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Are They Affected By The Divorce, Really?

Dr. Chris and Alisa Grace pose for the cover of The Art of Relationships Podcast.


Chris Grace: Well welcome to another Art of Relationships podcast, I'm Chris Grace.


Tim Muelhoff: And I'm Tim Muehhloff.


Chris Grace: And we come to you every other week or so looking at different relationship issues and topics related to marriage ...


Tim Muelhoff: That's right.


Chris Grace: ... and how to do things in a relationship that not only maybe surprised the world sometimes, Tim, but give us a whole different way of looking at the lens to look at relationships ...


Tim Muelhoff: That's right.


Chris Grace: ... and marriages because from a Christian perspective some things seem pretty weird and different, some things seem amazing, and the world sometimes sees things and looks at issues, let's say like divorce, in a very interesting way, and we just ran across that recently with some news out in the world. So let's talk about it.


Tim Muelhoff: Yeah, and we purposefully decided not to use the name of this Hollywood couple. One because honestly we don't want to pick on them, and but we do want to read the statement that they put out. Again, let me just say this, Chris, kudos to them for not wanting to have a bitter divorce, right, because they have a child who is six years old. I give them kudos for saying, "You know what, we're not going to make this nasty publicly," but in their statement that they released why they were separating, getting divorced, you really do get an interesting insider's perspective of what motivated their marriage.


So here is a part of their statement. This is what they said, "We have lovingly chosen to separate as a couple. We fell deeply in love so many years ago and have had a magical journey together. Absolutely nothing has changed about how much we love one another, but love is a beautiful adventure that is taking us on different paths for now. There are no secrets or salacious events at the root of our decision, just two best friends realizing it's time to take some space and help each other live the most joyous, fulfilled lives as possible. We are still a family and will always be lovingly dedicated parents to Everly. We won't be commenting beyond this and we thank you all in advance for your respecting our families privacy, sending lots of love to everyone."


Now that's interesting to think about Chris, right? What's your initial reaction to that as you listen to that?


Chris Grace: Well I think, I know this sounds like a weird connection, but I think back to when Ronald Regan said his biggest mistake he believed politically was when he got rid of fault divorce, so he created no fault divorce.


Tim Muelhoff: Oh, okay.


Chris Grace: What he said was ... Well, first of all, California, when he was governor, signed for the first time underneath his governorship the first no fault divorce bill. Now, every state now has that of course. This was back in, I don't know, back in the '70s, early '70s, and what it did was just this, it created an amazing number of people who can now ... And our divorce rate surged at that point in this country, because what happened in the few decades that followed this was just this transformation and divorce rates more than doubled. That was just, in a decade, divorce rates don't double like that


Tim Muelhoff: Right.


Chris Grace: So all that to say, when I read it I think how simple it is to make a statement that we would like to encourage another person to have joy and love and it's just not going to happen here. Wow, that's an amazing reason to go ahead and split.


Tim Muelhoff: Yeah and so just to bring your listeners up to speed, so before this, before not fault divorce, you had to actually make an argument in front of a judge who could deny it.


Chris Grace: That's right.


Tim Muelhoff: Or postpone it.


Chris Grace: That's right.


Tim Muelhoff: When no fault divorce happened, any reason was good enough.


Chris Grace: That's right.


Tim Muelhoff: No one could deny you, and that might take six months, it might take eight months, a year, but no one can deny your voice. So then you get people saying, "Listen, we just fell out of love. We're best friends, 'Love is a joyous adventure,'" to quote this couple, "And now the adventure is seemingly taking us on different paths, so hey, nothing's changed, we love each other, we just don't want to do this marriage thing anymore."


I think, here are some quick thoughts, Chris, and I know you have some statistics on this, so when I'm reading this, I can't help but believe that this is not a beautiful adventure for one person at least, and that's their daughter.


Chris Grace: That's exactly right.


Tim Muelhoff: Right? I mean she's six, we know that. Age six we know cognitively is a pivotal year and now she's going to lose one of the primary caregivers and her world is going to be rocked with lasting effects. So I just kind of look at this a little bit and I say, "Man, guys at such a developmental age you're now choosing to go on your own adventure and you're leaving her to struggle." So Chris, when you think of statistics with young kids, what happens with divorce?


Chris Grace: Well, first of all the foundational concern is that we have now, in this day and age, we now kind of embrace this idea of soulmates as the basis for marriage, and so your joy, my joy are now the supreme reasons why we stay together, right? So this idea of an emotional, maybe priority is now being chosen in this case for the two people's emotional welfare over the child's welfare. In the past we always put the child's welfare at front as to why you would stay in a marriage.


