Selfishness and Troubled Marriages

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Do you agree with the premise that at the foundation of every divorce is selfishness? If so, do you agree with the premise that any troubled marriage can be saved if both parties become less selfish?

24 thoughts on “Selfishness and Troubled Marriages

  1. No, selfishness is not the exclusive cause of divorce.

    No species controls procreation and neither do we. It’s important to realize our own limitations and deal with them responsibly.

    My concern is that the exclusive attribution to selfishness triggers denial. We should not delude ourselves that we have superhuman powers.

    Remember, abusers marry enablers. Crushing their spouse’s self-esteem, abusers shift blame and induce feelings of impotence.

    Confronting abused women with ditties about virtue only victimizes them again. Instead, the responsible thing to do is to strengthen their resolve and shelter them and their children when they leave an abuser behind.

    Now, one can argue that the abuser has to be less selfish. First of all, that’s not our choice. Each spouse only gets to chose for him- or herself. Second, it is not clear if abusers really have a choice. Often they are broken spirits that may not have the capacity to change.

    Either way, mothers need to protect themselves and their children. We need to make that easier, not harder.

  2. The premise was not that selfishness is the exclusive reason for all divorce. The premise was that selfishness is the foundation of all divorce.

    “Now, one can argue that the abuser has to be less selfish. First of all, that’s not our choice.”

    Arguably, it is a choice for the abuser.

  3. “Arguably, it is a choice for the abuser.”

    I wouldn’t be so sure. A lot of abusive behavior is compulsive. Many people are damaged long before they ever get married. They might be victims of child abuse, for example.

    Jesus requires us not to judge. One reason may be that it is difficult to determine whether other people actually have a choice.

    There are forces in the human condition that are beyond choice. Behavior may be guided by the unconscious or the subconscious. Genetics and socialization limit us. That’s especially the case when it comes to the sex drive and procreation.

    As Christians we know that we need to be humble. We will benefit if we acknowledge our own limitations. We need to take responsibility for our lives but that does not mean that we are in charge.

    Speaking of humility and judging, may be, we should consider how an LDS divorcee has to feel about this discussion. The last thing they need is people blaming them for “selfishness.”

  4. Hellmut

    It isn’t a judgement on any one person. Both Kim and I have family members who are divorced. What it is, is an intellectual question about the idea of divorce. That the root of divorce is based on selfishness, i.e. because one or both marriage partners are participating in behaviour that is self serving enough to create the divorce or likelihood of it.

    On another point in your discussion, when it comes to abusive behaviour I don’t agree that some people are unable to control it, if they truly are, then that takes away choice. This of course is seperate from mental issues, but even there, help is available to combat those issues.

    In order for a divorce to occur, one or both of the marriage partners want something for themselves that they are not finding in the marriage. If you can truly find a reason for divorce that is altruistic, I would be interested to know what it is. Again, this is not a judgemetn on anyone, it’s just a fact of the reality of it.

  5. “I wouldn’t be so sure.”

    Neither would I. Hence the lack of any absolute statements.

    “we should consider how an LDS divorcee has to feel about this discussion”

    Nah. I don’t need to consider the feelings of anyone in any questions I ask. Are their feelings important? Sure. Are they relevant to me asking questions. Not really.

    That being said, no one is suggesting that in every divorce each party is guilty of selfishness.

  6. What concerns me is that your words might have real world consequences. How would you feel if some sister reads your words and is dissuaded from leaving her abusive husband?

    Readers might believe that they need to remain in an abusive marriage because divorce is an indulgence of selfish people who are not good members.

    Remember, women who get abused blame themselves rather than their abusers. The technical term is co-dependency.

    That’s why it is so difficult to get them and their children out of harm’s way. The last thing that abused women need to hear is that divorce is a manifestation of selfishness.

    If people take you at your words then there might be consequences that you will not be able to remedy. Do you really want to put yourself into that position?

    If you don’t believe me, then I recommend that you spend some time at your local women’s shelter. Reading a basic psychology text might be useful as well.

