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Why Divorce? Why Marriage?

Posted by spritzophrenia on January 19, 2011

How do you write when you don’t know what to say? I’ve been chatting to another friend whose marriage is breaking down. I have feelings, emotions, thoughts, theories, hopes, despair. I certainly don’t have answers.

I’ve met a lot of people who are in marriages that are ending, or who are seriously contemplating ending their marriage. Or who ended it… returned… struggled with it… are considering ending it again. It gets complicated as kids are usually involved. The stories of our lives are often stranger than soap operas. I’m divorced, and have had several significant relationships that ended. I offer no judgement. I know how difficult it is to find someone you can truly live with and be satisfied with. In my case, it’s taken years for me to become the sort of person I’d want to live with.

A large number of marriages end in divorce. I wonder why we continue to seek such relationships? I wonder why gay people are seeking an institution that straights are busy messing up? (It’s about equality to mess up too.)


Whether we choose to get married or not, most of us seek long term partnerships. What is it we’re seeking? What can a partner give us that a full life of satisfying work and deep friendships cannot give us? I guess it’s intimacy. Sure, that includes sexual intimacy, but goes far beyond it. I guess we’re seeking a person with whom we can be completely ourselves, who we trust implicitly and know will always be there for us. (That perfect person sounds like God, actually. But I’m not going to advocate God as a solution because few people I know have ever managed to achieve the level of intimacy with g0d that can replace human love. I’m certainly not going to advocate the kind of conservative marriage that assigns roles to each spouse.)

I think our situating happiness in a person is partly because we buy into the romance or “soul-mate” myth. All you have to do is watch a Julia Roberts movie to have the impression that we will meet one person who will be the perfect lover, provider, friend, co-worker, co-parent… the perfect everything. No human can do that. Yet we keep a huge industry going, encouraging us to seek this impossible kind of lurve.

When we don’t find satisfaction in our current lover, we begin to look elsewhere. Perhaps we are lured away from our marriage/relationship by the promise of someone better? Perhaps the sex is better, perhaps they understand us more deeply. Yet in time, the cracks begin to show and we realise we’re hooked up with someone who is not completely perfect after all.

Happygirl and I read Sex at Dawn a while back. I’m now quite sceptical of some of the research behind it. Also, it tends to reduce relationship difficulties merely to sex: “If we could be emotionally committed to each other, but let our partners have sex outside the marriage, everything will be all right”. The book doesn’t actually say that, but it’s easy to draw that conclusion. Nevertheless I do think the questions it raises are worth considering.

So I’m left with the mystery of why us humans keep on doing something which often doesn’t work. Why we keep seeking an intimate life partner. Or even one who will last a few years.

What can I do?

Keep talking about it

I don’t think any of us have the full answers. We all need help in finding, and growing with that someone special. I’d like to hear your thoughts.

Support friends who are going through divorce

Divorce is never fun or easy, even in the most amicable of cases. Most of us have been there or know someone who has. Let’s get rid of the judgement and simply offer support.

Helpful Stuff on Divorce for Christians

When I was a christian, reading Walter Callison eased a lot of guilt for me. He takes a good look at Jesus’ words on divorce and concludes that divorce is not only acceptable, but sometimes the loving thing to do. Article here, book Divorce: A Gift of God’s Love.

Other ideas?


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48 Responses to “Why Divorce? Why Marriage?”

  1. Sarah said

    I, myself, have never been married. I’ve never even been engaged to be married. But my line of work forces me to deal with divorce and custody on a normal basis. I work in the legal field. When I first stated, I was a paralegal and was responsible for answering questions and preparing the paperwork so clients could obtain the divorce that they so wanted. Most were agreeable, some even came together for the consultation. Every now and again, we would have to deal with someone being difficult. I don’t know if they couldn’t handle the situation, or if they couldn’t accept the fact that their relationship with this person was over. It’s a horrible thing to watch sometimes. I have seen people do and say some fairly outrageous things in order to get their way. It’s scary sometimes.

    Now I work for the courts. I still hear the drama of the relationship and even in the filings that both sides are writing. More and more people are trying to obtain what they want by themselves. It’s a pretty hard task. But it’s also a sign of the economic times that here in the US, we are dealing with.

    I agree that it is a tough situation to go through. I try to be as compassionate as possible and also as helpful as possible. Unfortunately, I can only do so much, as I am not an attorney and can lose my job for giving legal advise. These people do need support and help for the rough times that they are going through. Its hard to see something die in front of your eyes. Instead of a person dying, it’s a relationship. A period of time that you invested a lot of sweat, love, tears, etc. into. Now it’s gone, or soon to be gone. I understand that part. I have had long term relationships and it’s always hard to accept that the person you were with is not “the one” for you. Every now and again, people get lucky in love. But it is hard work to make a relationship worth it and last. My opinion is that people don’t want to work for things. They are too used to everything being handed to them or given to them. The mentality is “oh, if this doesn’t work, we can just get a divorce, no biggie.” There used to be a stigma (at least in the US) over divorce. That all stopped maybe 30 years ago. It’s just a normal course of business anymore.

