( Originally Published 1918 )
BY many, divorce is considered an unmitigated evil. The experience of the human race, however, seems to prove that there may be a right and a wrong use of it, as of everything else.
One of the first and most essential steps to-ward the solution of the divorce problem is a better understanding of marriage, both as to its physiological basis and its demand for mental companionship and spiritual harmony.
If our children were taught from their earliest years the sacred responsibilities that come with marriage, there would not be so many hasty and ill-considered unions which must inevitably, in so many instances, result in ultimate separation. When physical fitness is properly considered before marriage, the divorce courts will be relieved of a certain proportion of their cases, and when the principle of self-control in sex matters is inculcated in early childhood, there will be fewer cases of marital infidelity. Thus, by putting the proper safeguards around marriage, we can readily see how the number of divorces may be materially reduced. On the other hand, until the human race has attained to perfection there seems little likelihood that we will reach the point where divorce will not have to be considered.
We read in the Bible that "they twain shall be one;" and we forget that this is a prophecy and not a statement of achievement. As soon as the marriage ceremony is performed we look upon the contracting parties as already one. In reality, they have simply begun to try to become united in a common life. If they do eventually merge their individualities into a common existence, they are truly married. If, however, as the years go by, instead of growing together, they grow farther and farther 'apart, their state can-not truly be called that of marriage. Under these circumstances, it would seem as though divorce were but the outward expression of a state which already existed in the inner reality. These two are not one ; they are two, separate and distinct. If they find it impossible longer to maintain a semblance of unity, their seeking relief in the divorce courts should not be looked upon as disgraceful.
This is not intended as an argument for frequent divorce and promiscuity of relations. Divorce must ever be a confession of failure, and no one likes to proclaim himself to the world as a failure in any line.
In some of our States the idea still prevails that only for the one cause of unfaithfulness should divorce be granted. We see the effect of the law in the fact that when conditions have become unbearable, one or the other of an unhappy wedded pair will give cause for divorce, choosing to bear the stigma of wrong-doing rather than longer endure marital unhappiness. This puts an unnecessary burden of shame upon the children, who must share, to a degree, in the disgrace of the parents.
Another undesirable result of the law which allows only unfaithfulness as a cause of divorce is the publication in our daily papers of the unsavory details of such cases, making young, developing minds more or less familiar with matters which should be kept from the public gaze.
There are those who would urge the unhappily married to endure to the bitter end, and, in many cases, it may be better for them so to do, especially if there is no marked in harmony between them. Discontent with one's present partner may be very largely a matter of mental attitude which can be changed through a better understanding of life and a deeper insight into character. Where two temperaments clash, how-ever, in such a way that there is constant bickering and quarreling, surely it were better for all concerned that the two should be relieved of a relationship which works such severe detriment to all concerned. In such a case as this the plea that the two shall remain together for the sake of their children has little weight, for it cannot be considered desirable for souls to develop in such an acrimonious atmosphere. Better that the children should be deprived for a part of the time of the presence of one parent or of the other, if thereby it may be made possible for them to grow up in an atmosphere of harmony.
It is without doubt a great mistake, however, for two young people to rush to the courts as soon as they find themselves a little dissatisfied with each other. Divorce should come only at the end of a long effort to overcome the tragic situation. If the two concerned could have a series of frank talks together, they might come to an understanding of each other's mental condition, and so discover a way of composing their difficulties. Thus many an action might be avoided.
There is little doubt in my mind that one of the most potent causes for unhappiness in marriage lies in the idea of possession. In the early days of courtship, it sounds beautiful to have the beloved reiterate, "You are mine, you are mine." In marriage, however, that sentiment often takes a form which might well be expressed in the words : "Now you are mine ; I can do any-thing I choose and you have to put up with it."
It has sometimes been suggested that if our marriage laws were different, many a man would be restrained from cruelty and neglect by the knowledge that such actions might cause the breaking-up of his home, and there seems to be an element of truth in such a statement. We can at any rate teach our young people that this idea of the possession of another individual is wrong. Lovers and married persons possess each other only in the sense that they have the right. to serve each other in the most intimate ways. So long as that idea of possession is held, there will be happiness in the marriage relation, and divorces will be relegated to the outer limbo of the unnecessary.
There is one important consideration which may well be urged upon those who, having children, yet feel that they can no longer remain together. For the sake of the little ones they should endeavor to take as generous an attitude toward each other as possible. Nothing should ever be said by the one which would in the least degree change the attitude of the child toward the other. In their management of the children's lives, they should endeavor to be as harmonious as possible. For nothing is more detrimental to little, unfolding souls than accusations of wrong-doing between their parents, and a continued unsettling of their lives through the changing exactions of father and mother.
Whatever their differences along other lines may be, let the separated couple endeavor, as far as possible, to be one in the guidance of the lives of their offspring. There is no reason why persons so placed should be deadly enemies, or even unkind critics. Let them in their separation endeavor to be kind and just to each other, and so prove that divorce has been used by them, not as a means of retaliation, but rather as the only remedy for a situation which was rendering them unfit for their work in the world.
When we take into account the fact that the intimate relationship of marriage is only justified where a great love draws two individuals into spiritual unity, we must also realize how wrong it is to keep them chained together when a force the very opposite of affection is driving their spirits apart. What must be the inharmonious condition of human beings who come into being under such circumstances? They are called into existence, not by the love of their parents for each other, but by that base counterfeit of love which we call lust. They must necessarily be at odds with themselves. Their souls will feel the discord in which they were born throughout life, and they may be unable ever to adjust themselves to life in such a way as to find happiness. Surely, for the sake of the children who may come into the. world, it were better for two such people to separate and remain apart forever more.
There are those who maintain that, while it may be right to allow two individuals who are no longer one in heart to separate, they should not be permitted to remarry. This, again, seems an unnecessary cruelty. Should we condemn human beings to lifelong loneliness, because, it may be through no fault of their own, they failed in the first instance to find a satisfactory marital companion? It is not good for man or woman to live alone. Human beings need homes and companionship. They can do better work in the world under such conditions, and while society may well frown upon those who divorce and re-marry with reprehensible ease and frequency, nevertheless it should not put the ban upon those who, with the purest motives in the world, find themselves facing the problem of marriage after divorce.
After all, marriage is a human-made contract. It has developed as the result of many generations of experience on the part of the human race. It is quite possible that it may be modified in the years that are to come, as humanity comes into a better understanding of itself and its need; of this much we may rest assured:—where the divine power has drawn two souls together in a real soul-unity, they cannot be separated by any outward circumstances.