Sufficient (but not necessary) reasons for divorce:
- Sexual activity outside of marriage. Adultery. It matters little whether the mechanics of intercourse are achieved. We all know what sex is without long academic discussions on the meaning of "is" or "sex." Really, there has been too much hair-splitting about what constitutes "sex": for once and for all, you young adults (and teens and pre-teens), oral sex is sex. If you can contract an STD from an activity, then that activity constitutes a behavior that either deepens or betrays matrimony. I happen to think that any sort of sexual arousal outside of marriage is unchastity, and any sort of mutual sexual arousal outside of marriage is adultery. However, I am not so sure whether the fact of arousal can be used by the aggrieved partner to demand a divorce. (For that matter, I am suspicious of any demand for divorce.)
- Harm and threat to spouse and child. This includes both physical and sexual abuse. For some time in the 90's, I was a therapist of children and teens who were victims of such abuse. There are few causes for divorce that are so clear and indubitable. The much more ambiguous category of "emotional abuse" cannot be used here. I have had too many clinical experiences with one spouse or partner alleging emotional abuse, while at the same time being far guiltier of that very allegation.
- Desertion. I think marital desertion is the worst of treachery.
If you've checked any of these, then you have a permissible reason to divorce. You do not have "necessary cause." In other words, you are not required to go through with a divorce. But you may.
I would add, however, that if there is any danger to you and especially to your children, then you should separate immediately and ensure the children's safety; and yes, you should think about divorce. I have little hope, this side of eternity, for anyone who engages even once in sexual abuse. And physical abuse in a domestic environment requires nothing less than long penance.
Those are the few "permissible reasons" for divorce. There are only three.
I will tell you this: very few of the divorces of which I have become too aware have been justified by any of these three reasons. Instead, there is a gaping dichotomy between these three tragic rationales, and the lewd miasma of the divorce-cult we see around us.
Divorce is like leprosy to me. I know, or have worked with, too many children who go home to more than one house; who answer to an amorphous set of parents and step-parents, grandparents and step-grandparents and guardians ad litem and counselors (like I was); who really have no sense of hearth or tradition; who play with any one of an infinite number of permutations of siblings and step-siblings (depending on custodial arrangements and which weekend it was); who cannot "do nothing," who cannot play in the yard in the sun and shade; but who are overbooked in play rehearsals, dance lessons, music lessons, track teams, football teams, swim teams, cheerleading teams, T-ball, softball, baseball and soccer.
Meantime, the font and spring of childhood -- the marriage that conceived them all -- is dying of gangrene. And all this over-booking, I think, is like a drug to hide the decay.
Did you ever think of marriage this way, as the source of childhood's happiness?
Insufficient (and impermissible) reasons for divorce:
So in my lonely war against marital decay, here is a checklist of impermissible reasons for divorce.
In other words, if any of these rationales are your real complaints, then you are simply not allowed to divorce. You'll go through with it, of course. But Somewhere, Someone has already said no.
- Boredom. Nonchalance. Lack of arousal. Lack of fun. Ennui. Lack of sex.
- Boorishness. Inability to communicate. Silence. Distance. Incompatibility. The suspicion that the relationship would never have been approved by the robots at eHarmony.
- Financial disaster. Financial idiocy and even irresponsibility of the spouse.
- Ugliness. Presence of irritating habits. Flatulence, eructation, bromidrosis, apnea, socks on floor, toothpaste tube squeezed in the middle, hair in the drain, messy closet.
- "Spiritual differential." You know what this is. You're, like, hovering at the third super-stage of spirituality, like at mystical communion with a headcovering, and your lagging partner hasn't even begun purification yet. You want to live "as brother and sister," but he doesn't want to, the priapistic satyr. Or, you want to go to Athos, but she's busy reading Cosmo. You could fly so high if you weren't tethered so low. With her. With him.
- The TV says so. The View says so. The Web says so. The movies say so. The Enquirer says so. The celeb's say so: look at them, they're mostly all divorced and some of them are even serial divorcers. "They look okay. It didn't hurt them. The Church is wrong again. I know what's best for me."
- Career. Listen to this insurmountable logic: "We must have two incomes. He/she has to move because of their job. I don't want to, or can't. Therefore, we must divorce. It's not our fault. We must have two incomes to afford our house and lifestyle. We can afford a divorce. We can't afford not to divorce, since we need two incomes to afford our house and lifestyle." [how can anyone argue with this sort of linguistic self-lobomotization? the "logic" is insurmountable only because it is not logical]
- Verbal sparring. Idiotic arguments that perpetuate themselves, and the course of the fight becomes a cage you can't escape, and you know there won't be any winners, but you … just … cannot … stop (for God's sake, can't you recognize demonification here?). Conflict over even substantial issues. Irreconcilable differences. "Anything is better off than this hell we're putting ourselves through" (you can name that tune: "don't waste time feeling hurt/ we've been through hell together," as Todd the Rod says, inimitably).