    Like I said earlier, I’ve seen and heard a lot of things from all sorts of people. I guess, really, I’m kinda torn in the whole divorce and marriage thing. On one hand, I’d love to have that experience and have a marriage that lasts til I or the other person dies. But on the other hand, in my line of work, it’s hard to not be cynical about marriage and the lot.

    • Thanks Sarah 🙂

      “oh, if this doesn’t work, we can just get a divorce, no biggie.”
      I’d feel sad if this was the majority attitude.

      “There used to be a stigma (at least in the US) over divorce.” I would imagine there is still a stigma in conservative circles. There still is here. Can anyone else shed light on this?

      I don’t know if a stigma would be useful in countering the instant mentality you mentioned earlier. I don’t like to think promoting stigma would help, but if you think that marriage is still a worthwhile thing (as I do) I wonder what else would help? Certainly not draconian laws that make divorce harder.

      I wonder if working in the divorce courts is kinda like working in a hospital and being cynical about health? 😉

      Great to have your input, thanks

      • Cristine said

        “o if this doesn’t work we will get a divorce, no biggie”
        whoa..I obviously can’t say that no one has gone in with this attitude but I certainly don’t know them. Everyone I know (including myself) who has divorced was absolutely certain they would stay married forever.

        “People don’t want to work for things” once again, whoa…everyone I know who has divorced did everything they could to try to make it work. Divorce is a horrible painful hell and it is quite insensitive to say that people want good relationships handed to them. I have been one of those people hearing the ‘honey, just try harder’ when I had done everything I could (I am not saying that no one is like that but that it has to be a small minority)

        No Stigma?! Perhaps the stigma is not what it once was, but here, where I live (upper middle class white suburb of Detroit) there must certainly is still a stigma

      • There is ABSOLUTELY still a stigma in conservative circles. Many people in my life didn’t even want to be around me after I filed for divorce from my husband. I also got in another relationship very quickly, so there was even more emotional difficulty for those close to my husband and I about that. The idea that there is no stigma surrounding divorce in the U.S. is absolutely not true in the part of the country I live in (central California) and in the sub-culture of evangelical Christianity I used to be part of.

    • Grace said

      I think in my generation (late 20s-early 30s) most people really, really want to avoid divorce. It’s certainly true of friends around my age and much of what I’ve read suggests it’s generally true of our demographic. A lot of our generation are children of divorce and don’t want to go through that themselves, much less put any kids they might have through it. All that to say I don’t really see that people aren’t willing to work for things. The married folks I know are very committed to keep things working in their marriages, and most of them don’t believe there’s anything sinful about divorce.

      So I think a lot of people see how divorce can have negative effects. But it can be the best path for a couple, too, and it’s good that the option exists today in a way that it didn’t for people stuck in miserable marriages just a few decades ago. How strained, or distant do things have to get until it’s not worth it to try to “work for things” anymore? How hard do you have to work if one partner is firmly decided that they don’t want to be married anymore?

      I’d also point out that our ideal of being married to only one person until one dies is one that we take for granted as universal when it’s not. There are whole swaths of Western history, not so long ago, where lots of people were in common law marriages that they could form and dissolve at will. Many people were married to more than one person in a lifetime, and not just because of being widowed.

  2. Cristine said

    I know I am going to be in the minority with my feelings but I think a great deal of the problem is that we expect marriage to last forever. I certainly did! But who you are at 20 is not who you are at 35 or who you are at 50. While it is ideal and wonderful when people grow and change together, it is the exception rather than the rule.

    People change and those changes can be so drastic that people are no longer compatible. Of course, marriage is hard work, of course you will have rough times, but if your marriage is a living hell and you have exhausted your possibilities at fixing it, why must we shame people?

    Why do we make people feel like a failure if they divorce? When you leave a job, people don’t say ‘o sorry your job didn’t work out because you didn’t stay there until death’. Why is marriage so different? Just because a marriage no longer works doesn’t mean it was a failure. Maybe it was but maybe it worked great for a length of time and now it’s simply time to move on.

    Telling a woman to stay in a loveless marriage is cruel. Have you ever kissed hugged, had sex with someone you had nothing but negative feelings for? For a great majority of women, that feels like being violated.

    I understand that some couples stay together simply because it is easier (divorce is hell) and don’t have any romantic/sexual relationship and if that works for them, then great but I couldn’t stomach it. It literally made me ill.

