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.