- Inability or unwillingness to become an adult. Many people don't like marriage because only adults can tolerate marriage. Kids, as likeable as they are, have a hard time overcoming their feelings. "Bigger kids" -- older than 30 and much less likeable -- not only refuse to overcome their feelings and passions: they turn them into a god, or an "orientation," or “the way I was born,” or any word with the suffix "olic."
The dirty secret of marriage counseling is that a lot of it just doesn't work. And the reason why it doesn't work is because marriage counseling is not “the one thing needful.”
What is needful is faith and works. The Way of the Cross and the Receiving of Grace. What is necessary is the practice of self-emptying, even starting with only one of the two partners. What is needed is for husband and wife to learn to control their own thoughts and emotions first through prayer and fasting. Their own lack of faith is played out treacherously and splayed out in the manifestations of these "impermissible rationales" – each of which bear a striking and spooky resemblance to logismoi (i.e., demonic insinuation).
The worst thing I have learned in marital counseling is this rotten fact: when marriages have been rescued, it was all by Grace of course. But most often, the one who took the most responsibility for the salvation of the marriage was the one less at fault. He or she was the one who led the way in repenting, despite the fact that she or he had the less to repent for. In a reality where there is no "No Fault" divorce, when usually one partner is more to blame, it is usually the other partner who wages peace.
In this regard especially, I grieve for all the "enablers" and "caretakers" who get reviled in the psycho-babble press. The idiom of modern counseling theory requires these spouses to lie and accept equal blame, which is almost always a distortion, and actually mitigates a sinner's chance to repent.
Hidden away in this noxious milieu of decrepit marriages and the cult of divorce and cohabitation is the sad tale of these "caretakers." Frequently, they are the only grownup in the marriage. Perhaps they grew out of a shared childishness that marked the early relationship, while the other spouse remained as he was. So one spouse changes and grows, adjusting to the deepening and wider scale of life that time requires. The other remains cooped up, by his or her own choice, in his little chicken-coop of adult cartoons and nitwit self-soothing strategies -- some of which are so inane a kindergartener would be embarrassed to admit.
Caretakers and other "enablers" should not leave. They wouldn't anyway, and they don't need me to tell them so. Rather, the Apophthegmata Patrum are for them, as well as St. Maximos' Centuries on Love. These people, in their hidden and unacknowledged way, know what taking up the Cross is about. They are forced, by desperation, into the sanctuary of prayer: and the angels will feed them, just like they nurtured a solitary little girl, once upon a time. And like the Theotokos, too, no one will ever know what they do: no epitaphs, no autographs. It is enough for them to say "be it unto me."
I suggest that what marriages really need, in order to prevent divorce, is not marriage counseling, but rather exorcism – i.e., exorcism in the manner of catechism and spiritual works, of being trained to refute these horrid insinuations and to speak in the language of servanthood, charity and forgiveness.
The Lordship of Christ and Orthodox "psychic order" (i.e., kenotic self-sacrifice, and a mutual desire for sacramental peace and beauty) are what is needed. Marriage is oneness of flesh: it is a mysterious icon of Christ's union with the Church. Only an adult woman and an adult man can know each other well enough. Too many overstuffed and plasticized children with Playboy bodies and Mattel heads hook up in sex outside the shadow of the Cross, and wonder why they cannot survive the witching hour of soulish interrogation.
Asmodeus always comes: do you know the right fish recipe?
I beg your pardon: that was an offhand allusion to the story of Tobias in Tobit. Not much is said, in pre-marital counseling, about this story. But I wonder if some allegory wouldn't profit here? Asmodeus -- the demon who slew the suitors of the lovely bride-to-be -- represents the aggregate of all the antipathy toward marriage -- the contrary sociological messages, the insane advertisements, the incitements toward passions, and yes, even demonic attack.
The interrogation will come: and will you two know what to do? This is the supreme question for pre-marital counseling: it is the thematic question that not only defines the course of "marital therapy," but sadly explains why the couple is at loggerheads, and the icon of the Wedding at Cana has become so blurred.
Exorcism is the only antidote to divorce.
Without exorcism, all marriage counseling turns out to be is a business of negotiation – and negotiation, in matters of the heart, is like bean-counting on the Altar.
Which is never a good idea.
The reason why there is so much divorce today is not at all because there are so many real reasons for it.
It is not because of the first short list.
It is only because of the second list of stupidities – a list, tragically, that is often cut-and-pasted into the language of the first.