I’ve been perking up to some near-conclusions about avoiding divorce.
One is that there is really no ground to be gained by perpetuating the myth of divorces in the Church caused by silly people who decide that divorce is no big deal, or that they should quit when marriage is hard. Those people represent a very small portion of Mormons who experience divorce, and they’re dumb enough not to recognize themselves in that description. This straw-man needs to be left alone.
Another is that there is a great deal of ground to be gained by helping avoid bad marriages which will end in divorce, and identifying widely held beliefs that contribute to them. In a Western/American context, this includes the belief that romantic love is the most important factor in choosing a marriage partner, and that that romantic love should result in blissful happiness at (virtually) all times, or something is drastically wrong and drastic measures are justified to try to regain that blissful happiness.
In a Mormon context, that includes the idea that joining the Church, following the Church program (priesthood, missions, temple marriage, children, callings, meetings, prayer, scriptures, etc.) should result in blissfully happy lives that include only challenges that build character and which are overcome relatively easily by following the program. It also includes the idea that we have foreordained spouses we have agreed to find and marry in this life (thank you Saturday’s Warrior), or that any two people who can gain temple recommends can make a marriage work (a misconception of Pres. Kimball’s backlash to the previous idea). It further includes the institutional Church’s tendency to encourage young marriage as an alternative to premarital sex. And the idea that a young man who has been on a mission is better marriage material than one who has not, while a young woman who has reached the age to go on a mission without being married is second-rate, is also a problem.
Please note that none of these widely-held beliefs can be found in the scriptures, nor can they be found in any Church published manual. What these are, without exception, are the philosophies of men mingled with scripture. And, in fact, there are comments to be found in the counsel of General Authorities and others in the Church who do identify some of these and challenge them to some degree. But there is such cultural power behind them that it’s hard to find someone who will lay them out and push against them with any particular power. Well, anybody who will be listened to.
Now, before I get inundated with disgruntled people who want to talk about the sacred cattle I’ve just gored, let me clarify a few things:
1. I do think romantic love is important. It’s also fun. But it comes and goes, and is closely related to lust and sexual excitement, which are cruel masters when they become masters.
2. Making good choices will result in a better and happier life than bad choices will bring. However, life is hard for everybody, and making good choices doesn’t stop that. There is no case in scripture where righteous individuals have had lives without difficulty — the only person on record for not making any wrong choices was nailed to a cross.
3. Saturday’s Warrior is a fun, floofy play that I enjoy much of. But there is scant scriptural background for any of the theological elements of the story, and absolutely none that we have preordained spouses.
4. Pres. Kimball said that any two worthy individuals could make a marriage work. Yes, he did say that. However, receiving a temple recommend does not mean that an individual as worthy in the sense he was speaking, nor does it even mean that they are worthy of holding that recommend. If you read or listen to the entire talk this statement was made in, it provides a great deal of context for that comment that clarify what he was and wasn’t meaning.
5. A faithful mission does make an individual better than they would be without serving that mission. However, it does not make them necessarily better than anybody else. There are more good men who have not served missions than there are good men who have, because there are way more people outside the Church than in, and the law of averages becomes a big thing at those kinds of scales.
6. Some of the youngest brides I have known are among the women I respect the most, and they have built strong marriages which have lasted a long time. My mother married at 17 for the first time. However, that first marriage failed, and young marriages very often do — I could tell horror stories about young brides as well. Exceptions exist, but, the rule remains — young marriages are highly problematic. Congruently teaching the Law of Chastity as something that individuals can actually live in the face of temptation, with support for how to manage that temptation, is a strong option in my opinion.