Separation and Divorce
For many years divorce was rare among members of the Society of Friends. In recent years, it has become more common, reflecting the trend in society at large. Meetings have often felt inadequate to deal with problems raised by the break-up of a marriage in the meeting fellowship.
Yet Friends know that God is involved in every aspect of their lives and can speak to their condition in times of difficulty and pain. The meeting has a special opportunity to help early in a troubled marriage, to support impulses toward reconciliation, to help the couple considering separation and/or divorce to be more objective about the issues involved, about the impact on children and on wider relationships. The meeting should uphold the value and integrity of each individual, helping each to affirm self-esteem and purpose.
Support by the meeting through loving concern and the insights of Ministry and Counsel or an appointed committee can facilitate the healing process. All of those involved should be open to what God has to teach them through the experience so that they may look to the future with confidence and hope.
Love Must Change and Mature
Since God is the author of love, no couple can without Him make good their promise to love one another for the rest of their lives. By nature, we cannot love for ever with the same tempo of love the young man or woman we married in our twenties because we fell in love, not only with all that they then were, but also with all that was potential in them and in ourselves through them. Love must inevitably change and mature, and every relationship has its times of stress as well as its times of renewal. But there are periods in some married lives when all that can be done is to go on trying to love and to continue to believe in the elusive and unique quality for which we gave ourselves to our partner until death should part us.
What a triumph when old love is transformed into a deeper surer new love which can accept more fully what each has, and the pair find a rebirth together in those things which are eternal, and through this a renewal of their every-day living it is a path not a few Christian people have to follow. For a couple deeply rooted in the wide charity of Christ, marriage is safe and spiritually fruitful.
London Y. M.: Christian Faith and Practice, 1960, no. 489.
Healing and New Growth
Among Friends, marriage is entered into as a life-long commitment. Nevertheless, some marriages may become so painful and destructive to the persons involved that they can find no better solution than separation or divorce. The dissolution of a marriage which began in faith, love, and joy saddens us all. However, the recognition of this dissolution through divorce or separation may be the beginning of a process of healing and new growth.
Even those of us who disapprove of divorce can feel an obligation to nurture and support the individuals.
Family Life Subcommittee of New England Y. M. Committee on Ministry and Counsel: Living with oneself and others, 1978, p. 27.
Open to the Light
In individual cases we cannot judge what is right or wrong for a person to do. No one except the individuals involved know all the circumstances. The final decision of what is right must be left to the individual conscience. There may be cases in which separation or divorce is the best action that can be taken in that situation. There are always, in each of our lives, duties and commitments which call us to take the path which is not easy. We affirm marriage and the commitments to which it calls us, but to suppose that divine will puts regard for the "institution" of marriage above concern for persons and the human need for fulfillment, seems to many neither psychologically nor spiritually sound. We must try ... to be open to the Light, and to grow in our understanding of God's will.
Ibid., p. 24.
A Meeting Needs to be Sensitive
Clearness committees for divorce could serve the same purposes as clearness committees for marriage. If couples in love may be blind to their incompatibilities, couples in trouble may be blind to latent possibilities in their relationship. Just because two people claim that their marriage is over does not mean that it necessarily is. A substantial proportion of decisions to divorce are ultimately reversed, even after couples have filed suit for divorce. Thus, a couple who informed their Meeting that they were contemplating divorce should no more be assumed to have made the right decision than a couple who informed their Meeting that they were contemplating marriage.
For divorced persons, care is almost always needed. A single parent with custody of the children often needs assistance with the care and rearing of his/her children. Both the man and the woman are apt to need post-divorce counseling to help them work through their sense of personal failure and of bereavement over the collapse of the marriage. Finally, a Meeting needs to be sensitive to the desire of a divorced person to find companionship with persons of the same and the opposite sex to replace the former partner's companionship. He or she may welcome assistance in meeting new friends and opportunities to talk through with Friends the problems involved in resuming dating after a lapse of some years. The sexual issues involved in post-divorce friendships often are of special concern.
Bob Blood, "Divorce in Friends meeting" Friends journal, November 1, 1972, pp. 574-75.