As family lawyers we spend a lot of time dealing with the consequences of divorce. That is, after all, our job. Helping our clients to deal with the turmoil and achieve the best possible end result is one of the main reasons we open our doors in the morning.
I suppose it’s inevitable then that our thoughts sometimes turn to that related but quite different issue: why do people get divorced in the first place? Sometimes, of course, the answer is black and white: they end up divorcing because their partner has abandoned them, their partner has had an affair, their partner has hit them. But the evidence suggests such dramas are in the minority. Most marriages come to an end because someone decides it just isn’t working out.
Earlier this week, one of my favourite sites, the Huffington Post Divorce Blog, ran a thought-provoking interview with the author of a recent self-help book called How To Choose A Husband And Make Peace With Marriage. According to Suzanne Venker, modern women, thanks to various social and cultural pressures, have become completely detached from the concept of marriage – they no longer understand or value it and the result has been an epidemic of divorce.
Just women? Well, of course not. Clearly, from the title downwards, this is a book aimed at women, but few could doubt that modern men have come under similar pressures and gone down a similar road in their approach to marriage.
Article author Beverly Willett is a divorcee and was particularly interested in Venker’s views on second marriages. As regular readers of this blog will know, my view of second marriages could be summed in six words: should come with a health warning. They are more likely to be poorly thought-through and more likely to fail. The emotional baggage which inevitably lingers from the first marriage can turn into a bomb which destroys the second.
For Venker, the most important thing to do when considering a second marriage is to really analyse why the first failed. She told Beverly Willett:
“…what keeps many women from making the right choice the second time is the inability to look in the mirror to see what they did wrong or could have done better.”
Again, this is of course, an observation that applies just as much to divorced men!
“I’ve read the divorce literature, almost always written by women, and noticed a common theme: blame. The same thing happens in the press whenever there’s a Hollywood divorce, too, with the heroine wife hailed as finally free of the loser husband.”
According to the author, blaming one’s ex for everything that went wrong with the marriage is more about feeling good than about moving on for most people. It is an approach which will ultimately prevent you from learning lessons that need to be learned and so make that second marriage even more likely to fail.
“To suggest all or even most of the women who initiate divorce (about two-thirds) were married to “bad guys” and had no choice but to get out is to bury our head in the sand.”
I think there is a lot of truth in these observations. Nowadays especially, marriage is often overloaded with a complex mix of social and personal expectations. Some people love the ideals and promises of marriage but feel hemmed in and let down by the reality. Some people look to their partners for some impossible sense of inner fulfilment. It’s no wonder so many marriages fail these days.
Looking a long hard look at oneself in the mirror can be painful but the rewards can also be great.