Tim Muelhoff: That's right.


Chris Grace: I mean you've experienced divorce as a young kid with your parents. I've not experienced divorce.


Tim Muelhoff: Right.


Chris Grace: But you've experienced a time in which your parents, in this day and age, may have been tempted ...


Tim Muelhoff: Oh, absolutely. Oh, Chris that's what's weird about the cultural aspect of divorce. Back then to be a divorcee, back when my parents, when we were six, when I was six, it was a negative connotation and you just didn't do it. So my dad, you know God bless him, my parents struggled, right? By the way they were married for 48 years. They struggled, but my dad said, "You know what, for the kids I'm staying in this."


Chris Grace: Staying in it, yep.


Tim Muelhoff: So we get a lot of couples come up to us at the marriage conferences we do at the Center For Marriage and Relationships and my wife and I also speak for Marriage Family Life Marriage conferences, and they will come up and they'll say this Chris, I think it's fascinating, they will say, "Would God have me stay in an unhappy marriage?" That's a really interesting comment that we will get back too. But did you have some specific statistics?


Chris Grace: Yeah and I want to rely on somebody, his name is Brad Wilcox, he's a professor in Virginia, or he was for a while there and he ran the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, and he also is a senior fellow at the Institute For American Values. I'll just kind of rely a little bit on some of his research, but he talked about what's called, The Myth of the Good Divorce. Because, see people believe now, and I think this couple epitomized this, that there's a good divorce, right? And the myth is it just doesn't stand up to scientific inquiry. So when he goes and does his research it shows: Wait a minute, if you look especially at the welfare of the children that are involved, you come up with a different picture.


Now here's an ironic thing about some numbers that he points out, and I love this in his study, in times of highly conflicted divorces, that is there's so much conflict, which is one of the number one reasons why couples separate, there's just too much conflict, right, in the early years, followed by a decreasing amount of intimacy. So that's what they claim, when most couples get divorced, I mean infidelity, high conflict, lower intimacy levels.


Tim Muelhoff: By the way, that's not this couple.


Chris Grace: No.


Tim Muelhoff: No, this isn't this couple at all. Go ahead.


Chris Grace: And here's the interesting thing about that, in one third of the divorces, there's so much conflict they actually find that there can be some evidence that it helps the children, because they're not living in this home.


Tim Muelhoff: That's right.


Chris Grace: But here's the thing, I loved what Brad Wilcox brought out in this, he said in more than two thirds of all divorces it doesn't involve highly conflicted marriages, and here's the quote, "Unfortunately these are the very divorces that are most likely to be stressful for children, when they don't involve highly conflicted." So he quotes a study from Penn State, some of these, they did this research there that said, "When children see their parents' divorce because they have simply drifted apart or because one or both parents have simply become unhappy, maybe not maybe as much in love, the kids' faith in love, commitment, and marriage is often shattered."


Tim Muelhoff: Oh absolutely.


Chris Grace: So that's it. So here's this problem that you've identified, the number one concern is probably the six year old child who sees loving parents, who are supposedly in love, and now all of a sudden, what's that message? That message of love and commitment is gone for them. By the way, in wake of this, these kinds of children who come out of marriages that are broken up because of these reasons, they point to evidence that shows they're more likely to experience all kinds of factors that put them at risk.


Tim Muelhoff: Yeah.


Chris Grace: So there's just really, I guess to say the majority of these divorces, they're not in the best interest of the children, and therefore they are sacrificing much of this kid's future experiences of what does it mean to be in love and to have a good marriage and to make a commitment.


Tim Muelhoff: And that's why we chose not to mention the name of this couple, right?


Chris Grace: Yeah.


Tim Muelhoff: We really don't want to pick on them, but what you said so applies to this, Chris. I mean remember, go back to the statement, "We fell deeply in love so many years ago, absolutely nothing has changed about how much we love one another," right? So that's exactly the prototype situation that Wilcox is talking about. See if my parents would have gotten divorced, and a Christian, of course we've done podcasts on this right?


Chris Grace: Right.


Tim Muelhoff: We believe, you and I both believe that divorce has minimal reasons why you can get a divorce in a Christian marriage. But if my parents would have gotten a divorce I think all of us would have said, "Do you know what? This has been a long, long hard road and I'm not condoning it, but I sort of kind of get it." You know what I mean?


Chris Grace: Mm-hmm (affirmative).


Tim Muelhoff: This girl is going to be shattered by this and again, I'm also thinking of another famous actress who actually came up with a term about ...


Chris Grace: Conscious.


