Couples can prevent split by marrying for right reason

By Catholic New World
Sunday, August 28, 2011

Editor’s note: This is the second half of a two-part interview. The first part appeared in the Aug. 14-27 issue.

The Archdiocese of Chicago has an active outreach to divorced Catholics. For more than 15 years, Elsie Radtke has drawn from her own experience of divorce to provide support to many hurting Catholics. Radtke, who is associate director of the office and the divorce and annulment support ministries coordinator, sat down with editor Joyce Duriga to discuss the issues surrounding divorce.

Catholic New World: You said the most popular question you get about declarations of nullities is if they make the children illegitimate. What is the second most popular question?

Elsie Radtke: The second popular question we get is “How can I erase something that was? We were married. I loved this person.”

We are not erasing anything. Of course you were married. You had a home together. You had a reception. You had friends. You had his name. She had your children. We’re not saying that.

We are saying that when you gave consent some essential element required for this to become the sacrament of marriage was missing. And you didn’t intend that at the time.

I don’t know anybody who has ever gotten married that on the day they got married didn’t intend for it to be a lifetime. All people believe in the ideology of marriage.

As they are going through the annulment process, I cannot tell you the number of women who have told me — I haven’t heard it from men — when they were walking down the aisle, they say “I knew this was a mistake but I couldn’t not do it. Everyone told me that I just had jitters.”

Then they make the decision, “I will make this work.” That’s how strong the desire is in people to do the right thing.

At some level, if you are 24 years old or so and getting married and you have that feeling deep in your heart, you hope that over time things will change.

Women always believe that they are going to rehab the guy like a home improvement project. Guys always believe that the woman is going to stay just as young and cute as she is on their wedding day. Neither one of these is true.

CNW: How can we as a church reach out and help marriages in trouble?

Radtke: Eighty percent of divorces, according to Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, do not need to happen. That means 20 percent probably do.

Canon law is very clear on this, nobody should stay in a relationship that is harmful to body or spirit, to them or the children. If there’s abuse — physical, emotional — you don’t need to be in a relationship like that.

The 80 percent are people that often jump ship too quickly. They bail because they aren’t happy. Marriage was not designed to make you happy; it was designed to make you married. You are supposed to work at it.

Expectations are the real deal breaker. People marry with a set of false expectations — that marriage will make them happy, that it will make all of their problems go away, that they are marrying their soulmate. It’s not reality.

The 80 percent have to stick with it and have to understand that when you say “I do” it’s for a lifetime. You have to learn some different ways. Often it’s really learning communication skills, conflict-resolution skills and problem-solving skills.

This means just taking a few simple classes that are well done that will give you strategies for success in your relationships. People don’t do that because they are hurt.

According to Michelle Weiner- Davis, couples are in trouble for six years before they reach out for help. So if your marriage is in trouble for six years you’ve done a lot of damage to your heart and it is very hard to break through the scar tissue and come to the forgiveness place.

Couples don’t put their marriages at the top of their priority heap. Sports, work or friends may take up more of their time than their marriage.

They stopped romancing each other. They stopped remembering why they got married, that it was for the other person, and they got sidetracked.

Marriage is work. It’s commitment and work. It’s an adult decision to end the marriage and then you have often produced these children. Children are forever damaged by the divorce.

CNW: So divorce can really hurt the children?

Radtke: I know, going through my own divorce in the late ’80s early ’90s, the culture said that the children would be fine. I believed that my children would be better. I was wrong.

I had good people tell me that this was going to be really hard on the kids. I kept saying “It won’t be that hard. I can handle it. I’m a really smart woman. I’m a really good mom.”

That’s just not true and all the research now is showing that’s not true. There is research done on adult children of divorce and how there’s an emptiness inside them that they just can’t fill.

You never hear of the adults moving in and out of the home after a divorce. You only hear about the children packing up a bag and going to a different home on weekends or holidays.

It’s very, very difficult for children. Everything they know becomes about the divorce. Children deserve better than that. They deserve safety and security. That’s part of what we are supposed to be providing them in a Catholic marriage.

So being bored is not enough reason for a divorce. Infidelity —if it is a one-time infidelity —is not enough reason for divorce. If it is serial infidelity, you have a person who did not intend fidelity in marriage so you probably have very good grounds for a declaration of nullity. At that point, you probably should talk to your priest.

It’s your responsibility to make the marriage work. It’s not his, it’s not hers, it’s both of yours. You’re both supposed to work at this thing. Couples don’t want that anymore.

CNW: It doesn’t seem like we think about all of these issues when entering into a marriage today.

Radtke: In America we have a fantasy about marriage. We have a belief in marriage, as well we should. It is the foundation of our culture. But what we don’t understand is the impact of divorce on our culture.

CNW: What is the impact?

Radtke: Every divorce in America costs the taxpayers $203,000 in lost wages, in health concerns, in incarceration, in legal affairs.

Children of divorce are less likely to be successful at marriage. They already have a built-in default that says if the going gets rough you just get going.

Couples can be married and will be married well if they decide to. The higher educated the more successful the marriage. The lower educated, and the lower the economic bracket, the less successful the marriage.

Education is a huge predictor of success in marriage. They are just more awake. They understand better what they have to do and are willing to do the work.

As church we’re not praying for marriage. We’re not praying for couples struggling in marriage. We’re not providing a conversation even on marriage.

We get them married and we say “We’ll see you at the Golden Wedding Jubilee.”