    I am sorry for being arrogant. As someone who has housed abused women, I do know what I am talking about.

    “That being said, no one is suggesting that in every divorce each party is guilty of selfishness.”

    “Every” means no exception. If you mean to say something else then you need to drop the universal reference.

    “Again, this is not a judgement on anyone, it’s just a fact of the reality of it.”

    Since you are making negative attributions to people other than yourself, the statement is a judgment.

    Words have meaning that is established by convention. The way you are using terms such as selfish and every is judgmental whether you want to accept responsibility or not.

    “Both Kim and I have family members who are divorced.”

    That does not prove anything. In the good old days, white Americans used to preface racist slurs with the statement that they weren’t racists because they had Black friends. Your words ought to reflect your intentions regardless of who you know.

    “Nah. I don’t need to consider the feelings of anyone in any questions I ask. Are their feelings important? Sure. Are they relevant to me asking questions. Not really.”

    I find it troubling how cavalier you are about the effect of your words on others. Did you know that areas with high Mormon population density have the highest consumption rates of anti-depressants in the United States? One reason may well be stress induced by social control, judgment, and the pecking order.

    There are a lot of divorcees that are less selfish and more virtuous than me. The same is probably true of you.

    If that is the case, the parable of the beam applies. Christians have no business pronouncing sweeping statements about the sexuality of others.

    Unless we acknowledge that there are good reasons to get divorced, we are marginalizing divorcees. That’s sad.

    “If you can truly find a reason for divorce that is altruistic, I would be interested to know what it is.”

    That’s the problem with your argument. You are demanding altruism from divorcees. There is nothing wrong with self-preservation. Usually, self-preservation is a duty. Even though it serves ourselves, it is absurd to refer to self-preservation as selfish.

    Your opinion is problematic because it implies, may be unintentionally, that self-preservation is beyond the bounds of virtue. Thus it blames the victims and socially isolates them when they are the ones who need the good Samaritan.

    “I don’t agree that some people are unable to control it, if they truly are, then that takes away choice.”

    That’s a tautology. People have to have a choice because there is choice.

    The fundamental concepts of psychology such as unconscious, subconscious, drives, complexes, and socialization are about the limits of choice. That doesn’t even include the implications of addictions.

    Sex is a drive. Therefore marriage is not a domain that we entirely control. You might enjoy How the Brain Thinks by William Calvin, for example.

    We are all entitled to our own opinions. We are not entitled to our own facts.

    Normative statements shape people’s behavior. That’s especially true if they incur in the context of religious authority. If they contradict reality, then such statements might induce damaging behavior.

    In this case, your statements imply the wrong advice for the women that are the worst off. That’s an awesome responsibility that you are taking upon yourself as long as you pronounce that every divorce is ultimately about selfishness.

  7. Hellmut

    It strikes me that you are reading far more into what Kim is sayng and into what I am saying then what is meant. That, I find rather alarming.

    Having known abused women who have escaped marriages I wholly support those choices. I do NOT ever believe a woman should stay in an abusive marriage ever. I have seen it, and thank goodness I do not have to experience it.

    “Your opinion is problematic because it implies, may be unintentionally, that self-preservation is beyond the bounds of virtue. “

    I do not mean this at all, nor do I imply it. To look at that situation, the person being selfish is the abuser.

    And guess what, I have family who have divorced because of abuse. So don’t start attributing cavalier opinions where none are meant. No one is saying divorce isn’t sometimes a good choice. Many times, YES it is.

    Yes, you sound very harshly judgemental. Judging without even knowing our past experiences.

    And if you want to talk addiction, Yes I know about that as well. I have seen it first hand. But that doesn’t make the behaviour non-selfish.

  8. It’s clear you are going to continue to attribute opinions to me, that I do not hold and nothing will change your view on that so I won’t be responding to you anymore. To even imply that I think abuse is acceptable in any way shape or form is something I find abhorrent. Anyone who knows me will attest to the fact that this is the antithesis of who I am. So I will leave you to your over generalisations and misunderstandings. If it makes you comfortable to be this way, well, enjoy life.

