Does Hardness of Heart Cause Divorce?
Recently a friend of mine on Facebook posted a link to an article, called The One Thing Guaranteed to End All Marriages.
My response was long and I realized today that it would probably make a good blog post.
I hope my two cents are helpful and not annoying…
I really loved the last half of the article, but was a little concerned over the first half. I don’t disagree that “hardness of heart” is a reality in many struggling marriages. But as a relationship counselor I always balk with the implication that this is something that is entirely a) the hard-hearted person’s fault, or b) something they can simply decide to change.
It’s About Conditions
Everything you do in your relationship is foreplay.
— John Gottman, marriage researcher and expert
What does this mean? It means that to connect deeply in the bedroom, couples need to be deeply connected in the other areas of their lives.
It means the health of a relationship is about conditions being right. And conditions have to be cultivated.
Human beings are creatures. All creatures require certain conditions in order to be able to thrive. If you plant an acorn in clay, in the dark, in a place with no water, you can go out every day and sing to it, pray that it will grow, read all the gardening books on earth, and there is still close to zero chance that that seed is going to sprout into a tree. The conditions are wrong. But if you plant it where the conditions are right, it will grow quite naturally and easily.
The same is true with human beings. Humans require certain conditions in order to be able to thrive. Hearts often become hard as a result of living too long in conditions where thriving is not possible and people settle instead for mere survival.
In relationships moving toward divorce, often one spouse’s behavior creates a set of conditions where the other’s heart needs to grow hard in order to protect itself from constant breaking and battering. When this happens, simply telling that person their heart is hard isn’t helpful. People often know their hearts have hardened, they just may not know that this is a basically normal response to certain kinds of conditions.
The Awful Choice
A person married to a narcissist, for example, may suffer so greatly at the hands of that person that they will often end up with two options:
1. Remain in those conditions and die a little every day
2. Find new conditions where thriving is possible. Which requires willingness to let go of a lot of dreams for that broken relationship.
People can make either choice, but what they cannot do is escape the natural consequences of whatever choice they make.
The Wisdom of Finding New Conditions
If I bash you in the head with a shovel every day for years on end, no one should expect you to be so spiritual that it doesn’t bother you. Or tell you that it’s wrong for you to decide you’re not going to allow it anymore. When you finally decide you’re done with it, some might call it hardness of heart. I call it call it common sense.
Sure, most people don’t live with a narcissist (though many more do than realize it), but the point isn’t narcissism, it’s one person being exposed day after day to brutalizing, corrosive, toxic treatment by another person.
As a counselor I end up working often with people who tolerate terrible treatment by their spouse and can’t seem to understand why that’s not okay.
Or who are completely sick of it but can do nothing but blame themselves for the bloody mess their mind and heart have become.
Most believe they are weak people for no longer being willing to accept that kind of treatment. They actually feel like failures for not wanting to choose abuse anymore.
So what is the cause of divorce?
Is hardness of heart the problem?
The problem is the conditions under which hearts will invariably harden given enough time.