On Marriage and Divorce

Maybe this is just coincidence but I’ve had a influx of requests for couples counseling. People who are struggling in their marriage and don’t want things to get worse. People who feel lost, betrayed, alone and unhappy but who don’t think separation or divorce is the way to go and want to work on their relationship. I give them a lot of credit.
And this doesn’t apply to them. But it got me thinking.
Do we talk about divorce before it even happens? Before we are even considering it, silently, when we are in the pit of our despair?
Let’s talk about the giant D in the room: Divorce. Statistics say 45-50% of first marriages end in divorce. That means one out of two marriages! And that number doesn’t even include people who are unhappily married. There is as much money spent in the wedding industry as there is in divorce industry. Why? Does it really all come down to irreconcilable differences? To “I just don’t want to be married anymore”? To “we changed into different people”? When we say “we tried to work it out”, did we really?
Well, maybe and just maybe, we have been asking all the wrong questions all along.
A lot of people question divorce but very few question marriage. I mean, how many times do people actually speak up when the priest says “If anyone has an objection to this union, speak now or forever hold your peace”? My guess is no one.
Well, I object!! This is important. Ready? Not to the idea of marriage but to doing it the same way the society has been telling us to. When people announce they are engaged to get married everyone congratulates them. Congratulations, you just increased your chances of being miserable later by 50%!! But enjoy it while you can. When people decide to get divorced they become one more statistic and everyone perceives this as yet another personal failure. Given the state of marriage in this country, maybe divorce IS the way to go. What can be more of an indication of failure of marriage as an institution than the rate of divorce? Human beings are pretty smart when it comes to learning from other people’s mistakes in the field of economics, science and bodily harm but not in the area of relationships. We try to avoid things, people, products that have a bad reputation. We do this very successfully every day. But yet we ignore how bad of a reputation marriage has and we ignore the fact that the odds are stacked up against marriage. We blame the people in a failed marriage and determine we are not like them. People who get divorced, very often marry again. Guess what percentage of second marriages end in divorce: 60%!!
We think about divorce the same way adolescents start experimenting with drugs: we think “It won’t happen to us”. But let’s think about this for a moment. Why do we NOT question the institution of marriage?
I want to talk here a bit about unhappily married couples. Sure you’re not divorced but is your marriage really successful? And if the answer is no, then what are you doing about it? An unhappy marriage is as much a relationship (and personal) fail as divorce is. In the end, I have found that people don’t really want to get divorced but few commit to real change or to be happier. A lot of people opt for finding someone else, cheating, lying, turning to internet porn, drugs, alcohol (or other addictions). They opt for marrying their job or creating alter egos or living a double life or just being absent. The list goes on.
So I ask you.
What is it about marriage that gets so many people, from so many different backgrounds, stuck, unhappy and lost? Is it the expectations? Is it the lack of help? Is it the change in roles? Is it the blending of spaces, incomes, families, and individuality? Is it the death of independence? What about the financial, moral, cultural and sometimes religious burden of divorce? Isn’t it just easier to suck it up instead?
But what if.
What if the real test to commitment is NOT getting married but getting unmarried? And by that I mean detaching to be able to look at the situation more objectively? What if we did it backwards? Revisited and questioned everything about our relationship, rescinded our commitment, left everything behind, ruined ourselves only to build us back up this time with a clearer idea of what our own personal marriage should look like?
What would marriage look like if we all did this systematically the same way we go about planning weddings?

2 thoughts on “On Marriage and Divorce

  1. I really enjoyed your post Elvita. There is an old tale about Carl Jung, a middle-age man comes into a session and tells Jung he is getting divorced, that his wife is leaving him, and Jung replies, “Ah, how wonderful, congratulations!” He isn’t being a smartass, but rather acknowledge the “other side” of the marital bliss fantasy (which you do excellently here), which is only at such times does the psyche truly move and open up- only at times of difficulty and pain, not at times when all is right with the world. Much like a muscle growing only when it’s been torn. Now, I’m not saying lets all try to be unhappy in our relationships, or hope they fall apart. But, you nicely address the shadow sides of marriage and divorce, and how so many of us enter into these with a myopic perspective. Marriage is all bliss, divorce is all hell. But, the workings of the spirit and the psyche are so much more complex, they require complex answers, and patience to allow those epiphanies to rise up and provide insight and also depth. There is a great song by Kenny Loggins called The Real Thing, where he is writing to his daugther about why he and mommy divorced, and one line speaks out, “I did it for you (divorced), and the boys, because love should teach you joy, and not the imitation that your momma and I tried to show you”. Great post!

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