Tim Muelhoff: Conscious uncoupling. Now listen, I give her a little bit of break in the fact that she want to shield her child from that word divorce, so I give her a little bit of kudos for trying to ... Again, any time you are trying to shield a child from lasting impact, I get kudos, but again that was another situation where they said, "Hey, we're best friends, we love each other, we just kind of went in different directions," and you're saying Chris, that is what's most devastating to a young child.


Chris Grace: It is.


Tim Muelhoff: Yeah.


Chris Grace: So the numbers Tim, that you're asking for are pretty astounding. There's a study out of Bowling Green State that looked at the adult children of divorce, when these kids are now adults, they are 47% more likely to be cohabiting, right? But basically means is that adult children of divorce not only are more likely, but 89% more likely to divorce themselves than someone that was raised ...


Tim Muelhoff: 89 ... what did you ...


Chris Grace: So there's this, somebody who studied this named Nicholas Wolfinger and he found that adult children of divorce, so once they grow up, are now 89% more likely to divorce themselves compared to adults who were raised in intact married families. What that means is these numbers show that what can be for the parent, or for the adults in this, emotionally maybe, I don't know, satisfying or it feeds into what they need, it really comes at the expense and sacrifice of the model of marriage, their children's eventual kind of understanding of love and commitment, and then also even this kid's notion of you know what is right for them and not right for them. So this is ...


Tim Muelhoff: And a precedent has been set and they've seen it, even if their divorce was really hard but a parents rebounds, unless it goes into a second marriage that's a good marriage, then the child is thinking, "Okay, this is recoverable. You can recover from this."


Chris, now I think is a good time for us to stop and say to our listeners, listen, if you are on your second marriage, if you are on your third marriage and you're beating yourself up right now, like you're saying, "Well I think that couple that you just quoted, their statement sounds an awful a lot like our situation. We just, we called it quits. We didn't love each other. We didn't have high conflict, we just didn't want to do this anymore." And if you're a follower of Christ you need to know that you've been forgiven. That the forgiveness of Jesus covers past transgressions, past regrets, and that your current marriage is not a second class marriage in God's eyes. God can take the marriage you're in right now and He can say, "I can redeem it, I can make it for my purposes you can be a great witness to other people."


So again, we just want to say to people listening, hey ... But we also want to say, Chris, to the listeners who are on this road, right, of saying, "You know what, I don't want to do marriage anymore. We've grown apart." We want to say, if you are a follower of Jesus, we don't think that, that's biblical grounds for divorce. We're going to answer the question in a minute, would God have you stay in an unhappy marriage, but again if you're thinking about getting a divorce it is good to think about the kids, it is good to think about biblical grounds and things like that.


Chris Grace: Yeah and likewise Tim, a third category of people may be those who are children of divorced families who are maybe feeling, oh good there is going to be [inaudible 00:14:22] ...


Tim Muelhoff: Destined to.


Chris Grace: Yeah and I'm destined to repeat this, and you are not.


Tim Muelhoff: No.


Chris Grace: It's just that there is a greater ... Just having greater odds doesn't mean in your individual situation that you're going to now, you know deal with divorce as a likelihood. Instead, what you're doing is making decisions and choices that you can, including, I know this sounds maybe self-serving, but to listen to podcasts like this or seeking out information about how to do relationships well, you're already giving yourself all kinds of benefits down the road. So I think for those who have experienced divorce, like myself, my family we ...


Tim Muelhoff: That's right.


Chris Grace: My parents divorced when I was in the eighth grade and it's clear that I'm sure I'm at greater risk compared to those whose families, you know, or maybe they stayed together, but I also know that as you mentioned, God does transform. I mean what Jesus has done in my life and through you know an amazing transformative work, it does change the way I see relationships and marriage and it has actually even given me hope and greater strength to avoid the pain that's out there. So this doesn't condemn people to life of misery just because of some of these stats.


Tim Muelhoff: Now we need to ask a huge question, how would a Christian marriage narrative be different from the narrative we just read about this Hollywood couple?


Chris Grace: Yeah.


Tim Muelhoff: In other words, there is a voice in your head that is providing you motivation about marriage, parenting, everything, so what would a Christian narrative sound like? And one thing I want to bring up Chris, we can kind of kick this thing around a little bit, is I wonder if in our culture today we haven't subtly become used to dealing marriage as a contract. Again we have more litigation in this country than a lot of countries, so is my marriage a contract or is it a covenant?


Chris Grace: Covenant, that's right.


