spend weeks grinding out every fiber of cause and effect we can postulate. We CRAVE blame. But even in those instances we cover accountability with intangible gibberish and pop psychology. If we can gloss over reality in those cases, is there any hope to have a proper postmortem discussion of the casualties when a family is blown up?