The Unnecessary Divorce: Dr Bill Doherty

I knew that our local Centacare’s Marriage and Relationship Education Unit was involved in a big conference last week, but I didn’t know what it was or who was their guest speaker. Although I am not a “marriage educator”, I would have loved to have heard the presentation by Dr Bill Doherty of the University of Minnesota at the Marriage and Relationship Educators National Conference held here in Melbourne.

Their press-release says that:

Dr William Doherty, of the University of Minnesota, challenged 202 participants to get involved with the marriage movement. “We need to dispel the myths about marriage in society today,” he said. Dr Doherty specifically identified five common myths about marriage:
1. It’s foolish to get married without cohabiting.
2. It’s best to wait to get married when you are financially secure.
3. If a marriage gets rotten it never gets ripe again.
4. If your marriage fails your children really want you to find another romantic relationship because they want you to be happy.
5. Men aren’t interested in relationships.

I would have loved to have heard him flesh out his rejection of those five myths.

I looked up his website here, and it looks like good stuff. My eye was especially caught by the chapter from his book on “the unnecessary divorce”. That really spoke to me in my experience. Although Holy Mother Church has found that my first attempt to contract marriage was “null and void”, and although I have since found the love of my life and rejoice in my family, I am able to look back at my own divorce and say “It wasn’t necessary”. It could, with the will to overcome the difficulties, have been prevented, and – who knows? – perhaps even a “null and void” attempt at marriage could have become a valid and fulfilling marriage. I will never know. Life took a different turn. But one thing that I have learned is that divorce is a “cure” that is in some senses worse than the “disease”.

According to this website, Dr Doherty “grew up in a large Irish-Catholic family in Philadelphia, where, he says, “marriage was forever.” Cathy and I have both been through divorce, and we both know (and assure our children repeatedly) that our marriage “is forever”. Any troubles we face, we know that the cure is to be found IN our marriage, not apart from it. Our marriage text was “Let love and faithfulness never leave you” (Prov 3:3).

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6 responses to “The Unnecessary Divorce: Dr Bill Doherty

  1. Looks like good stuff. I ordered the Marriage book. Thanks for the post.

  2. Tony

    … we both know (and assure our children repeatedly) that our marriage “is forever”. Any troubles we face, we know that the cure is to be found IN our marriage, not apart from it …

    There in lies the rub David; you don’t know. You can be more confident having had a few runs on the board and having been through a break up, but you don’t ‘know’.

    Most of us get married at time when we were unprepared and immature. We try to ‘know’ to the best of our ability, but some of us come a cropper.

    It seems to me that the church not only says that you should ‘know’ but that if you stuff up there’s no second chances. I’m talking about marriages that are legitimate here, not ones that can later fulfill the rather mysterious requirements for annulment.

    • Actually, Tony, I do “know”.

      I “know” because both Cathy and I have made this committment to one another. No matter how “bad” things get, we will not seek a solution in removing ourselves from this marriage. That is, in fact, what a marriage is supposed to be: committment to remain together through everything. It only works, of course, if both partners are committed to that committment. And I “know” we both are.

      As you point out “most of us get married when we were unprepared and immature”. It was precisely on that basis that my first marriage was anulled. My current marriage is altogther NOT such a situation.

      Of course, I don’t “know” this about anyone else’s marriage. But I rather still suspect that in most cases the “cure” to any ills in the marriage relationship is still to be found within the marriage relationship and not apart from it.

  3. I think you’re both right and wrong on this, dear Tony!

    Of course, if you’re in a valid marriage, the grace of the sacrament should help – but we humans have a way of getting into terrible muddles, and, while marriages can be rebuilt even after pretty bad splits and even betrayals, that’s not to say they usually are or can be short of heroism, conversation, patience and the rest. As I heard someone say, it will be hard to sort out some people’s domestic complications even on the Day of Judgement.

    Of course, as you know, it’s actually more of an issue that so many marriages are found to be invalid – that is, annulled for reason of a serious defect. I have it as the opinion of Bp Anthony Fisher, former head of the Melbourne JPII Institute, that many marriages are invalid, that many these days are not entering into valid marriages because they don’t even recognize what a marriage must be – a lifetime exclusive commitment to love that is open to life… In his opinion, and I share it, the great vocations crisis is not in regard to priesthood, but marriage.

    I don’t think annulments are very mysterious, however. One mustn’t indulge in the fantasy of a sinister Church elite in possession of arcane knowledge: that’s Dan Brown territory. If you wish to understand annulments, make some inquiries – but don’t let the wife know, she might get anxious!

    • A core ingredient to building a solid and committed relationship is precisely the repeated recommitment that takes place on a day to day level when one marriage partner sins against the other. If married couples made a practice of doing this from the word go (even during the time of their engagement) in the little betrayals that take place on a day to day level, then I think it would be easier to handle the bigger betrayals.

      In any case, most divorces do not happen because of a sudden crisis – eg. the act of and admission or discovery of infidelity. Most take place in situations like that discussed in Dr Bill’s book: a slow growing satisfaction with the marriage relationship. This must never be allowed to happen!