Tim Muelhoff: And I think sometimes we say it's a contract. So in a contract here's what happens, two parties agree to fulfill their part of the agreement. If one party breaks the contract or violates it, then the contract is null and void. So Chris we had our house painted, the outside of our house, and we picked two different colors, right? Gray as the basic color but then we also picked off white, a certain kind of off white. Chris, do you have any idea how many different off whites there are?


Chris Grace: No, but I imagine there are.


Tim Muelhoff: Oh Chris, it's insane, but we picked on that we thought would really pop next to the gray, right? So this guy painted our house, he did a great job, but then Noreen and I are walking into the house and both of us are like, "Does that white just seem kind of dingy to you?" My wife was like, "Yeah, it really does." "Well let's just make sure that we picked the right white." Sure enough we did, we had the samples. We put that sample up Chris, and it was as clear as a bell. He did not use the right white. So we called, we hadn't paid him yet, right? You know that whole thing you pay a little bit down payment and then final, right?


So he comes over and we said, "Hey, great job with the gray, but the white is off." He goes, "Well, yes. I had extra white and used that white, but it's so close nobody could tell." I said, "You know ironically, both my wife and I could tell." So we literally held it up and he said, "I'm going to be honest with you, we're talking degrees here." I said, "Well I'm going to be honest with you, you asked us to pick. We picked a certain number of whiteness, sample-wise, you didn't do it. So guess what, we're going to ask you to redo it." Chris, he had just a look on his face, God bless him, he was like, "Really?" I said, "Yeah, because we signed a contract." I think people view marriage that way, right Chris?


Chris Grace: Yeah, so define then the difference. What's a covenant, what's a covenantal versus contractual marriage? So I think for people who are new to this or who are thinking about, "Aren't all relationships contractual?" And we would say of course. In a dating relationship they're contractual, right? I mean you are not in a covenant relationship. But, when something occurs such as the importance of a marriage, you know the vows that occur there, you're actually vowing in most cases, at least if you did traditional vows, to a covenant relationship. Inviting God in, in other words. So what is that?


Tim Muelhoff: Yeah, so let me mention a researcher from Rutgers University. He makes an interesting contrast between covenant and contract, but then I'll offer my two cents on what I think a covenant is like. But he said this, he noted that marriage used to be a bond of mutual dependency rooted in a religious bond of sacramental worth. Then he says this, "Today marriage has become a purely individual pursuit, an implied and not very enforceable contract between two people. A relationship designed to satisfy basic needs for intimacy, dependency, and sex when those needs change, or when a presumptively better partner is discovered, marriages are easily dissolved." Right?


Chris Grace: Yeah.


Tim Muelhoff: You didn't use the right color and we agreed that you would. Or, based on that Hollywood couple we just talked about, well guess what, we changed. My needs changed. A covenant, Chris, is this idea that you enter into it with a higher purpose to it and that's what a Christian needs to ask, "Okay, ultimately what's the purpose of my marriage?" I think God would say, "Of course I want you to be happy, of course I want you to be fulfilled, but that's not the highest purpose of this marriage."


"You're purpose," Paul says, in Ephesians Chapter five, "Is to mirror God's love for people to be at a physical manifestation of the complexity and glory of God's love." Which means, if we go back to that question, "Would God have me stay in an unhappy relationship?" The answer is, for a period of time perhaps as you're working it out. He's saying, "Listen, the big metaphor people need to get as they look at your imperfect marriage is God's love never stops." So the purpose of my marriage with Noreen is people should see some of the divine grace, love, acceptance and it's a covenant, which means there are times Noreen will not uphold her end of the deal or seasons when I don't, but we don't bail because it's a covenant not a contract.


Chris Grace: Yeah, no that's good Tim. I think what we've lost, I think this would be foreign to a lot of people now, understanding that we are simply people, who at one point when we said something or we committed to something, that vow meant something, but it seems as if we have now replaced that with a different vow. That is ultimately my happiness, my joy, and that's I think the idea of that soul mate, marital connection that says this, "We will be together so long as you are happy and I feel and I'm happy and we bring each other's happiness." So the covenant is, that's what we'll covenant under, which is breakable because it's based only on feelings and emotions that are pretty subjective, and of all things can be changed pretty radically.


How long before you were married before you realized that marriage is going to take a little bit of work and it's not going to be this all joyful, all amazing moment of just from now on everything is better. It doesn't take long.


Tim Muelhoff: Yeah, two quick comments about that. One, I like what you were saying about the vow in a contractual relationship really is between two individuals. A Christian marriage, think of all those different ways those vows go, right? It is to each other, of course we're making a vow to each other. But I'm also making a vow to God.


Chris Grace: That's right.


