Monday, October 21, 2013

Don't Turn a Blind Eye to Marital Abandonment

What should we do when people in our social circle abandon their marriages? When they're openly, even scandalously, unfaithful? Kristin Gomez has encountered this situation one too many times, and now she's speaking out about it. A graduate of the University of Virginia and former Spanish teacher, Kristin is now a homeschooling mother of 6 in Manassas, Virginia. She's part of a core team of couples at All Saints Catholic Church who are using the Alexander House resource, Covenant of Love, to help create "a marriage minded community." Best of all, she's married to a Colombian and living la vida loca, Catholic style!




Abandonment is when one spouse leaves the other despite the other's pleas for counseling and healing of the marriage in the hopes to restore love and stability to their family. (I'm not talking about the legal definition of abandonment here, just the common-sense meaning of the word.) Check the stats, but surprisingly this is MANY, if not MOST of "divorces" one hears about. Divorce is more of a mutual decision to legally get un-married. The kids still suffer (as do the spouses), but it is by and large a mutual decision. This is less common than flat-out abandonment.

I totally understand having to legally live apart when there is severe abuse or addiction. This is not about that. This is about one or both spouses feeling unhappy or unfulfilled in the marriage. I have never met an honest married couple that did not go through this once or many times and is still happily married.

So when I tell my friend that Joe has abandoned Jane for another woman and Jane and the kids are in agony and we must help in some way - please do not tell me "these things are complicated/there are always two sides/I do not think it our place to get involved/this is a private matter."

It takes two to make a marriage unhappy and two to heal it. I absolutely agree with that. However, it only takes ONE person to abandon the marriage and destroy the family. ONE.

In case it is still unclear: if I were to say to you, "Hey, Joe is beating the crap out of Jane and the kids - have you seen her? She has a broken nose, two swollen eyes and bruises all over the place. The kids are just as bad - tufts of hair missing, swollen lips, black eyes....my heart is breaking - we have to help in some way - we need to reach out to them ALL.....And we need to be there for the hurting ones in the meantime."

My guess is you would agree. You would not tell me it is complicated or private or takes two to fight or yadda yadda.

Well, when a father (and it could easily be a mother) abandons their spouse and family - the abandoner causes EXACTLY this much pain - but it is emotional...EMOTIONAL!! If you could SEE the pain of an abandoned spouse and the children - THIS IS WHAT IT WOULD LOOK LIKE - make NO MISTAKE ABOUT IT. Brutal, agonizing, constantly aching.

Emotional pain caused by spousal abandonment is worse than physical pain in some ways, because physical pain you can see and you can measure and it can evoke the proper response of urgency and assistance from family and friends and even the community. Emotional pain is considered too private. Too hard to gauge. Too easy to avoid involvement because you can pretend it isn't there. But deep down, you know it is. And we will be judged accordingly when the time comes.

So don't treat the abandoner as if life were going on as usual while he takes his paramour out for a night on the town and leaves his weeping wife and children huddled in a collective ball on the floor. He is committing emotional abuse and it deserves to be called that. We are called to love the abuser as much as any other human being. But Christian love of an abandoner or abuser comes in the form of consistent, gentle yet clear naming of his actions for what they are, and calling him to stop and ask forgiveness, and love again.

We need to stop ignoring the plight of these families, pretending that everything is okay in Catholicland, when it isn't. The worst pain is truly as Mother Teresa said - to be unloved.

21 comments:

  1. Dear Kristin Gomez,

    You ask your readers to "Check the stats." Can you offer me any sources? I am very interested in this. I am currently writing about divorce and canon law and would love some hard stats.

    God Bless,

    Anthony

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    1. The statistics are from the National Survey of Children. See this article by Hilary Towers, Ph.D. at the National Organization of Marriage blog: http://www.nomblog.com/8623

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  2. Karee, thank you SO much for this.
    I am the abandoned one, with ten children still at home. You are so right - everything is NOT ok in Catholicland...
    I often wonder if it's a sign of true friendship to stay on good terms with someone who has left his family, without ever bringing up the subject of his family struggling at home, and I really wonder if priests should be absolving spouses who have left their families, or if they should be giving them Holy Communion. I'm sure a couple of the priests I've been to for help think I'm just a neurotic woman who is upset just because her husband leaves the laundry on the floor or forgets their anniversary (or one of those other common complaints that wives make about their husbands) but my children and I have been emotionally abused. I call it Ephesians 5 Abuse! I feel like the widow from Sunday's Gospel searching for justice.
    With God's grace, there can be forgiveness and healing, but there also needs to be a change of heart on the part of the perpetrator; this will only come with an acknowledgement of wrongdoing.
    A prodigal in this situation won't listen to his or her spouse - the challenge has to come from someone outside the marriage.
    God bless you.

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  3. I'm so sorry for what you're going through! I pray that God's grace will change your husband's heart. And, you're right, sometimes the truth is heard better when it comes from an outsider. It's good for us to remember how much of an impact we can have and not be afraid to speak out.

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  4. Kristin is really on to something here. Unfortunately, the Church has done very little to address this problem, exhibiting a kind of "neutrality" which is really a second abandonment. One tragic result is that there are "Catholic" bloggers and counselors out there who have abandoned their spouses but continue to counsel couples on marriage and relationships. Sometimes priests and others know of this gross hypocrisy but do not intervene. Then, when the hypocrisy becomes public, the Church -- and those who have trusted the counselor - take a huge hit.

