The Ethics of Bystanders to Divorce
A publication of the Institute for American Values by M. Christian Green discusses “The Ethics of Bystanders to Divorce.” (Propositions 8, July 2012 Americanvalues.org) She claims that divorce affects bystanders, as well as the divorcing couple and children involved. The witnesses of marital breakups and their social networks can be affected. Bystanders who are actually “stakeholders” should not remain “apathetic” or “indifferent.”
For Green divorce should be viewed like other “cultural traumas” that can be proved to have wide-spread and long term negative effects. The divorce culture can be judged as a collective phenomenon that contributes to a population’s “shaky social solidarity” in diffuse but real ways. Only a misguided view of marriage can see divorce as merely a private, completely autonomous relationship between individuals. In fact, “contagion theories of divorce” show that interlinked members in a social network will be more likely to divorce.
Well yes, in certain circles I’ve observed that divorce seems an expected option as individuals end their “starter marriages”and decide to move on. There appears to be little belief in the possibility that couples can change or control their actions in order to build a loving relationship. Even the older ideal of staying the distance and keeping one’s promise is fading. At the same time a super high standard of marital happiness exerts pressure toward divorce. The tide continues despite the hopefulness of an increasing willingness to seek marriage counseling.
At this moment I happen to be a bystander to two marital breakdowns among family and friends. I’m certainly not an indifferent or apathetic bystander, but I am hesitant. How can an individual bystander do the ethical thing? At a minimum I think it right to try and be a peacemaker and support both partners in the marriage and the children as prudently as possible, i.e. shrewd as a serpent and innocent as a dove.
Yet in another case I’ve thought it right to choose to support the more vulnerable, and more seriously wronged and abandoned partner. The operating principle is that they need more help now, as well as for a chance to restore the marriage as an equal partnership. Although I always advocate professional counseling, a good friend solidly on your side is invaluable.
Finally I have to admit to a worrisome anxiety when encountering bystander situations. I am sometimes assaulted by self doubts and the arguments of other divorce experts. Am I perhaps wrongheaded in my convictions? Are there really “good divorces” out there in which children, ex-spouses, and families are flourishing?