Tim Muelhoff: I'm also making a vow to her parents. She's making a vow to mine. We're making a vow to all of our friends, "Hey, we're in this together as a community and before God and these witnesses, we make the vow." It's so much richer and more complex a vow than just in a contractual marriage.


Chris Grace: Yep.


Tim Muelhoff: And the second thing, just real quick, so tragically the couple that we eluded too, this Hollywood couple, they've only been married eight years, and I mention a psychologist in a book I wrote who says, "It takes roughly ten years to find the rhythm." So think about this Chris, they're two years away from finding out even what the rhythm is, and it's just so sad that in year eight, they're calling it quits.


Chris Grace: Yeah I think it just makes it more tragic, Tim, that what they really don't realize ... And I know a little bit too and this couple that you're talking about and saw where they said they really tried to work at it and marriage is work and it's hard, but for whatever reason if you go into this without some of these other additional resources, I think what happens is you hit these roadblocks and then you realize, "Listen, why would I keep fighting for something like this?"


Tim Muelhoff: That's right.


Chris Grace: "There is no bigger, deeper motive or nothing deeper foundationally for me to do," and I think that's unfortunate that they are for whatever reason are not able to see or be exposed to this idea that there is something more important right now than just your feeling of happiness, that there is something greater and deeper and it has huge consequences for not only them, their child, but for culture and society and the institution of marriage.


Tim Muelhoff: And here's what this couple doesn't have that you and I do have, right? Is that if you left Alisa, right, and you show up at my doorstep, and you said, "Tim, I need a place to crash tonight." And I said, "Chris, what's going on?" And you said, "Listen, I just, you know, we're still good friends, I love her, but man I just, there's so much more I want to do with my life."


I'd look at you and say, "Chris, which of my martial arts weapons do you want me to use to kill you?" Right? Because this is what's going to happen, Noreen are going to kick you out of this house. I think we'll let you stay, I think we'll talk to you and say, "Chris, Chris ... " Right, and we'd want to sympathize, we'd want to ... "Listen, all of us go through bumps, all of us go through this kind of stuff but Chris, you're part of a community that's not going to let you do this."


Chris Grace: That's right.


Tim Muelhoff: It's going to say, "Chris get back in there and fight for this marriage." Right? That communal part of marriage is massive.


Chris Grace: I think it is too. I think, Tim it may be what is lacking in so many peoples' lives right now is we no longer have these authoritative, you know in a good way, not authoritarian, but authoritative communities that we surround ourselves with of people who believe, and then could hold us accountable to these things. Because once we've separated ourselves from that, once we hold on to this simple, individualistic emotional experience, those feelings change, then all of a sudden now faith no longer matters or what I believe because now I don't have any basis by which to hold onto something.


Tim Muelhoff: That's right.


Chris Grace: So we turn to somebody else. And you know, I think that's what real love is, ultimately what the Bible says, right, it ultimately is about permanence, right?


Tim Muelhoff: Yes.


Chris Grace: Real love is ultimately about this idea of choosing to trust, choosing to forgive.


Tim Muelhoff: That's right.


Chris Grace: Choosing to love even when it gets hard. You know I think we've lost a lot of that. So Tim, this has been a good topic, and there's more we can talk about.


Tim Muelhoff: Yeah, yep.


Chris Grace: And we would obviously be remised  in saying that again there's a lot of hope for couples that are experiencing this, as you mentioned, go and seek help. It's not too late.


Tim Muelhoff: That's right.


Chris Grace: You can do this. And we have some other podcasts on divorce and how to end something and when to that we just covered.


Tim Muelhoff: Just know that if we actually were friends with this couple that we mentioned, right ...


Chris Grace: Yeah, it would be different.


Tim Muelhoff: ... it would be ... We'd sit with them and say, "Listen, we get it. It's hard and you do drift. It can happen, you both have demanding careers that are in the spotlight ..." So again I don't want us to come across as uncaring and insensitive, but at the same time, I think there'd come a time you'd speak some truth.


Chris Grace: Yep, I think that's true.


Tim Muelhoff: Again about their daughter and we live under a different narrative as Christians and that would be great evangelistic time, as we cared for them and said that ... So I don't want people to think we're being cold-hearted towards this couple, but at the same time it's clear they have a different narrative than Christians do.


Chris Grace: Yeah, that's great. Thanks, Tim for that. Well as we just end this time it's a great conversation and topic and Tim let's continue thinking through and talk a little bit about other things that can come into play culturally when people see and divorce themselves from maybe a biblical world view, some of these consequences. There's a lot there to talk about.


Tim Muelhoff: Sounds good. All right.


Chris Grace: Good visiting with you.