  9. Perhaps a better question to ask is “why is free agency a good thing when it hurts so much?”

    Divorce is Free Agency in action.

  10. I fail to understand why the premise that at the foundation of every divorce is selfishness would be untrue since the foundation of every marriage is also selfishness.

  11. “since the foundation of every marriage is also selfishness.”

    Well Rick, I can’t agree with that. In a marriage there is much unselfishness (well of course there is selfishness often times) but showing a pure love in marriage involves much sacrifice and giving. Of course, you could argue that it is self serving since making your spouse happy makes you happy too.

  12. Of course it is self-serving.

    The very notion of doing things because you can’t bear to see your spouse unhappy is selfishness itself.

    Of course most altruism in primates is a of the reciprocal variety – selfishness is in our genes, regardless of how pretty a bow we put on it.

  13. Are you suggesting that two selfish people could not be married to each other?

    I do not believe selfishness is the cause or solution to divorce.

    Free Agency is the problem. Get rid of Free Agency and Divorce Lawyers would have to change professions.

  14. Rick
    But selfishness means thinking ONLY of oneself, whereas a marriage, although it can be self serving too, isn’t only this way.

    You can look at every action as selfish if you use such a broad definition, but to look at it purely, that will limit certain actions.

    For example, as a parent, I do things for my children to make them happy and healthy and secure, but I also do it for me. I love to see them happy, I want to keep them safe and I want them to be healthy, for not only themselves but for my own peace of mind and comfort.

  15. “…although it can be self serving too, isn’t only this way.”

    Mary, your line applies equally to divorces as it does to marriages.

    “I love to see them happy, I want to keep them safe and I want them to be healthy, for not only themselves but for my own peace of mind and comfort.”

    How many times did you say the word “I”? With that many repetitions, it’s obviously about selfishness; YOU can’t stand to see your kids unhealthy or insecure. Is that selfish, I would offer that, by definition, it is.

    Also;

    Love, whatever that means inside one’s head, is an evolutionary construct which allows those who experience it to care for their young and mates better. Although it seems to be altruistic, it is in truth a reciprocated altruism (with a hidden motive) in that the parent has an interest in seeing its’ genes continue to propagate.

    Loved offspring flourish and reproduce, and this passes on one’s genes to a greater number of progeny. Tricky, huh?

  16. “How many times did you say the word “I”? With that many repetitions, it’s obviously about selfishness; YOU can’t stand to see your kids unhealthy or insecure. Is that selfish, I would offer that, by definition, it is.”

    is it selfish to want good things for them? To want them to be happy and healthy and safe?

    “Loved offspring flourish and reproduce, and this passes on one’s genes to a greater number of progeny. Tricky, huh?”

    WEll, yes. but then I suppose it depends on how you see selfishness. True selfishness which thinks only of oneself without regard for how it affects the other person.

    “Mary, your line applies equally to divorces as it does to marriages.”

    I agree. However divorce (although needed sometimes) is more negative, whereas marriage is positive.

  17. Rick, you seem to be saying that every motive is ultimately selfish. If I do something because I care deeply for another person’s happiness, then I am doing it only because it fulfills my own psychic desire to serve that person–hence, I am selfish. If I do something self-sacrificing because I care about honor, then I am doing it only because it fulfills my own desire for feelings of self-respect–hence I am selfish.

    I think that’s going too far; it simply converts every motive into a self-serving one.

  18. I don’t think Rick is all that far off. After all, the natural man is certainly selfish. As such, it is by no means a stretch to imagine that naturally, we have desires for our own welfare and survival.

  19. If it is true that there’s no such thing as an unselfish motive, then how is it possible to follow Christ’s instructions? How can we put off the natural man? There’s nothing to turn to but another form of selfishness.

  20. “However divorce (although needed sometimes) is more negative, whereas marriage is positive.”

    The question is, just how positive were these marriages destined for divorce?

    How much more pain and suffering was borne by the couple by trying to be married?

    Divorce can also be a release.

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