    • I have thought about the “marriage shouldn’t last forever” idea too. I wonder how it could be made to work, emotionally, so that I think “I’m really committed to this person but I also will allow it to end when the time comes”? Perhaps it’s not so hard after all, as that’s kinda how I think with a girlfriend. I’m totally committed to it, but am aware it could end. Hmmm…

      I also think about how we are one day (perhaps as soon as 20 years) going to have increased life spans with medical/science breakthroughs. I wonder if average life span is 150 years whether we would still expect marriages to last a lifetime – 100 years?

      Social change then will be very interesting.

  3. SugarPop said

    I recently read “Committed” by Elizabeth Glbert (of Eat Pray Love fame) and it provides some interesting historical insight into the evolution of marriage in the Western context – some of what we *expect* from marriage today is actually the result of some relatively recent social developments that have their roots in some very unromantic motives such as economics and politics. I recommend it for its thought provoking content about marriage.

    In my experience, much of what is *sold* to us in the media paints enduring relationships as the pursuit and the conquest, usually culminating in a wedding. And there the story ends, when in reality that’s where the guts of the matter begins. I can relate to Sarah’s point about our *instant gratification* society where the fleeting and fickle ideas of prestige and image seems to have blinded us from the reality of working for and protecting what is worthwhile and what we value in our hearts.

    I have been married and divorced, and have had further very significant committed relationships since then. I was very young when I got married, and I was doing what I thought I was *supposed* to do – it wasn’t until later that I really questioned my motives and unsurprisingly, I left the marriage. At the time I was one of those people who thought I could always get a divorce if it didn’t work out. I used that to console myself at the time, when I was too scared to talk about how I was feeling with anyone, let alone fully accept those feelings in myself at the time. Like Cristine, I got to the point of becoming sick as I tried to survive in the marriage, and that is what ultimately led me to exit. Telling ANYONE (this is not exclusively a women’s domain) to stay in a marriage for the sake of it is cruel.

    Every long term relationship I have entered into I have taken seriously. It seems that the older I get, the more seriously I take them. I have stayed in unhealthy relationships far longer than I thought I would, were I to speculate about the situations ahead of time. I have loved with complete abandon and with all of me and was shocked to discover that it wasn’t enough. I guess for me that was the hardest thing to accept – that love wasn’t enough.

    Genuine heart break is a soul-wrenching thing. I still feel it, although the frequency and intensity are less. Like the grief I feel for my father who passed away, I expect to carry this quiet anguish with me for a very long time – perhaps until the day I die. But instead of being at its mercy, I now give thanks for having loved in the way that I did. It irrevocably cleaved me open so that I’m now able to experience love and intimacy with that special other in a whole new way and on far deeper levels than I’ve ever plumbed before. For the most part I’ve learned to divest myself of expectations and hopes, although sometimes I find myself back there. To me that is the only way I can think of a relationship actually working – so that we are still sovereign individuals whilst being wholeheartedly committed to being together. If I insist that my man must like everything I like just so, then I might as well end it right now!

    Interestingly, I’ve never really thought of my past relationships as failing. More to the point would be that I and/or my partner lacked the wisdom, support, tools and skills to deal with and navigate the treacherous paths of unmatched expectations, incompatible values and mores, and power struggles.

    My aspiration is to be in an enduring relationship that for all intents and purposes is a marriage. I want it for its multi-faceted intimacy. To know and be known. Maybe in part I’m still covertly subscribing to the Rom-Com fairy tale – I’m a sucker for a happy ending. The greater part of me knows, though, that there IS no ending to an enduring relationship – it is a continuous journey and an ongoing ebbing and flowing between the two people involved. Understanding that we cannot be 100% of everything to each other 100% of the time is a useful insight. But what is the bottom line? I guess for me, if we are less than 60% compatible for less than 60% of the time, then I’m not sure if I would be willing to make a marital-like commitment. So somewhere above 60% lies the magic number… Or does it?

    Thank you, Jon, for a wonderfully thought provoking post 🙂

    • Cristine said

      I love that book “Committed” because I am, like Elizabeth, struggling with marriage. I see it as great for some people but to me it is giving someone legal control over me. The idea of someone having the right to tell me who I can talk to, how to spend money, etc, terrifies me (because I found marriage to be an experience where i was controlled as I had given up my income to raise our children.

      Sugar Pop, I think you are more the norm. I believe the average person stays in relationships for too long rather than leaving too early. I also agree that just because your relationships did not last forever does not mean they were failures. They worked while they worked 🙂

      • I think I will have to read that book. It’s probably a popular summary of stuff I could learn doing “sociology of the family”.

        Cristine, i get that marriage can appear to merely be a legal chain. To me, it’s a romantic thing, it’s all about the commitment that i want to make to someone. I really couldn’t give a $@#! about the legal side. In many ways I could argue that government should stay right out of marriage.

        When i first heard the idea of celebrating a short relationship for what it was i felt uncomfortable. I’m more comfortable with it now.