    In short, this is an issue that warrants high level attention in the Church, including in the forthcoming Vatican synod on marriage.

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    1. I'm very much looking forward to the synod. And I agree it's a tragedy when people teach with their words what they don't try to witness with their lives.

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  5. Thank you so much for this post. Our parish priest recently spoke about this issue in a beautiful homily at Mass. He spoke with such understanding and thoughtfulness, showing great concern for abandoned children and spouses these families. I am so grateful for the many compassionate priests who, acting in accordance with the love and mercy of Jesus, help families through this trial. In the past, too common were the occasions when the abandoned spouse was blamed. Too often, the Christians in the abandoned spouse's life would forget that he/she needed to be supported and comforted and not made to feel guilty. There was usually nothing he/she could have done to prevent the infidelity. I have heard stories of people leaving the church because of the way they were mistreated and accused, adding insult to injury, in these situations. The reality is that the "two sides" formula does not work in these instances. There is simply one sided selfishness. The abandoned party should never be blamed by telling them that there are "two sides to the story". That is just cruel and unkind! I am grateful for the increased awareness and sensitivity to the needs of the abandoned children and their parents who try to be both parents to them. I am grateful for Catholic teaching ~ God is so good!

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    1. Some marriage counselors even try to convince the abandoned spouse that it is her (or his) fault, that somehow they drove their spouse to commit adultery. The abandoned person may be at fault for some things -- nobody's perfect, after all -- but to blame them for the intentionally sinful action of their spouse goes too far, IMO. There are kinder and better ways to help a marriage recover from infidelity.

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    2. Karee,

      Thank you for writing this. It is most certainly a problem, and the guilt of the abandoned is about unbearable..

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  6. The problem with taking sides is that what looks like abandonment may be in reality a spouse trying to escape from emotional or other abuse. Abusers are, by definition, manipulators and will try to get people to see them as a victim to gain support and further isolate the former spouse.

    If you don't know the entire situation, I would be very careful about taking sides.

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    1. As someone commented on A Divorced and Remarried Man Yearns for the Eucharist, there are almost always two sides to these issues. There are some situations, tho, where people engage in publicly inappropriate behavior and I think it's right to call them on it. In the particular situation Kristin was describing, I believe, there was a prominent married member of the parish who had a very visible extramarital affair with another married member of the parish. Then after they both left their respective spouses, they continuously showed up at parish events together where their former families also attended. Sometimes emotional abuse leads to adultery. That doesn't make the adultery right or publicly acceptable.

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  7. In January 2014 my wife wrote on my birthday card that she would grow old together with me. In May 2014 her mother came to live with us, and in November of the same year my wife and mother-in-law took my 3 children and moved out of the family home. We went to marriage counselling but this seemed to only harden my wife's position. After several sessions she said she did not want to continue because I would never change, even though I was willing to do anything to save the marriage. I would recommend that abandoned spouses read "Love Must Be Tough" by Dr James Dobson, and "The Divorce Remedy" by Michelle Weiner-Davis.

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    1. I'm so sorry to hear what happened to you -- and so recently, too. Thank you for the book recommendations, and I'm glad they've helped you get through what must be a very difficult time.

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    2. Another good book that was published this year is: "Torn Asunder: Children, the Myth of the Good Divorce, and the Recovery of Origins". It contains many excellent articles on courtship, marriage and the effects of divorce from a traditional Catholic perpective.

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  8. Hi Karee, thank you for your reply.
    The first book arrived when my wife quit marriage counselling, 7 months after she left me. The second, 3 months later, when she announced that she wanted a divorce. Better late than never I suppose!
    Two priests were somewhat helpful. My mother-in-law had told my wife that it was the 'Divine Will' that she save her from an unhappy marriage. A priest later told my wife that God's Will was for us to be reconciled, but she just seemed to ignore that advice. Another priest was reluctant to criticise her decision to separate, but later on pointed out to her the Church's opposition to civil divorce.

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    1. It is so sad when someone outside the marriage interferes in and damages the relationship between husband and wife. Praying that your wife continues to seek and hear counsel from wise priests -- also praying for your eventual reconciliation!

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  9. Thank you for your prayers. I will let you know if my wife ever has a change of heart.

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  10. Too often too, I see a type of vengeful attitude, hearing that the abandoned spouse and her ( sometimes his ) friends take to FaceBook or other social media in order to "expose" the one who abandoned in order for some sort of conversion. I have never ever seen a spouse return to his or her abandoned spouse due to that kind of treatment. In fact, it only seems to harden the one who left in their very conviction to stay away. I have however, happily witnessed spouses return to each other. And it's an amazing and beautiful thing. What I noticed about the couples who return to each other is that the abandoned spouse never ever said an unkind word about the spouse who left them but prayed for them instead, and excused their behavior in public and among friends. A very difficult thing to do; however I have witnessed it working! And so I highly recommend it to every husband or wife who has ever been abandoned. Perhaps this loving treatment and the enormous sacrifice is the very thing to bring about the conversion of the other.

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