Divorces are a real disaster of our times. Statistics indicate that every second marriage ends in divorce, while ten years ago only every third marriage failed. And even couples who married in the Church now divorce more often. Broken lives, the loss of any hope of building personal happiness, unhappy children who are very likely to imitate the behavior pattern of adults, the inevitable diminishing of the role of family and family values in the society—these are the most evident consequences of divorces.
Archpriest Pavel Gumerov, rector of the Church of Sts. Peter and Fevronia of Murom in Moscow; Nadezhda Grigoryevna Khramova, Candidate of Psychological Sciences, Associate Professor of Social Anthropology and Psychology Subdepartment of Ural State Technical University; and Farida Nutfullovna Savelyeva, Candidate of Technical Sciences, a school teacher and President of the “Parents, Educators and Scholars for Traditional Russian School with High Moral Standards” public organization explain the main causes of the breakup of marriages and give recipes for keeping families together.
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Farida Savelyeva: Today we can speak of divorces as of an epidemic which is raging not only in our country, but all over the world as well. We would like to begin this talk with an examination of the causes of this phenomenon, leaving the lion’s share of our time for the discussion of matters related to prevention of divorces.
marriage is strong where the religious and national traditions are observed or where the state ideology is strong. For example, in Europe, which is losing faith and where some Church festivals are being abolished, the family is dying. Meanwhile, young people in Muslim countries marry and have children. In the Soviet era the Church was persecuted, yet the state sovereign ideology which, among other things, protected family values, was strong.
In modern Russia the Caucasus region along with the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Area have the highest birth rates. Well, it goes without saying that the Caucasus has strong family traditions, but as for the northern regions, it is an achievement of the local authorities. TV content is closely controlled and regulated there. There are many pro-family social commercials on TV, numerous shows and reels promoting family, marriage and having many children. Many schools have a special subject about family life. I visited one of such schools when I gave lectures in the town of Nyagan.
Families are provided with other kinds of help as well. Of course, the standards of living and the percentage of young people in this autonomous area’s population are higher than in other regions. But that is not the main point.
A question arises: What prevents us from promoting family values and pursuing pro-family policies like this in other regions of Russia? The answer is that we are still unable to formulate our national idea. But here it is: the revival of faith, morals and family. Only these things can save our country.”
Nadezhda Khramova: According to our Constitution, no ideology may be instituted as a state-sponsored or mandatory ideology. But in fact it allows some groups to promote vice and unbridled passions in society. As a result, family and marriage in people’s consciousness are becoming less and less important: If pleasure is the only purpose of marriage, then change of partners is inevitable. Today we have a whole generation of young people who (due to the specifics of their upbringing) perceive marriage and family life as lawful “possession” of each other, which causes much mutual resentment.
consumerism is dominant in a world that is designed for lowering the average family size. The more lonely, isolated members of the society you have, the more they consume and use computers, phones, cars, flats and so on. These societies are oriented towards “disposable goods” and this approach applies to all, including human relations. “If I am not satisfied with my spouse, then it is not a problem—I will find a new one for myself, I will change him/her just as I change cars, fridges and other things!”
The reappraisal of values is obvious: they have been replaced with surrogates. Thus people devalue the things that until recently were the purpose of their lives and made them happy: closely-knit family, children, fidelity, love, friendship, an interesting job that not only helps you earn money but also benefits others and brings you joy. There is an acute deficiency of love in our country: we are selfish, individualistic, and in family life we lack patience, humility, compassion, and are incapable of carrying each other’s burdens (see Gal. 6:2).
Today when some say that people divorce because of infidelity, drunkenness, incompatibility of temperament and other similar reasons, they are in fact speaking about the effects of the mentioned causes, not the causes themselves. In our days when people get married they are unaware of the purpose of marriage; they don’t have a good idea of what family is like, how relationships should be built, how to raise children, and so forth.