    • Sugar Pop, I love this that you wrote:

      “Genuine heart break is a soul-wrenching thing. I still feel it, although the frequency and intensity are less. Like the grief I feel for my father who passed away, I expect to carry this quiet anguish with me for a very long time – perhaps until the day I die. But instead of being at its mercy, I now give thanks for having loved in the way that I did. It irrevocably cleaved me open so that I’m now able to experience love and intimacy with that special other in a whole new way and on far deeper levels than I’ve ever plumbed before.”

      It’s helpful to me to view marriage (especially Christian marriage) as a “box.” Of course this isn’t true of all marriages, but it seems to be true of more than I would have ever thought previously to my experiences of the last couple years. I think many of us as 20-somethings (especially Christians…thats’s what i was) entered marriage in a way that made marriage a kind of box we enter/fit ourselves into, as opposed to forming our own relationship from scratch. It was very clear to me that certain things didn’t belong in the box and certain other things must be present in the box. The box was non-negotiable! There were even parts of who I am that didn’t fit/got squeezed out so that I could fit/stay in the box. After awhile though, leaving so much of myself out of the box didn’t work anymore, and the same for my husband. The box pretty much imploded. Suddenly I was dealing with nearly a decade of marriage in which I had not been entirely present or authentic. I was dealing with my husband’s issues of the same sort, as well: things that he’d left out of the box that hadn’t gone away, either. This made our marriage feel like a sham, in some ways. We either needed to recreate our relationship from scratch, with no box, or we had to end our marriage entirely.

      Long story short, I left my husband. I started a new relationship I felt was completely outside of any box. That relationship ended. Now my husband and I are making a new relationship with one another. People (myself included) usually say I “came back” but that isn’t exactly the case. Both my husband and I changed while we were apart. We both got stronger. We both stopped fighting off the parts of us we had left outside of our marriage box. So when we came together and decided to start a new relationship with one another, we were ourselves, finally, and that doesn’t fit in any box. I’m not saying it’s all easy or positive; not at all. It’s very painful and difficult, and it’s very slow-going. There are what feels like “stalls” sometimes. But we are in a relationship with a whole person. This is why his being a Christian and my not being one works. Being a Christian isn’t part of our “agreement” to stay in a marriage box together. This is why we both know that the other person can and will change, and we are both o.k. with that.

      All this to say, I am fairly sure the implosion of our marriage box was ineveitable. I am distinguishing between that and “the implosion of our MARRIAGE was inevitable.” I can’t know that. But I can know that the box was destined to fail. What we did afterwards was totally our choices. We both did our best at the time. Part of our healing now involves WANTING (sometimes this looks like wanting to want to!) to understand the way the other person genuinely felt like they were doing the best thing/best they could at the time, even if it felt otherwise to us. A huge piece of this is choosing to see one another as intrinsically “good” and insisting, even to ourselves, that the other person is not “the bad one” and ourselves “the good one.” This is hard. But it’s the only way I can see our marriage working this time.

      Do I think the institution of marriage works? Clearly it breaks down half the time, at least, so that pretty much looks like a big fat “no” to me. The stats in the U.S. are something like 40-50% of marriages ending in divorce, last I checked. That varies depending on the demographic and interestingly, it is higher among Christians. I definitely think the “box model” of marriage is a train wreck waiting to happen. I am not an advocate of divorce, nor am I an advocate of “no matter what” marriage. I pretty much think I don’t get to decide what anyone else “should” do and that is the end of the story. NO ONE can understand how someone else feels or know whether staying married/getting a divorce is the right or wrong choice. NO ONE. I know after my experience I would advocate not getting in a new relationship right away if you do divorce, but you don’t always have control over when/how you meet someone, so even that is not some sort of judgment/black-and-white issue in my mind. I would advocate taking all the time you need to make any decision about marriage, whether it’s getting in or getting out. If the main reason you find yourself wanting to get married is to have sex with this person you love so much, I would advocate having sex with them before marriage so that you know this is not WHY you are moving into marriage with one another.

      Would I get married at all if I could go back and make new choices? At the age I got married, that was the only way TO have a relationship with my then-boyfriend-now-husband. It was either going to end in break-up or marriage. Period. So of course because we loved one another we wanted to be married because we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together. We couldn’t have imagined another scenario then. If I’d been in a culture where spending the rest of our lives together didn’t have to be “marriage,” I don’t know…maybe I would have picked that.

      Today, where I’m at, if I was unmarried, I don’t think I would necessarily want to get married again. I might. I might not. It probably would depend on what marriage represented for the person I was with and I. My husband and I never finalized our divorce so we ARE married. So that is what our relationship looks like, and I wouldn’t want us to NOT be married. But when I think about my own children, I hope they feel no pressure/rush to marry for any other reason than that they want to marry the person they already have planned to spend their lives with and who wants to be with them, marriage or not. If it’s a “break up or get married” choice, I would see a red flag there.

