We’re cogs in a machine, to put it one way. We go about our lives spinning away, connecting with other cogs, disconnecting from others. Along the way our cogs and the cogs of others get worn, some even get chipped or broken if the relational coupling was traumatic. The point is, when two cogs couple for life, they are not pristine, perfectly machined, perfectly lubricated workers. Rather, they come together in a miraculous coupling of imperfection. The goal is to spin together for life, but for some reason or another, about 40-50% don’t (APA, 2016). Coupled cogs that collide rather than spin complimentarily through relationship are going to fail. Some catastrophically.
Blaming the other cog for the relational problems that led to the divorce is common. Which cog is to blame? Well, obviously it is the one that’s the most broken and screwed up, right? Those believing its the other’s fault adjusted more positively post-divorce, according to one study. Those who take responsibility for the marriage failing have a more negative view of themselves post-divorce (Amato & Previti, 2003). Well, if that cog wasn’t so jagged and screwed up, why did the “pristine” one decide to marry it? Why did the “broken” cog decide to couple with the “pristine” one? Well, obviously, the broken believed they could be healed by the pristine. Or is that what the pristine one thought? Maybe the broken one doesn’t even realize they’re broken. But it’s so obvious, isn’t it? What if the pristine one really isn’t all that pristine, but rather quite broken, too? What if the broken cog is actually spinning more smoothly than the pristine cog? What if the pristine cog’s expectations were set so high that the broken cog, regardless of its true condition, could never meet those pristine expectations? What if the broken cog is just broken and will never spin smoothly in conjunction with another regardless of the circumstances? Which cog is to blame? Enter divorce: it doesn’t matter.
If relationships are viewed as cycles of interactions, then there is no real beginning and no real end. Where does the water cycle begin? Where does the astronomical cycle begin? Relational cycles follow a similar pattern of no real beginning and no real end. In relationships, trying to pinpoint who is to blame is only a distraction from the real problem—the cycle itself is to blame. Some cycles are more likely to fail and do.
For those struggling with divorce or who have gone through a divorce, the blame game is probably something you’re very familiar with. The blamer and the blamed have a rough life ahead of them if they believe the faulty thinking that someone is to blame for the failed marriage. There are definitely some overt actions or behaviors that led to the divorce: an affair(s), drugs, alcohol, abuse, neglect, or work. All of these actions or behaviors, however, did not occur in a relational vacuum. The cycle of interaction led to many of these behaviors. Many of them were brought into the relationship prior to the marriage, but they were maintained or exacerbated by the relational cycle.
The hardest lesson to learn from a divorce is that the marriage was a cycle of interactions and for every action there is a reaction. For every relational need unfulfilled is an attempt for it to be filled. In other cases the need simply gets muted, only to fuel resentment and contempt. Some attempts at fulfillment were way outside the marital bounds and others were so armored in anger that they got lost in the escalating arguments. We communicate our feelings and needs in the best way we can given the emotional circumstances. Often our best isn’t good enough. Our abilities as husband and wife are often overwhelmed by the cycle. When there seems to be no other way out, enter divorce.
The good news is the cycle doesn’t have to repeat itself. The cycle, though it destroyed one relationship, can be reconditioned to aid in new ones. Cogs don’t have to hammer away at each other but can be realigned and smoothed out so that they spin together in harmony. That process begins with self awareness: understanding how you interact in relationship with others.
Ultimately, it’s our brokenness from being fallen beings in a fallen world that results in circumstances such as divorce. Brokenness will be the focus of my next installment.