Divorce -  Until Death do Us Part -  Article by Barrington H. Brennen


Until Death Do Us Part

"I am Happy My Husband Died"

By Barrington H. Brennen, 2005, 2016



Question: Dear Sir: Marriage is serious and a life time commitment. Why do some people enter marriage only to "see" if they can make it? When the first sign of trouble comes along the first thing they think about is divorce.

Answer: Marriage is a sacred institution created by God in the beginning. It is designed to bring a man and a woman together in a permanent relationship. It is the blending of hearts, minds and bodies in a mutual, equalitarian relationship. It is ideal to enter into marriage with the philosophy and belief never to breakup under any circumstances. However, God never intended marriage to be just a matter of endurance. Endurance in marriage occurs usually when a spouse just grits the teeth, accepts the pain, and does nothing to improve the relationship.

There are many couples in our country who are just enduring the relationship. Some are enduring because they feel powerless to change the situation. Others are just willing to accept and live with a marital relationship that is tolerable though unfulfilling. There are yet others who remain in a marriage that is destructive to their well-being. "A woman wrote to columnist Ann Landers about the relief and joy she felt when her husband died. She stayed in the marriage for only one reason. She said she needed the financial support of her husband in order to raise their children. After 40 years of marriage, her alcoholic husband died and she was ‘free at last.’ "


A woman in tears asked me: "Is it wrong to be happy when your husband dies?" Her husband had severely physically and emotional abused for more than ten years. He had used knives, guns, a street sign, broken bottles, wood, and even a car as weapons to hurt her. Yet, she returned after leaving five times and being hospitalized for more than three months from a serious wound to the head that left her deaf in the left ear. They had two small children that did not know all of the tension and fear that existed in the heart of mom. Finally, with support of friends and professionals, she mustered up the courage to leave her cocaine addicted, power-crazed husband for the last time. She had filed for a divorce, but this time he was determined to get her back.


During the court sessions, which she had to attend, his mere presence and his subtle body language were sufficient to coerce her back. This time she had support from dear friends who sat beside her as she trembled just when he looked at her. She loved him and was afraid of him at the same time. It was obvious that he did not have any willingness to change. She was a valuable piece of property he used to satisfy his own needs. She endured the pain. Almost daily she fell beneath his strong tactics of control. Now the ordeal was coming to an end.


One day, between court sessions, her husband was driving on the highway at full speed and the car got out of control, crashed into a light pole where he died instantly. The next day she came to see me and asked the question almost in tears: "Is there anything wrong in being happy when someone dies?" What could I say? I was never asked that question before. I knew of her pain. I knew of her suffering and abuse. I assured her that feelings of relief were healthy and normal and she needed not feel guilty about it.



Why do some marriages end this way? Could it be that some people misunderstand the meaning of "until death do us part?" Or could it be that others are truly trapped and caught in a relationship where one feels powerless to change or move out? Usually it is a combination of both points. God never intended for a spouse to suffer in a marriage to the point of death. "Until death do us part" simply means that each partner is committed to do all in his or her part to enrich the relationship, learn to resolve conflicts, and be willing to work on the weaknesses and faults that hinder growth in the relationship.



This brings us to the positive endurance qualities in a relationship. Knowing that your spouse is committed to you is to have a sense of security in a turbulent world. There are various kinds of security, all of which are important. The security I am speaking about is emotional security when one knows that the spouse is committed totally to the relationship. "I can count on him," one wife said. Another wife said "It is good to know that I can depend on my husband, know that he sincerely cares for me in spite of my faults and shortcoming..." Such security is liberating. "An individual who always lives at the edge of financial problems may get fixated on money and find his or her life consumed by an effort to gain some measure of security. Similarly, an individual who feels that his or her relationship is held together by fragile bonds may get fixated on continually seeking reassurance. Security, on the other hand, liberates the individual to not only enjoy the relationship at a level otherwise impossible, but also to pursue other meaningful activities" (Lauer, & Lauer 1986).

". . . God never intended marriage to be just a matter of endurance. Endurance in marriage occurs usually when a spouse just grits the teeth, accepts the pain, and does nothing to improve the relationship."

Another positive endurance quality is support. Research consistently reveals that supportive interpersonal relationships can reduce the damaging effects of stress. On the other hand the lack of such relationship means "vulnerability to the consequences of stress" (Ibid). Interestingly, a research was done on Israeli men over a five-year period to try and determine how angina pectoris, a heart problem, develops. The results were that one of the better predictors of those men who were at risk was the answer to a question: "Does your wife show you her love?" Those answered "no" were more likely to develop the heart disorder" (Psychology Today, December 1982). To know that someone supports you can certainly relive undue stress and prevent all sorts of emotional and physical problems.

Commitment to provide support and an environment of security are a few of the qualities to produce marital happiness. A happy marriage, then, in which both partners are committed, provides a known source of support in the face of various problems. "Commitment means that each spouse has the interpersonal support necessary to deal with the stresses of life" (Lauer).

These are some of the qualities that move marriages from just survival and toleration to satisfying as well as long-lasting relationships. "Until death do us part" then is an eternal covenant to marital enrichment, and not a survival-of-the-fittest program. It is an eternal covenant to work through all problems and difficulties to bring healing in a relationship. "Until death do us part" is not the ignoring of pain, but the eternal vow to prevent and avoid pain-producing behaviors in a relationship.


Barrington H. Brennen is a marriage and family therapist and board certified clinical psychotherapist, USA. Send your questions or comments to barringtonbrennen@gmail.com or write to P.O. Box CB-13019, Nassau, The Bahamas, or visit www.soencouragement.org   or call 242-327-1980 or 242-477-4002




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