      • Cristine said

        Cheryl…our stories are freakishly similar except that we did finalize the divorce but now are trying to be in a relationship that allows us both to be who we are. I would be happy for us to continue being together but unmarried but it is so very hard logistically and financially with the children

        • Wow. It is very hard, especially when, if you’re like me, you haven’t had a career at the same time as having kids. My kids are 4, 6 and 9 but were 3, 5 and 8 when I left my husband. The going-back-and-forth deal worked very well for us and the kids handled it beautifully, but it was a very stable week on/week off system. I can imagine the back/forth is not so easy with a pilot’s schedule.

          I have a degree in English but it was meaningless when it came to looking for a job when I left. I took a job at $15/hour with no benefits and then that job ended and I had a $10/hour job that was supposed to include a free apartment. Pretty quickly I found out that wasn’t going to happen. Ultimately I was able to substitute teach which was still not much but enough to scrape by on. This is all the short version! I’d be happy to talk more with you, if you’d like. Sounds like we might understand one another better than some. Feel free to ask Jonathan for my email. 🙂

      • I like your concept of the “marriage box”.

        I agree, in my world I would like to define my own relationship and what I mean by “marriage”. But marriage in our society comes with a box, a whole lot of expectations of what it “should” be.

      • Grace said

        Wow, Cheryl, I identify with so much of this. The marriage box, the shutting down parts of myself, marrying because there was no other way to have a relationship . . . We’re also working on building our relationship on new ground after so many changes in both of us, and so many years of stifling feelings we weren’t “supposed” to feel because we were Christians. Great comment. Pretty much 100% agreed.

        • Grace, I think that’s great that you are working to build something “new” without leaving the marriage the way I did. At the time that I left it felt like the right choice/the best thing for everyone/what I wanted. I was doing my best, as was my husband, I understand now, but it wasn’t working. In retrospect I wish I had given “us” more time, but again, I was doing the best I could and the answer seemed very, very clear to me: divorce. Of course I wish we had been able to start over/make something new without my having to leave/file and all that happened afterward, the repercussions of which we still deal with. But that was what happened and now we have the chance to re-build/start over.

      • SugarPop said

        For me the marriage box wasn’t limited to my marriage – this phenomenon absolutely overflowed into my other long term relationships – one in particular. For me the problem of the box isn’t limited to marriage.

        • Sugar Pop, I totally agree: the “box” phenomenon, in my experience, is not limited to marriage. I don’t find it as much now that I’m not a Christian and the people in my very small “circle” are for the most part not Christians or are Christians who just love me and don’t need to be a certain way/believe anything specific in order to do so.

          The mentality of having to fit relationships (or even just ourselves, period) into certain boxes is one that I can see in retrospect fills us with fear, hijacks our inner peace and makes it impossible to ever feel loved or to love. The way I see it is this:

          If we have to change things about ourselves, hide parts of ourselves, or avoid thinking/feeling certain things, in order to be loved (or married, or whatever), we create an inpenetrable wall around ourselves. We can temporarily enjoy “being loved” while pretending/hiding/denying the truth of ourselves and it can feel really wonderful and may even lead to a decision to be married or whatever.

          But after awhile, we begin to feel the other person rejects the pieces of ourselves that were left “outside the box” of the relationship. The reason is because we have never exposed those parts of ourselves so the other person hasn’t even gotten the opportunity to love those parts. We FEEL as though it is THEIR problem…they are judgmental…THEY are legalistic…THEY only conditionally love. And it might be that if we had the courage to expose our real selves to them, they WOULD reject, judge and withhold love. But we don’t know that unless we try. Unwittingly, we have created a situation in which we CAN NOT be unconditionally loved and therefore usually can’t love unconditionally, either. What we long for most we can never have, and by our own design!

          I know for myself I have had a pattern since childhood of hiding the real me and serving up the version I think will please others. I can do this for years but ultimately the pretense becomes too much and I can’t take it anymore. Usually this is the point at which I run. I want so much to be loved for who I am and I can’t stand not being loved that way, but I don’t even give the other person the chance to love the real me. I have historically been terrified of rejection so I reject first, without even giving the other person the chance to decide.

          Ironically, leaving my husband/having another relationship/that relationship ending/starting a new relationship with my husband meant I was rejected by nearly everyone in my life. I experienced my worst fear: if I do such-and-such I will be rejected and love will be withheld. It happened. It was awful. But I survived. Now I have tasted love/relationship outside of boxes and I can’t be satisfied with less than that. My circle is itty-bitty but I am loved unconditionally by those in that circle and I have the courage to basically kick people out of my circle if they begin to act as though me being me is not o.k. or that they know better. Doesn’t mean I’m cruel about it or never speak to them. It just means I don’t trust them with pieces of myself that I know they won’t take care of.

          Sorry this is so long….

