Compassion and understanding are essential to dealing with members of the church who have gone through divorce, according to BYU-Hawaii students. Students shared how their personal experiences with divorce have shaped their perspective and what they want fellow Mormons to know about divorce.
Gabriella Gomez, a senior from Guatemala majoring in communications, shared, “My parents got divorced when I was preparing for my mission three years ago. It is the hardest thing I’ve ever experienced in my life.”
Keaulani Silieto, a junior from the Big Island majoring in Pacific Island studies, shared her personal story. “I came here to BYU in 2008 where I met my ex. We met, and I got pregnant and then we got married. We were suspended. We tried working on the marriage, but it just didn’t [work].” A year and half later, Silieto found herself filing for divorce.
President Dallin H. Oaks said in his April 2007 conference talk on divorce, “Some see themselves or their loved ones as the victims of divorce. Others see themselves as its beneficiaries. Some see divorce as evidence of failure. Others consider it an essential escape hatch from marriage. In one way or another, divorce touches most families in the Church.”
He continues: “There are many good Church members who have been divorced. I speak first to them. We know that many of you are innocent victims—members whose former spouses persistently betrayed sacred covenants or abandoned or refused to perform marriage responsibilities for an extended period. Members who have experienced such abuse have firsthand knowledge of circumstances worse than divorce.”
President Oaks then addresses those considering divorce: “I strongly urge you and those who advise you to face up to the reality that for most marriage problems, the remedy is not divorce but repentance. Often the cause is not incompatibility but selfishness. The first step is not separation but reformation. Divorce is not an all-purpose solution, and it often creates long-term heartache. ...Spouses who hope that divorce will resolve conflicts often find that it aggravates them, since the complexities that follow divorce—especially where there are children—generate new conflicts.
“Think first of the children. Because divorce separates the interests of children from the interests of their parents, children are its first victims.”
President Oaks adds “the best way to avoid divorce from an unfaithful, abusive, or unsupportive spouse is to avoid marriage to such a person. If you wish to marry well, inquire well.” He encourages people to date over a period of time, see their prospective partner in all kinds of situations and get to know their family.
Jackson Grubbe, a senior from Oregon majoring in English, has parents who have been divorced since he was 11. Although it was a “punch in the face at that time in my life,” Grubbe said he felt that “they totally should’ve [divorced]. It was a good decision because it was really bad for a really long time … It was just decaying over a while. When they split up, it was more positive in our lives. In general it’s definitely not plan A, but if you got to do it, you got to do it.”
Silieto addressed attitudes surrounding divorce. “I think people still see it as a very negative thing, which is sad. When you’ve tried your best, you’ve tried everything and you just have no other options, then you’re just like, ‘Okay, that’s what I need to do.’” She went on to clarify that despite her efforts to make her marriage work she thought the right thing to do was to end the marriage even though ward members encouraged her to work it out.
Gomez explained, “Not all families are perfect. I would like the topic of divorce to be more open in the church so that more people are aware that it does happen and so they can better understand why. We shouldn’t be trying to hide it and pretending like it never happens … They’re not alone and it’s something some of us have to go through.”
Grubbe said, “I don’t think anyone is really pro divorce. General society isn’t that much different from the church … It makes marriage less big of a deal. So, because Mormonism is huge on marriage, then divorce is a bigger deal.”
In an LDS Living article written by Josh Lockhart, Dr. Jonathan Swinton, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Salt Lake City, stated, “‘Those who experience a divorce need a lot of support from others to help manage those high levels of stress.’”
Silieto said, “There’s a big negative culture about it. I’ve known people who have left [the church] because they’ve just been really judged by others. The hardest thing for someone to hear is you didn’t try hard enough or you didn’t have enough faith.
“That’s not what it’s about. You don’t know what’s going on in a marriage unless you’re in the marriage yourself. Don’t assume things because that makes it worse.”
Despite her desire to salvage a marriage, Gomez said people should comfort those in conflict. Having come from a Catholic oriented background, she said, “Mormons often focus on how you’re supposed to have an eternal family so [they] step over the commandment to love all. We forget that people need help and attention.”
She added, “We should consider how to love others, forgive others and resolve that kind of conflict that is not normal.”
Silieto said, “I wish people would understand the value they have. After my divorce I really lost my sense of worth, especially because we’re a family-oriented church … I’m grateful that I was able to get a divorce. I would’ve never met my wonderful husband. If it wasn’t for my divorce, I would not have my two younger children who I love and adore. I wouldn’t have a lot of things if I hadn’t gotten a divorce.”
Dr. Swinton advised in LDS Living, “‘If you have experienced divorce, don’t beat yourself up or feel you are lesser in any way. Relationships are really difficult. Just do your best. The Lord still loves you and will always be there to support you.’”