Nadezhda Khramova: However, Father, very often people divorce because of trifles: mutual resentment, lack of agreement, rude words, stinging remarks, lack of thoughtfulness. Negligence, indelicacy, lack of respect in relations, when spouses are unable to value each other and to see what they mean to each other—these factors are destructive for marriage. Depreciation of a spouse’s achievements by another spouse can be very disparaging; mocking remarks and over-familiarity sooner or later may first lead to coldness and reserve in relations, and then to a breakup. For some reason, we often choose to show respect to others, especially to our bosses, but not to our closest relatives.
Young people often don’t understand that conflicts and difficulties in family life are inevitable—they arise a priori because of imperfections in each of us. More than that, young spouses are often not ready to become parents; there are more and more families where women are unwilling to have children. Moreover, infertility and babies’ birth defects are the trials that not every family can withstand.
Despite the apparent subjectivity and artificiality of the causes of divorces, in many cases they are not unfounded: unfortunately, quite frequently one of the spouses is enslaved by such vices as drug addiction or hard drinking and he is unwilling to reform, while the other spouse and all other family members humor him in every way. In my opinion, in this case marriage is not saving for the other spouse and children. Anguish of mind, resentment, insults, or beatings may lead to a deadlock, and then dissolution of marriage or moving into separate homes may help the marriage “sober up” and survive!
Archpriest Pavel Gumerov: If an alcoholic husband threatens his wife and children with an ax, then divorce is most probably unavoidable: Their lives are under threat. But if someone seeks an excuse for divorce, then every other man can potentially be accused of “alcoholism”! Wives should pray for their husbands, help them struggle with their passions and figure out the causes of drunkenness.”
Nadezhda Khramova: For every person divorce is always a tragedy in all senses of this word. If someone divorces at a young age, it means losing trust in the other partner, in the very possibility of love between people, confidence in them. It may leave a nasty aftertaste of anxiety, suspiciousness and even annoyance forever. As a rule, the second marriage of such people will be marked by distrust, resentment, and reproaches as it will bear elements of a fear of marriage and lack of faith in the next husband or wife.
If mature or middle-aged people divorce, it is actually a worse tragedy, especially for women, but for men, too (albeit they are less sensitive to psychophysical stresses)—they often lose their creative power and their lives become more “schematized”.
Archpriest Pavel Gumerov: One psychotherapist who worked at a crisis center in St. Petersburg (it provided rehabilitation to survivors of road incidents, crashes and other catastrophes) related that most of its patients were divorced women—divorce always leaves a trace. It is a great stress, a tragedy.
Divorce is a very individual situation. One must think through it thoroughly, consult a priest and specialists. Hasty decisions should be avoided. The Lord tells us: That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery (Mt. 5:32). Adultery and betrayal are terrible things, but, as a rule, people unconsciously create concomitant circumstances themselves. I was convinced of it in practice—as you begin to unroll the concatenation of events and relations with a divorced person, it emerges that the spouse who was abandoned had made many errors as well. By the way, it is impossible to make one’s husband or wife come back without seeing and realizing your own mistakes in marriage! Even divorce does not always mean the end of a relationship. Sometimes after divorce people reappraise, understand, forgive and accept each other for who they are, eventually reconcile and reunite and live better than before separation.
Nadezhda Khramova: Modern women have forgotten how to comfort their husbands, while men have forgotten how to support their wives. All of this prevents relationships from developing into one family unit! Spouses must always remember mutual respect; nobody is closer to a husband than his wife and nobody is closer to a wife than her husband—they are the closest people to each other, they can support each other like nobody else and, at the same time, hurt each other like nobody else! And the greatest task here is to teach them to live together!
Farida Savelyeva: Are there any universal rules of building relations between spouses that can guarantee a lasting and happy marriage?
Archpriest Pavel Gumerov: It would be good if couples would introduce this rule into their relations—it is a very uniting factor. For example, before I go out of the house my wife gathers our children and says: “We say good-bye to our father, we take his blessing!” When I come home everybody meets and greets me again—this custom is to my wife’s credit.
Nadezhda Khramova: Another tradition that should be revived in families is the common meal, which should be done at least in the evenings! It contributes to the unity of spouses and families as well.
