The ethics of advising divorce

General discussion of issues related to Theravada Training of Sila, the Five Precepts (Pañcasikkhāpada), and Eightfold Ethical Conduct (Aṭṭhasīla).

The ethics of advising divorce

Postby Ben » Mon Jun 10, 2013 1:18 pm

Dear all,

One of my friends asked to have the following posted anonymously.

There's a couple John and Natalie (not real names). Although John is a straightforward guy there are a few things Natalie does not like about John, and so they have issues frequently. Natalie often threatens suicide if John does not act according to her wish (like giving her more time and attention, etc). According to John he saved her from a few suicide attempts. She may have some mental problems but not diagnosed and she refuses to see a doctor or counselor. Her mood/personality change abruptly, and sometimes she gets violent. John has tried a lot to keep the marriage but now he is fed up and thinks he can no longer stay with her, but still he has hesitations to file a divorce. The problem is if John files a divorce Natalie may be so depressed that she may really attempt a suicide. Question is: will John be morally responsible? Another question is: Being close to John, I know him and I feel his problem, and I suggest him to file divorce. Is it morally okay to encourage John to leave/divorce Natalie?


I know your considered responses will be greatly appreciated.
kind regards,

Ben
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Re: The ethics of advising divorce

Postby daverupa » Mon Jun 10, 2013 1:33 pm

If a conversation involving a professional mental health representative is refused, yet is a known option and one that the individual is capable of following up on should they opt to do so, then the matter is settled. They are at least an average agent, so it's the case that there is no moral ground, even in cases of acute mental distress, for one person to unilaterally pronounce the necessity of specific relational behaviors in exchange for their personal assurance not to engage in self-harm.

This sort of action may be appropriate in certain cases of trying to force government action, say a hunger strike, but ones relationship with the State is different from that of a relationship with a significant other, in which case a reasonable person must conclude that eg. threat of suicide amounts to hostage-taking.

The right action will depend on the context, but seems to take the following general shape: conversation, else mediation or separation.
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
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Re: The ethics of advising divorce

Postby Sekha » Mon Jun 10, 2013 2:10 pm

All I can say is that in my opinion if Natalie suicides out of mental derangement while John has not willingly fostered her mental problem and if he actually thoroughly disapproves of her suicide, then he is not responsible for her act.

I cannot comment on whether he should divorce or not. The amount of information required to make this kind of decision exceeds by far what can be written in a post.
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Re: The ethics of advising divorce

Postby santa100 » Mon Jun 10, 2013 2:19 pm

There's a couple John and Natalie (not real names). Although John is a straightforward guy there are a few things Natalie does not like about John, and so they have issues frequently. Natalie often threatens suicide if John does not act according to her wish (like giving her more time and attention, etc). According to John he saved her from a few suicide attempts. She may have some mental problems but not diagnosed and she refuses to see a doctor or counselor. Her mood/personality change abruptly, and sometimes she gets violent. John has tried a lot to keep the marriage but now he is fed up and thinks he can no longer stay with her, but still he has hesitations to file a divorce. The problem is if John files a divorce Natalie may be so depressed that she may really attempt a suicide. Question is: will John be morally responsible? Another question is: Being close to John, I know him and I feel his problem, and I suggest him to file divorce. Is it morally okay to encourage John to leave/divorce Natalie?


From the highlighted line, that's a very serious issue. She needs to see a doctor/counselor ASAP. John will need to get everyone involved: doctor, counselor, the family on his side, and the family on her side. Everyone needs to be kept in the loop and come up with a plan before her next suicide attempt. IMHO, make sure she's safe and healthy first and then worry about the divorce later..
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Re: The ethics of advising divorce

Postby binocular » Mon Jun 10, 2013 3:19 pm

Ben wrote:
There's a couple John and Natalie (not real names). Although John is a straightforward guy there are a few things Natalie does not like about John, and so they have issues frequently. Natalie often threatens suicide if John does not act according to her wish (like giving her more time and attention, etc). According to John he saved her from a few suicide attempts. She may have some mental problems but not diagnosed and she refuses to see a doctor or counselor. Her mood/personality change abruptly, and sometimes she gets violent. John has tried a lot to keep the marriage but now he is fed up and thinks he can no longer stay with her, but still he has hesitations to file a divorce. The problem is if John files a divorce Natalie may be so depressed that she may really attempt a suicide. Question is: will John be morally responsible? Another question is: Being close to John, I know him and I feel his problem, and I suggest him to file divorce. Is it morally okay to encourage John to leave/divorce Natalie?

