Unfilled Expectations

Most couples who marry are reasonably excited about what awaits them in the future. They may not have foolproof evidence, but they share an inner feeling that the future bodes well for them. They have high hopes that marriage will bring them true love, contentedness, joy, and meaningful fulfillment. Marriage, however, is complicated. With the best of expectations, the rate of divorce that is presently being experienced in society at large indicates that often these expectations are not met.

Why It Failed

Why does the marriage fail to live up to expectations? This varies from couple to couple. Sometimes, the expectations are unrealistic. No matter how good the marital partner may be, he or she is human, not angelically perfect.

Sometimes, not enough attention is given to personality differences. The marriage may have been entered into with haste. In the eagerness to get married, the serious issue of compatibility was swept under the rug.

Or, it may be that extraneous factors impeded the development of a happy marital life. It could be that the couple's economic fortunes took a bad turn. They were not prepared to face the challenge of poverty, or even a life that is lived at less than the comfort level.

The difficulties may arise from unexpected interference from outside parties, be it parents-in-law or other family members, that has scraped away the tranquility that the couple desired.

Or it could be an event, a traumatic event within the family, that may have darkened the atmosphere, and the couple could not get back on track.

Or it could be that the marriage was not imbued with any real sense of values, and there was no meaningful sharing of the many family-strengthening events such as the Shabbat. The marriage drifts aimlessly into collapse.

Building for the Future

All of these, plus a host of other possibilities, could help to explain why a relationship that was so full of promise went awry. The spouses have then drifted apart, and have even developed some animosity to, or alienation from one another. After all the interventions, they feel that they have no choice but to part company. They follow that feeling and part company.

The couple is now divorced from each other, and may have some ongoing communication, all the more likely if they did have children during the marriage.

After having come to grips with what has unfolded, and the failure of their relationship to live up to expectations, the couple, having reconciled with fate, will begin to rebuild their lives out of the wreckage of the failed marriage. The couple should reflect back on how it felt when things were going well, on the positive times experienced within the marriage, and when and how the marriage went astray.

There is much to be learned from what went wrong, so that the couple can be sure that the next time they will not repeat past mistakes.

Learning from Experience

The rate of divorce for second marriages is greater than it is for first marriages. This means that, in general, the divorcing couple does not learn from their mistakes, and does not take divorce as seriously as they should.

A marital partner who is going through a second divorce will probably feel even more intense feelings of hurt, self doubt, diminished self-esteem, guilt, and possibly even despair. For it is now more than just one failed marriage. Now the person involved in the divorce is a two-time loser. There is a lingering stigma that is attached to anyone who is a two-time loser.

The statistics regarding second marriage failures should be a strong signal and message to couples who are divorcing, that they should try to learn much more about what went wrong the first time before contemplating a second attempt at marriage.

However, if each of the divorcing couple does actually try to glean the proper lessons from the failure of the first marriage, each can translate this awareness into a resolve. This is the resolve to be attentive to the pitfalls that can invade the marriage, to be alert to them and to handle them with care and with energy. The resolve not to make the same mistake a second time, and to do one's best to assure that the next marriage is a success, will almost but not quite guarantee that the second marriage will be better than the first.

Why Not

There is no rule which states that the second marriage must be to someone else. If the couple has actually gone through this serious investigatory process, and has come up with useful conclusions they feel will help them in the future, why not try to court the partner with whom you originally thought life would be so pleasing and fulfilling?

Granted, this is not always possible. Granted, there are divorces which are so filled with animosity that any talk of reconciliation following divorce is patently absurd. But aside from those situations when it is obvious that no amount of patchwork or repair can create a foundation for renewing the old acquaintance, there are other situations when there is not that much bad blood between the couple.

If the couple follows the positive track, starting simply, by adhering to the vital ethical imperative not to cause affliction to the other, and escalating further to the more noble and higher ethic of doing that which is upright and good, thereby creating a pleasant atmosphere for conversation, why should the possibility of reconciliation with one's former mate be precluded?

There is so much talk about couples who drift apart after the early stages of marriage, to the point where they have "outgrown each other." If it is possible for couples to drift apart and away from one another, because of the different directions their lives take, is it not possible that the couple who grows via the divorce process can now once again find one another. If growing apart is possible, should not growing back together also be possible?

Reconciling On Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur is the day of universal reconciliation. For the entire community, Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) is the time for soul-searching, for investigating the failures of the past, and resolving to learn from those failures by not repeating them, and by embarking on a more positive track for the future. This is the essence of the repentance process.

This process can unfold only if the person who is repenting is honest with him or her self, unabashed in the willingness to admit having made mistakes, and resolute and sincere in the commitment to betterment in the future. The person who behaves in such a manner is well on the way to reconciliation with G‑d. The person has in effect reentered under G‑d's canopy, after having been distanced from it.

Sin, whether it be of commission or omission, causes a temporary divorce from one's Creator. The acknowledgment of the failing, and the resolve to correct it, bring about reconciliation with G‑d. No one would dare suggest that since there has been an alienation from G‑d, coming back again is impossible.

Model for Divorced Couples

It would be instructive to employ the Yom Kippur model for the divorced couple. The day on which the couple is married is looked upon as a Yom Kippur, when they start off with a clean slate. The couple can make for themselves a Yom Kippur following divorce, when each comes clean, and honestly comes to grips with the failings of the past.

Divorce, in its best case scenario, may be perceived as the darkness that comes between two marriages. But there is nothing which dictates that the first and the second mate cannot be one and the same person. If the couple has truly learned from their first mistakes, why not give the person who inspired that lesson the first chance at proving the lesson was well learned!