Second in a three-part series.  Read part one here.

February 6, 2012

In last week’s Marriage Memo I wrote about the story of Robert and Page Melton, and the choices Page made after Robert suffered a brain injury. As described in a long Washington Post article, he became quite a different person, especially in his mental capacity. Life and marriage as they knew it would never be the same.

The article’s title, “The Vow: a family learns the true meaning of ‘in sickness and in health’” pointed to the central conflict in the story: the anguish Page felt about whether she would break her wedding vows if she divorced Robert and married another man. Eventually she chose this course, but felt she was still true to her original vows by continuing to assume responsibility for Robert’s care; when she and her daughters moved from Virginia to St. Louis to live with her new husband she brought Robert with them and moved him into a long-term care facility nearby.

Admittedly, this is an unusual and complex situation. As I wrote last week, “It’s difficult not to be moved with compassion at the situation Page faced. And yet … there is something very unsettling about her choices.”

I asked for comments from Marriage Memo readers, and as usual received a barrage of e-mails with some very interesting comments.

Some readers agreed with Page’s choices. One wrote:

I support Page’s decisions to divorce, remarry, and continue to care for her husband. … Due to his medical condition, Robert and Page were no longer capable of interacting as husband and wife. … In my opinion, the divorce did not result in a loss to one or both of the parties. Instead, it provides a benefit to Page, who now has a husband who was capable of loving and supporting her. It provides a benefit to the children, who now have a biological father who remains in their lives along with a mother and non-biological father who are able to love and nurture them.

Most of the replies were more critical, however.  Readers felt that, bottom line, it was clear that she had broken her wedding vows. Here are some of the comments:

“I would be heartbroken if my health deteriorated to the point where I was no longer my old self, and my husband left me.”

“What is she teaching her children about commitment to her wedding vows?”

“As I was reading the article, I just kept thinking, I couldn’t do that to my husband.  No matter how hard it is I would have to stay committed to him.  I would choose to rely on God to get me through and would cherish every moment God allowed me to have. After all, if God could take on all the pain and suffering for my sin, I could take on the pain and suffering of caring for a debilitated spouse and trust Him to give me strength to do so.”

“I would hope and pray that if I were in the situation I would seek the counsel of believers and they would encourage me to honor my marriage commitment and look to God as my helper!”

“Unfortunately, her pastor gave her the green light to break her covenant with Robert and with God.  Even though she knew in her heart of hearts that her marriage was supposed to be ’til death do us part, she decided to do what felt right.”

“[My husband and I have] committed ourselves to each other, knowing that whatever God has in store for us, we will remain together … Thinking that one or the other of us might end up with dementia (as his dad did) or with cancer (both of my parents) or anything else, for that matter, is scary.  But scary doesn’t relieve us of our commitment.  We’ve already stayed with each other through some tough times, things that I think many people wouldn’t have stuck around for. But those hard times have strengthened our marriage and our commitment.”

“I believe Page should have said, “This is my husband and I am not forsaking him, nor leaving him.” Love goes deeper than the physical act. She should have worked harder at showing him that she loved him in all the ways possible. … She missed a wonderful, teachable opportunity to show her girls what the true meaning of love is.  That would have been a better love story, because it would be the story of true love and a shining example here on this troubled and struggling earth of how God loves us.”

Another point raised by a number of readers was, “Is it right for us to judge?” After all, we have not walked in Page’s shoes, and all we really know about the story is what we’ve read in the Post article. And, in the end, isn’t God the only one who can judge a person’s heart?

In response, my first thought is that divorce is becoming so common that we need to be talking about it. We can’t be so afraid of appearing “judgmental” about a person’s choices on this issue that we avoid any type of criticism. The spirit I saw in nearly all the e-mails I received was one of sadness and compassion for Page, but also concern about the broader issue of the meaning of the marriage covenant in our culture today.

At the same time, I do think it’s unfortunate that one person has received so much attention for her decision to divorce. The fact is that people around us divorce all the time, and often for worse reasons. We just don’t hear their stories.

So, in the final part of this series, I’ll pull away to a bigger picture. Many couples go through severe challenges in marriage when one of them faces a serious illness or injury. What do you tell someone who is considering divorce in a situation like this? Many of your comments spoke to this issue, and I’ll include more excerpts.

© 2012 by FamilyLife.  All rights reserved.


Read part one and part three in this series.