  4. Cristine said

    I know I have greatly dominated this thread but as Jonathan knows, this is a subject very near and dear to me as I am divorced and reconciling with my ex-husband, or at least trying to reconcile. After two years of being apart and with great changes on both of our sides, and with a massive shift of expectations (I am never going to be that mild demure stay at mom Christian wife who wants to be with small children 24/7 and cook and clean all day) there may be hope.

    Ideally, I would not remarry. Ideally I would remain single for the rest of my life and not because I don’t love men but for several reasons. My experience has been that society asks so much self sacrifice of wives/mothers, so much of a giving up of self identity and I felt suffocated by it.

    How do you legislate romance? How do you promise to love someone for the rest of your life and not love anyone else romantically? You can have the best intentions but how can you possibly know what will happen? And by loving romantically, I don’t mean “Hollywood Romance” but I mean being able to enjoy being with your spouse (at least more than you don’t want to be with your spouse)

    THAT SAID, I have 2 small children and I am struggling very much. We have joint custody and as their father career means he flies out randomly without much notice, the children have no set schedule and going back and forth to our separate homes is hard on them and on us. Also for me to be able to financially support them in this economy with the restrictions of young children and competing with people who have not taken themselves out of the work place for years, with the extremely high costs of child care is not realistic.

    I understand the countries such as New Zealand, Australia, England are more helpful but since I don’t live there, I would be condemning my children to a childhood of poverty.

    Also I need health insurance and I can not find a job that offers it.

    If I was still in that place where my husband made my skin crawl, I could not contemplate going back to him but as I do have fond feelings for him returning, we are going to give it a go.

    • Cristine, I appreciate your input, don’t worry about ‘dominating’ too much.

      I do think that systems which economically force women to stay in unhappy marriages are wrong. (I suppose you could argue that’s the story of women-as-chattel from history :/ )

      In New Zealand, the “domestic purposes benefit” was created in the early 1970s as a result of feminist pressure (yay feminists, that’s not a bad word to me.) It is a welfare payment for single parents, and enabled a lot of women to escape bad marriages as they had a small income to support them and their kids.

  5. Victoria said

    Not only were there fewer divorces prior to my generation, the details of the divorces that did exist didn’t necessarily enter the literature; they were invisible unless you knew the person or they were family. So, I think we still come to the present with a pervasive culturally imbedded image of normal that is neither accurate nor informative for the present; and, it is impeding our ability to create new things. It judges us, even if a religion does not. It’s the mirror up to which we unconsciously hold our present liaisons.

    If we had the record of “early adopters,” the divorced of earlier generations, as a mirror, we might not feel so bad and we might be further down the road.

    Our relationship with the workplace has followed the same pattern. It used to be an all-encompassing lifetime provision. Now, we are transhumant nomads in relationship to employment…seeking pasturage within the prescribed lines of our abilities. This suggests to me that the “problem” is not particular to marriage, or exclusively personal, but systemic. Since it’s not necessarily so emotionally loaded, is there positive learning we can bring to our concept of partnerships, from the changes we have successfully made in our liaisons and expectations within the work world?

    • Great thoughts Victoria, thanks.

      Are there any particular things you think we can learn from “transient” work to bring to marriage? I do know that these days people can expect to retrain several times over a lifetime. Do we need to retrain for each new marriage?

      • Victoria said

        Retraining for each new marriage is a good metaphor.

        Although each job is new, it falls within the constant which is ourselves, our capacity/ies… our range. And, in the case of a partnership: within joint capacity/ies.

        Maybe our concept of marriage needs to have the entrepreneurial flavor? Could we, jointly, respect the seasons of life, be responsive to change, innately flexible, ready to retrain, reconfigurable in our organization, with a broad, well cultivated network? That seems like a resilient match for our times.

        And, since our past models of marriage sprang so often from the needs imposed by work: the colony, the farm, the town, the city…

        maybe I’m just articulating what we’ve always done, eventually? 😉

        • Victoria said

          Just to clarify, I am saying that “each new marriage” is the equivalent of each new entrepreneurial reincarnation of a partnership in response to the “market.”

    • SugarPop said

      Interesting perspective. I’m not sure what characteristics of the *transient* work paradigm could be applied to relationships though, so here are just some preliminary thoughts…

      I have spent a lot of time and effort understanding my strengths and talents from a professional perspective, and that has meant that I can be very discerning about the kind of work I take on, and be very honest to prospective employers about what I don’t do well and the things I will not do – take it or leave it. As a result I have a successful career and tend to mostly only do work I enjoy.

      Unlike my approach to work, my approach to relationships is never calculating. I’m seduced by feelings of emotional connection, physical chemistry, humour, openness, intelligence and shared values. For me the magic of being with someone relates to these beautifully ephemeral qualities.

      I guess where the two intersect could be in the realms of working through issues and differences. For example, I understand certain things about myself, such as that I’m an introvert and need solitude. I also often struggle to articulate quickly how I feel about something in the heat of the moment. These things can be frustrating for someone who does not have these same characteristics, so self-awareness and communicating clearly about how these manifest in my behaviours can help avoid unnecessary misunderstandings.

