“Marriage problems are relationship problems; they are the result of how two people interact with each other. You may abandon a troubled marriage, but you will still bring the way you interact with others along with you.” -Mark Gungor
It has been years since I have been close to a divorce; however, I have witnessed many others from a distance over the years, mostly through the vacant expressions of the kids- friends of my own children- as they recount their new living arrangements. I remember my early adolescence, mostly lost in the battlefield of my parents’ divorce. Much of my middle school years are lost to me, a salvation of memory that works to erase the anger, cruelty and unspoken pain that became my family.
Recently, I have been reminded of many of my forgotten memories as a co-worker and friend navigates his own battlefield of divorce. There are no victors in these emotional wars, which turn our tender and warm attachments with those we loved into a brutal form of ammunition in the pain of separation. It is a form of insanity that I remember well in my parents and was my ready excuse for much of my own reckless and destructive behaviors. It is a literal losing ground of our daily reality and even our connection to our selves. Even when both partners are seemingly ready for the break up, there are few “good” divorces.
This rang true when I came across the recent New York Times expose entitled, “How Divorce Lost its Groove.” Replacing the previous stigma-free too-bad-it-didn’t-work-out mentality of divorce is an understanding by many people like me who went through their parents’ messy divorces as a child that the dissolution of a family is a failure of sorts, that somehow, something more could have been done for the relationship. Marriage is increasingly being understood as something that, like work-life balance, needs to be continually worked at and improved upon.
According to the women in the article, many of whom have written memoirs about their experience, divorce is no longer seen as a woman’s ticket to freedom and liberation. In fact, they are experiencing a kind of punitive backlash among their cohorts. Single motherhood is not glamorous, and divorcing with children often requires an increased commitment between ex-partners to figure out their issues for the sake of their kids. It isn’t just the immediate family that experiences the trauma either. Close friendships and extended family are also disrupted as divorce has an apparent domino effect. A recent study out of Harvard, Brown and University of California recently found that divorce is in fact is contagious- witnessing the breakup of close friends increases the odds of your own marital split by 75%.
All of this shifting has resulted in a significant drop in the divorce rate among the college- educated population. In fact, close to half of this population now believes that divorce should be made more difficult. Within this segment, marriages are lasting longer with increasingly higher proportions of couples reaching their 10th and 15th anniversaries. Interestingly, the dropping rates of divorce don’t hold true among the less educated population where divorce still occurs in over one third of marriages in the first ten years. This correlation between education and marital longevity is an interesting one. Does this speak to improved relationship skills, values or some combination of both?
This question was the focus of the recently released film Crazy, Stupid Love. The story opens with the wife’s request for a divorce and moves through the funny, sad versions of the insanity that ensues as the characters search for themselves and new ground to build a life upon. Unrealistic but hopeful, their process brings them back to the love that they thought was lost, a bit more mature and conscious that the work of staying related never ends. Learning the skills to love is a lifelong pursuit.