Maybe it is the marriage that has been making her sick; and perhaps it has made her sick to a point of no return.

If they have what otherwise seem "normal" Western beliefs, values and practices, it is in fact possible that the woman would become mentally disturbed after some time. Because living well with "normal" Western beliefs and values requires a very sturdy personality to begin with.

If the two are married, John will have some karmic responsibility to Natalie either way, just like Natalie has a karmic responsibility to John.


Another question is: Being close to John, I know him and I feel his problem, and I suggest him to file divorce. Is it morally okay to encourage John to leave/divorce Natalie?

I think this question is actually too complex to answer directly. One is best off if one acts in ways that will give one peace of mind. Which may also mean retreating from the situation, refraining from giving advice altogether.


What wedding vows did the two take?
Was "in sickness and in health, till death do us part" part of those vows?
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Re: The ethics of advising divorce

Postby Aloka » Mon Jun 10, 2013 3:46 pm

Ben wrote:
There's a couple John and Natalie (not real names). Although John is a straightforward guy there are a few things Natalie does not like about John, and so they have issues frequently. Natalie often threatens suicide if John does not act according to her wish (like giving her more time and attention, etc). According to John he saved her from a few suicide attempts. She may have some mental problems but not diagnosed and she refuses to see a doctor or counselor. Her mood/personality change abruptly, and sometimes she gets violent. John has tried a lot to keep the marriage but now he is fed up and thinks he can no longer stay with her, but still he has hesitations to file a divorce. The problem is if John files a divorce Natalie may be so depressed that she may really attempt a suicide. Question is: will John be morally responsible? Another question is: Being close to John, I know him and I feel his problem, and I suggest him to file divorce. Is it morally okay to encourage John to leave/divorce Natalie?


Its difficult to say, not having met the people concerned or knowing all the details of the relationship. However, from what has been written above, it seems to be a very serious situation which will be a continuing source of great stress for both people.

I would suggest seeking some help and support from other family members and close friends, as well as investigating ways of perhaps getting home visits from a doctor or counsellor if Natalie doesn't want an appointment at a clinic to talk about her suicide attempts. It's also possible that she might speak to a health professional if she has a relative or friend present.

Additionally, it might be a good idea for John to seek some advice from a doctor or counsellor himself.

I don't really feel that I can comment about separation or divorce because I think other options should be considered first.


with kind wishes,

Aloka
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Re: The ethics of advising divorce

Postby Mr Man » Mon Jun 10, 2013 3:55 pm

Ideally I don't think John's actions should be governed by concerns of moral responsibility but from love and compassion. If he has been married for sometime and she is unwell I would say he should have a strong sense of concern and duty.
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Re: The ethics of advising divorce

Postby Sekha » Mon Jun 10, 2013 3:59 pm

Is it morally okay to encourage John to leave/divorce Natalie?

I think an Ananda-ish answer could do in this case. If by not divorcing unwholesome mental states increase and wholesome mental states diminish in both, then they should divorce. If by divorcing unwholesome mental states increase and wholesome mental states diminish in both, then they should not divorce.

Based on AN 10.54, it seems that the above predicate can be used with "John" or "Natalie" instead of "both", although it is arguable that unlike a husband, a monk is not supposed to have compelling responsibilities towards someone he doesn't want to associate with, especially not financial or educational responsibilities (in case of having children).
"'Monks, I also speak of individuals in two ways: to be partaken of and not to be partaken of':[3] Thus was it said. In reference to what was it said? Any individual of whom one has come to know, 'When I partake of this individual, unskillful qualities increase and skillful qualities decrease,' that sort of individual is not to be partaken of. Any individual of whom one has come to know, 'When I partake of this individual, unskillful qualities decrease and skillful qualities increase,' that sort of individual is to be partaken of. 'Monks, I also speak of individuals in two ways: to be partaken of and not to be partaken of': Thus was it said. And in reference to this was it said."

