I Still Do

The Myth of the "Sophisticated Divorce"

The idea that the ending of a marriage can be anything but devastating is a fantasy that all divorced parents want and so few achieve.

by Dave Boehi

In last week's Marriage Memo I wrote about John Portilla and Carole Anne Riddell, the Manhattan couple profiled in a New York Times "Vows" column after they left their original spouses for each other. The Times article was written as a celebration of two people who were "brave" enough to follow their heart so they could be together. But the controversy sparked by the article revealed that many readers saw through the sham.

In fact, here's the type of article on bravery I like reading: Two people who realize their attraction to each other is just plain wrong. Rather than leaving their spouses, they commit themselves to upholding their wedding vows and renewing their respective marriages.

But let me move on to an interesting commentary I read about the Times article on Portilla and Riddell. Writing in the Huffington Post, Wendy Dennis exposed the "myth of the sophisticated divorce."

The author wrote that she was troubled by "the apparently delusional manner in which these two people view the consequences of their choices on the people around them. I say delusional because Riddell and Portilla think they're having a sophisticated divorce, by which I mean that they believe, as many people do in our culture, that it is possible to divorce and wreak havoc in the lives of others, and somehow go about it in a civilized manner."

Today you see the "sophisticated divorce" portrayed on television--the main character who is divorced, gets along well with his ex-wife, and lives with his intelligent, mature, stable teenage daughter who often seems more wise than her parents. You hear echoes of the sophisticated divorce in the words of friends and family who divorce and claim the kids will be just fine. It's the fantasy that all divorced parents want and so few achieve.

The reality is that divorce is nearly always troublesome and messy, and the children caught in the middle are damaged in ways that many parents hardly comprehend.

As Wendy Dennis wrote,

I have been guilty of falling into this trap, and I know many thoughtful and caring divorced parents who have unconsciously fallen into it as well. For not only do children lack any agency in their parents' decision to divorce (not to mention its life-altering consequences), unlike many of their parents, they didn't see that homemade bomb coming. It just landed in their lives one day and took them out.

...

What these two besotted newlyweds don't seem to understand--or more likely prefer not to face--is that no matter how much they congratulate themselves for their handling of the debacle, or how resilient their children are, or how successful those children become later as adults, their children will have scars from the divorce, and they'll bear those scars, in one way or another, for the rest of their lives.

I didn't agree with everything Wendy Dennis wrote. She made it clear, for example, that she didn't want to pass "moral judgment on two people who fell in love and decided to leave their marriages to be with each other." Well, I guess on that point you'll just have to call me judgmental.

She also wrote that she wasn't arguing against divorce, although it sure seemed like she was. I would argue against divorce because it is against God's design--as evidenced by the devastation she acknowledges in the lives of the children.

But she and I would agree on one thing: We take divorce much too lightly in our culture.

The "sophisticated divorce" truly is a myth.

© 2011 by FamilyLife.  All rights reserved.

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