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I’ve been known to say inappropriate things but I’ve worked hard to be mindful in certain situations. So when a neighbor told me the reason there was a “For Sale” sign outside his house — he and his wife, parents of three, were divorcing — I’m not sure who was more shocked about what came out of my mouth.

“I’m sorry.”

A second later, realizing my mea culpa, I started to sputter out an explanation — “I didn’t mean to say that. I mean, I hope you’re all doing OK” — just as he was saying, “No, it’s a good thing.”

And I know that divorce can totally be a good thing; mine certainly was. So, it’s always interesting for me to check in on my emotions when I hear of a couple I know who are divorcing.   

Sometimes my reaction is along the lines of, “Well, I could have told you that!” and other times it’s a surprise — “Them? Really? Are you kidding?”

I’m always disappointed in myself when “I’m sorry” somehow slips out of my mouth. Sorry for what?

But I’m not alone. It’s clear that divorce has an impact on us, even if it’s not our own divorce. That’s why I found M. Christian Green’s article, “There But for the Grace: The Ethics of Bystanders to Divorce,” a fascinating read, and why I wrote about it. Yes, it’s published in the Institute for American Values’ newsletter, “Propositions,” and no, I am most certainly not a supporter of the Institute for American Values! But, I can’t deny that divorce has a some sort of a ripple effect that transcends the divorcing couple and their immediate family, no matter how tiny a ripple.

And that’s what I’ll be talking about on the Huffington Post’s new HuffPost Live channel with — gulp — Green herself and others today (now that I figured out Google+ Hangout, etc.)

Green is a senior lecturer and senior research fellow at the Center for the Study of Law and Religion of the Emory University School of Law and was a visiting lecturer on ethics at Harvard Divinity School, so she certainly has some creds. Again — I am well aware that the Institute for American Values has an agenda, one I do not support. But what I most appreciate is that Green is not offering advice or telling us what we “should” be doing about divorce; she’s just positing some interesting questions:

Do others who witness a divorce experience a “there but for the grace of God go I” moment? Does this witness produce bystander anxiety? Does it produce something like survivor’s guilt? How does witnessing the divorce and family disruption of others affect the bystander’s own worldview when it comes to normative images of marriage, family, society and self? Extending the circle of bystanders even further, what effect does the witness of divorce have on society as a whole? Has the divorce culture produced a kind of cultural trauma? tweet

I don’t know about guilt and trauma; I will acknowledge that a certain amount of anxiety seems to be a close companion to the D word, even if we are mere “bystanders.”

And I do believe we should marry smarter so we have fewer divorces. That’s the reason Susan Pease Gadoua and I are writing The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Cynics, Commitaphobes and Connubial DIYers, which challenges our one-size-fits-all, till-death-do-we-part version of marriage and offers new models that work better for who we are today.

Rather than go on an on about my own reactions to divorce — and I am on the record for strongly believing that there should be no shame or judgment when it come to divorce, nor should it be seen as a “failure” — I’d rather hear what you have to say.

When you hear of a friend’s divorce, what do you think and feel? Do you just think about how it will impact your friend and his/her family or do you think about it in a broader context? And does it cause you to reflect on your own marriage/relationship?


One Response to “Does divorce have a ripple effect?”

  1. John says:

    Divorce is painful and most certainly has a ripple effect. The closer to the divorce (young children) the bigger the effect. I am generally sorry to hear of someone’s divorce. Rarely do I hear of issues to big to overcome to find happiness in the current marriage. Loyalty is not as important as it once was…

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