      For me, higher self-awareness has come with age – the understanding I have of myself now compared to when I was 20 is vastly more comprehensive. I don’t know if this really answers anything other than self-awareness has helped me navigate my career as well as helped me *do* relationships more honestly and with greater maturity, understanding and compassion for both myself and my significant other.

      Maybe this self-awareness is a double-edged sword? Perhaps it has contributed to the number of relationships I’ve had? Or perhaps had it developed earlier, I could have stayed the course longer and endured what seemed like insurmountable differences to find myself in the same relationship but with even deeper levels of understanding, commitment and love? I guess I’ll never really know…

      • SugarPop said

        Just needed to add to this…

        “Or perhaps had it developed earlier, I could have stayed the course longer and endured what seemed like insurmountable differences to find myself in the same relationship but with even deeper levels of understanding, commitment and love?”

        Or perhaps I / we could have avoided those insurmountable differences in the first place?

        • Great point, Sugar Pop. The problem is that when you marry as young as a lot of us did, you often aren’t even able to see yourself clearly, or haven’t had the experiences yet that will define what those “differences” will even be composed of. This is, again, why no one but the people in a marriage (or other relationship) can know when a marriage/relationship should begin/end/change. What is a “surmountable difference” to you might be insurmountable to me. What you could come to deeper levels of understanding about in one person, I might never be able to understand. And vice versa.

          This is exactly WHY the “boxes” are so destructive. If there is a “box” that is labeled “marriage,” and I get into it with someone else, we are “agreeing” that the other person will hold up their end of the box. But if we take the box away entirely, we could (conceivably) have a conversation about what “marriage” (or whatever label you use for a relationship) means to each of you.

          Perhaps the word “marriage” should be looked upon rather like we look upon the phrase, “financial stability.” What is “financially stable” to me might be enough to pay the bills, but to someone else it’s having enough to save $500/month, buy whatever they need/want and give a little to someone else in need. Before getting into a “financial relationship” with someone we would be stupid to just assume we are speaking the same language. It would be prudent to bring out our pay stubs, bank statements, stock market profile, etc. and to have genuine, frank, honest conversations about our goals, dreams, desires, priorities and fears area in the arena of finances.

  6. Quite a few of us have talked about “why divorce”. Not so many have talked about “why marriage?” Why do we seek long term relationships? Or is that a stupid question?

    • SugarPop said

      I personally seek long term relationships for the level of intimacy that becomes possible through spending time and sharing deeply with vulnerability with someone else. This creates a space for deep love and mutual support. It feels GREAT!

      The *institution* that is marriage, however, I can take or leave, although I do think there is a place for publicly declaring your commitment to each other 🙂

      • Cristine said

        If i had no children and a way to support myself financially, I would not seek long term relationships, as least no ones that were “exclusive”. I do have that normal need for intimacy but I have a fantastic network of friends. No one person can meet all of your needs. Now if a relationship lasted a long time, i wouldn’t have had a problem with that either…just wouldn’t want the pressure that it ‘has to’

        • SugarPop said

          “Now if a relationship lasted a long time, i wouldn’t have had a problem with that either… just wouldn’t want the pressure that it ‘has to’”

          Nicely put 🙂

          You and Cheryl have both reminded me of my desire to be chosen by another, and for me to also chose the other – that staying together and the commitment required to do so is a regular and conscious choice – not an assumption to be taken for granted, or imposed on us by an institution.

    • I kind of said this yesterday, but until the last couple years, marriage was the ONLY model that allowed me to (potentially!) be loved in a truly unconditional way. I saw other models of relationship as inferior, selfish or less-real. Marriage as a box basically put a “lock” on the box-door when we said our vows, and that lock felt SAFE, the one thing I wanted more than anything else. Funny how it looks so different now. The “locked”/stuck forever quality of Christian marriage (in theory, of course) felt like the ultimate and only way I could feel safe in a relationship and be able to rest in it. The crazy thing was, of course, that that lock meant parts of both of us were, as I have described in my other comments, locking parts of ourselves OUT. This meant that the box wasn’t in fact “safe” at all.

      Now I guess I see that whether it’s marriage or not-marriage, if I’m in a committed relationship, the absence of a lock is even more compelling: it means that this person could leave…but isn’t. They aren’t stuck with me. I’m not going to wake up in another decade and find out they were miserable and were pretending. It means that every day he loves me he is choosing to. The people in my present “circle” aren’t going to reject me or him if one of us chooses to not be married anymore, which means the fact that I’m here in this relationship and want to be for the rest of my life, is 100% choice, which ironically feels SAFER than the old locked box model!