Archpriest Pavel Gumerov: By the way, in the sixteenth century the Archpriest Silvester, an outstanding and well-educated author, wrote in his famous Domostroy [Russian book setting out rules of house management and family life]: “A husband and a wife shall not eat their breakfast separately, unless one of them is ill; and they shall eat and drink only at the appointed time.” The meal was a time when families gathered and could talk and discuss day-to-day affairs. Another extract from that book reads: “In all affairs of everyday life a master shall take counsel with his wife.
Nadezhda Khramova: Another important moment is a joint discussion of parental issues. Of course, it is wise to find the appropriate time for this—one shouldn’t “pour out” the problems of the day on the weary husband “at the doorstep!
Archpriest Pavel Gumerov: It is important to remember that spouses should discuss their family problems when they have very good, amicable relations, when they are well disposed towards each other—otherwise the words will be misinterpreted. And what usually happens nowadays? Spouses keep silent, endure to the last, and begin to discuss serious issues only when they cannot stand it any longer. Of course, nothing good comes of it. They use raised voices, take everything as a personal insult and it results in a quarrel.
If we want our partners to interpret our words rightly and don’t want to hurt them, then we should remember such a thing as “reflexive message”. So, instead of saying, “You must help the child with homework because I am struggling to cope with three kids!” or, “You must tidy up the room and cook dinner!” we should say, “I would appreciate if you could…” or, “Could I ask you to…” or, “I’d like you to…” or, “I am concerned that…” and so on. We should express our wishes without annoyance, categoricalness, without offending or hurting anybody. Believe me, that is much more efficient than repeating a demand with commanding voice and irritation a dozen times. It is important that your other half feel your benevolence—it is wrong to impose daily household chores on your spouse. And, beyond all doubt, one shouldn’t forget to thank one’s other half for any simple and routine work—after all, family happiness and joy consist of these nice, pleasant moments and words.
Nadezhda Khramova: It is important to settle minor disputes in time, to discuss them, not to “accumulate” and postpone them “for later”. It is also vital to understand that men and women see problems absolutely differently. Surely, experience comes with years, but nothing can be achieved without efforts and one should work hard to attain success.
Archpriest Pavel Gumerov: When we were in love, we were ready to do everything for our sweethearts, said pleasant words to each other, gave presents, devoted much attention and time to each other. What prevents us from doing the same today in our family life?! Did we expect stinging remarks, vitriol, or reproaches from our loved ones before marriage? No, we expected joy, which we felt in the period of our infatuation, and to the highest degree. There is a song by the well-known artist Bulat Okudzhava: “Let us pay each other compliments—after all, these are love’s great and happy moments!
It is important to remember that we enter into a marriage in order to serve each other, to make our spouse happy and find joy in family life. Our main task is to learn to be happy not because somebody did something for us but because we did something for another person! When we learn to do it, then our joy will be boundless and we won’t need anything else—neither gifts nor praises! And in fact it is the fulfilment of the Lord’s commandment: By serving your neighbor you serve God. Why did God create Eve for Adam? After all, Adam lived in the Garden of Eden, the Lord provided for him, fed him, communicated with him directly. Why is it not good for man to be alone? Why does he need a wife? Maybe it would have been enough for Adam just to communicate with God? No, the Creator gave Adam a wife because if a person lives on his own he becomes very selfish, ‘a consumer’, and lives only for himself. When somebody else is near us, we serve God through serving him/her, because all that the Almighty wants from us is our broken and contrite hearts! God wants us to express our love for Him through our love for our neighbors—and these people are our husband or wife, children, parents… And the main thing is to preserve our ability to give joy amid the difficulties, when we are building our family life, our hearth, after a period of courtship. It is advisable to start every morning with the prayer: “Lord, help me give more joy to this person and not upset him/her!” It makes your life and the lives of your nearest and dearest meaningful and happy!
Very many couples don’t have a full family life, filled with joy. Instead, they live inertly, “go with the flow,” or wait for something all the time. I remember that in one modern movie the main character, a policeman, admits with sadness, “My wife and I did not live but, rather, permanently waited for something. First we waited until we earned enough money for buying a flat and a car; then we waited for our first baby—and we did not have children for five years; after that we waited for our daughter to grow up. But maybe we should have lived, not waited all this time?” Yes, and they should have taken joy in every single day of family life.