(3. The word sevitabba, when used with material items, is usually translated as "to be partaken of." When used with people, it is usually translated as "to be associated with." However, here I have used the former rendering throughout to maintain the pattern of the original language, and also to point out the fact that when one associates with another person, one internalizes that person's qualities and views.)
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Re: The ethics of advising divorce

Postby retrofuturist » Mon Jun 10, 2013 11:20 pm

Greetings,

I don't see how John would be responsible... it sounds like he's already saved her a few times, which he was under no obligation to do.

Natalie needs to take responsibility for her own actions ~ time for her to sort her sh*t out.

Metta,
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Re: The ethics of advising divorce

Postby marc108 » Tue Jun 11, 2013 12:25 am

John isn't responsible for his wife's decisions and shouldn't allow himself to be held hostage emotionally. Beyond that I would say that if that were my wife, I would #1 consult a professional about the proper way to intervene and #2 have her committed which he can do legally I believe.
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Re: The ethics of advising divorce

Postby SDC » Tue Jun 11, 2013 1:21 am

John is NOT obligated to do anything, however he is in a position to influence her life if he wants to. It is up to him whether he is willing to sacrifice the rest of his life so she won't take her own. Even if, she may do it anyway. Not many are qualified for such a demanding task.

Personally I think the attempts of suicide thus far are just cries for attention with no real intention to go through with it. Seems like he is falling short of her expectations and she is not mentally capable of dealing with it. She is so desperate for his attention, but how is he supposed to give it to her genuinely and willingly when she is putting her life at stake all the time? Bad habits like this done over a long period of time will destroy a relationship like nothing else. They keep putting more and more space between each other - him with the lack of attention and her with these extreme attempts to wake him up. Sucks. They both need treatment, her obviously a bit more.

Like some have said, it is hard to say whether they should divorce or not. Captain Hindsight would say they shouldn't have let it get this out of control in the first place; but realistically, any chance at reconciliation may have died long ago when things weren't so extreme. Without counseling, at best it will stay this way for the rest of their lives.
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Re: The ethics of advising divorce

Postby SDC » Tue Jun 11, 2013 1:22 am

marc108 wrote:Beyond that I would say that if that were my wife, I would #1 consult a professional about the proper way to intervene and #2 have her committed which he can do legally I believe.


May be the last option left. He should seek counseling as well - both for the trauma he has been through and for ways to better deal with the relationship going forward.
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Re: The ethics of advising divorce

Postby Hickersonia » Tue Jun 11, 2013 3:09 am

If she won't see a doctor, perhaps he could insist on seeing a marriage counselor?

I don't think this is necessarily any karmic liability to you if you suggest (or support the idea that) he divorce (unless you want to see her die or something crazy like that, which I sincerely doubt). The question I think is more important is how far are you willing to support him regardless of his choice, especially if she does actually follow through with it...

Such a tough situation... I do not envy the predicament any of you are in at this point...
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Re: The ethics of advising divorce

Postby Ben » Tue Jun 11, 2013 9:35 am

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings,

I don't see how John would be responsible... it sounds like he's already saved her a few times, which he was under no obligation to do.

Natalie needs to take responsibility for her own actions ~ time for her to sort her sh*t out.

Metta,
Retro. :)


Yes, its hard to comment without knowing the particulars or the people involved.
It could be that Natalie is manipulating John by threatening suicide.
I think it wise that Natalie is referred to a health care provider in the first instance - perhaps both of them.
Quite often when one member of an intimate relationship is suffering from acute depression the other member suffers from the same condition.
kind regards,

Ben
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Re: The ethics of advising divorce

Postby binocular » Tue Jun 11, 2013 10:34 am

Ben wrote:Quite often when one member of an intimate relationship is suffering from acute depression the other member suffers from the same condition.

And these things are not always so clear cut.

It's tempting to place the exclusive fault and responsiblity on the one party who seems to be acting out the most, or who otherwise seems to be the most problematic.
But sometimes, the apparent mental problems of one party are actually the result of "joint efforts" of both of them, or of more people. It just so happens that one person breaks down sooner, appears more problematic, when in fact the other party is just as problematic, if not even more - only in externally different ways.

Intimate relationships can be a weird dance of codependence.
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