      So “why marriage” is something I personally think is a pretty case-by-case question. I know some people who were so burned by the locked box they couldn’t be part of a marriage again, or at least feel that way at the moment. Others are walking into a marriage that is not a locked box, so it is beautiful and desirable to them. And then there are my queer friends who, because they weren’t allowed to be married in the eyes of the law, see marriage in a whole different way: a privilege, a way to legitimize their relationship in the eyes of a still-very-homophobic world. I think marriage means different things to different people. This is why I don’t think any of us have any right to say what someone else should do; we aren’t walking around in their hearts, minds or bodies. We CAN’T know what the right thing is for them any more than they can know what is right for us.

      • ooohhhh….one more thing….

        If I weren’t married and was thinking about getting married at this point, the me I am right now would seriously consider NOT being married as a statement about how wrong it is that my queer friends can’t be. I don’t know that I would want to walk into an institution that excludes others.

        This is no different than how I would feel if I was born into a segregated culture: I would choose to NOT shop or eat in businesses that excluded people who didn’t look like me. I would not want to support something that included me because of something out of my control (my skin color, in this example) and exluded others because of something THEY couldn’t control.

        But I AM married so I’m not going to get divorced to make a statement about marriage. I will, however, and do, take a stand against homophobic laws/mentalities in other ways.

      • I like the idea of each couple being able to choose what kind of relationship they want, rather than having to squeeze it into a box. It sounds natural and sensible to me.

        Then again, it could be my 21st-Century postmodern Western individualism 🙂

        • Cristine said

          Our society (at least the society I live in) for the most part is very threatened by it. I have had several people inform me of the formula I NEED TO FOLLOW to have a successful remarriage w/my ex husband. However, that was the formula that turned put us in the box Cheryl speaks so eloquently of!

  7. Great stuff to think about in your post. As partnered i don’t look to wifey for total fulfillment cuz she cant and i can’t totally fulfill her. When things get tough we fight hard to work it out. Dedication 2 each other. We love each other so much we desire to struggle and wrestle to find a way to work on things. We desire to grow old together and be together til we die. We are committed to each other for the long haul. i think people too often turn to divorce when it gets tough and too hot to handle. But some need to divorce imho.

  8. Theresa Seeber said

    I like that you’re exploring why we seem to need someone else in the first place. I have always wanted a man to be with me, and now that I no longer have one I ache. It’s part of me to be driven toward it. I am only just now beginning to barely scratch the surface of living happily without someone. I am SO not there yet.

    Also, I liked “Divorce is never fun or easy, even in the most amicable of cases. Most of us have been there or know someone who has. Let’s get rid of the judgment and simply offer support.”

  9. […] Why Divorce? Why Marriage? […]

    • Tom Gale said

      “Why Divorce? Why Marriage?” why not having deep friendships first with several before having to think there is just “the one soul-mate” for each of us? Do we set ourselves up for failure in marriage because we think there is actually “one” who will meet our every need? I think for those coming from an American Christian viewpoint, they have set-up well the whole “box” mentality in their circles and wanting it to be the same for all others in the culture too. Back to the possibility of deep, intimate, friendships with others…I have experienced that reality most of my life. I also chose marriage that recently ended after 25 years. I’m enjoying the freedom once again to have the close friendships with several others. Emotional intimacy is far greater than having physical intimacy without the emotional. As my friend Dan Brennan says, “Intimacy is primarily about attachment, not sex”. Sadly for most sex seems to be the “benefit” of being married but what a mistake that conclusion is. How much sex in marriage has none or very little love even attached to it, especially for guys…May we be open to experience the unconditional love all of our hearts desire, from the many channels God may seem fit to pour it thru towards us. Don’t get trapped thinking it’s only going to come from one channel at a time…don’t be ripped off like most have in our culture.

      • SugarPop said

        Hi Tom 🙂

        Interesting comment. I can hoenstly say that I myself have never expected all my intimacy needs to be fulfilled through one person – but there are certain aspects that I only want to share with one other. I know this to be true for me – I have tried various *configurations* of relationship and the one that works best for me is the monogamous arrangement. I do acknowledge, though, that monogamy is not for everyone.

        From my perspective, (which is coloured by my ethnicity, culture, gender, sexual preference, age, values, other aspects of my social context etc) the most harmful thing we can do is to say that relationships have to be this, that or the other. It really is up to the people involved to be open to working out what works best for them, irrespective of what others might think. This can be a real challenge when there are some very specific models of relationship out there that almost demand that they be followed unquestioning.

        I wonder how someone from China, Thailand, Zaire, Brazil or other culture with a very different perspective on relationships, marriage and divorce would contribute to this discussion? When I think about the vastness and diversity of the world’s population I begin to feel that I’m in a priviledged minority – that I have the time, inclination and luxury to question these matters, and be dissatisfied with something that others might view as a necessity for survival.

        • Good point about cultures SP.

          And maybe you can also be thankful that as a woman you have the choice to even contribute to this discussion in our culture. Yay feminism! 🙂

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