Nadezhda Khramova: This is exactly the main prerequisite for a union of a man and a woman in one flesh and one soul. But in some cases when spouses have plenty of everything and begin to lead a life of luxury, distortions in family life may emerge, though while they were overcoming their difficulties together their relations were healthy.
Archpriest Pavel Gumerov: Unless you have joy in giving others disinterested help, you will sooner or later begin to reckon: You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. And then resentment and dissatisfaction with your family life and your other half will follow.
Farida Savelyeva: What can we recommend those who are thinking of divorce?
Archpriest Pavel Gumerov: I would recommend to those who are on the brink of divorce to try to understand how you got to this critical point, to realize the mistakes, in particular your own mistakes; then you will be able to overcome the deadlock of misunderstanding and disaffection. Family life, like spiritual life, is not all clear sailing. We all have our ups and downs. The main thing is not to act recklessly, not to make rash decisions and not to think that it is the end of the relationship. And at some point nearly all spouses have thoughts like these. Know that these are diabolical temptations. If you do divorce, you will feel very bitter and you will come to understand that you did not have serious reasons for drifting apart. Misunderstanding and arguments are practically unavoidable in marriages, but you should remember that it is possible to overcome anger, beginning with annoyance; rash steps are generally made in annoyance and irritation. You need to break free from your emotions, anger, or jealousy—they are very poor “advisers”. You need to quiet down and see a specialist, because being on the verge of divorce is already an illness that should be treated! Nothing disappears of itself. Happy memories are very helpful in such situations. The spouses have lived together, say, for fifteen years—and has their family life always been as bad and disastrous as today?!
There is a short story by the modern author Alexander Prokhanov entitled, “A Dress of Many Colors”. One man’s wife leaves him. This man constantly changed places of employment: drilled boreholes, built an oil-pipeline, worked as a truck driver, and made a living by fishing. Thus they moved from one place to another across the country for a long time without permanent residence, without a home of their own, remaining childless. At last the wife resolves to part with him—she longs for simple happiness, a home, a genuine family. At first the abandoned husband does not worry much. “I don’t care! There are lots of other women around!” But soon he begins to recall the time when they were a young, beautiful and happy couple, when they loved each other and enjoyed their life together. He recalls all the joys and sorrows they had together. He finally recollects how he once gave his wife a many-colored dress and how beautiful she looked in that dress. He finds this old and tattered dress and realizes that all he had been doing over those years—his job, his search and aspirations—all of this had been done for his wife’s sake and together with her. Without her all these things are worthless. So the man decides to find his ex-wife at whatever the cost because life is meaningless without her.
If you cannot change the situation and find a solution right now, don’t take ill-considered and thoughtless steps. Give place to God and time, and He will provide such circumstances that will show you the path.
In any case, do try to put off your divorce. It is a tragedy for you, for your spouse, for your children—absolutely for everybody! The lives of your children will change radically, and they will certainly build their own families under the shadow of the tragedy they have experienced.
Spouses quarrel and reconcile, but for some reason they don’t think about their children—they are not to be blamed for anything! In the end, their children—innocent and vulnerable creatures—become hostages of the parents’ egos.
In conclusion I would like to share several more rules that I apply in my own family life as well. As Blessed Augustine of Hippo said, family is a little piece of Paradise on Earth. People marry for their happiness and build a small ‘Paradise’ in their families with their own hands. We should give joy to our loved ones every day: say pleasant words to them, praise, thank, help each other, forgive. At the same time, we should do our best to avoid bad, unkind words, coldness, inattention, insults, petty and unnecessary reproaches, annoyance and anger during the day. Another important rule is the ability to see as many positive sides in your beloved spouse and advantages of your married life as possible, to cherish them and not to try to re-educate and change people around you. The ability to forgive the faults of your neighbors and not to make a tragedy of them is very essential as well. And the final point. You should do your common family work. Family is one organism, all of whose members share one common life and help one another.
And one more piece of advice to those who are going to marry: You should enter into marriage thinking that it will last forever, and accept your chosen one as your life’s companion, sent to you by God, and to mend your own faults, among other things.