Written by Beverly Willett
So many people I know seem caught up in a non-stop roll — constantly e-mailing, tweeting, Facebook status posting, Blackberrying, texting. Me included, at times. Whatever comes into our heads seems to move straight through our fingers and out into cyberspace. It seems we simply don’t have time to think anymore; in other cases, however, we don’t make time to. Consequnetly, all our keys are worn to the nub except one: the pause button.
Technology is one thing, but what happens when our failure to pause is played out in the real world where lives, families and marriages are at stake? Well, easy-in marriage becomes easy-out divorce.
I was surprised when I first learned that nearly 75% of states have no waiting period whatsoever before parties can file for divorce in spite of evidence suggesting that short or non-existent waiting periods may correspond to higher divorce rates. Marry one day, divorce the next. For the minority of states that have waiting periods, these interludes are intended to give couples time to make sure they’ve carefully considered the decision to end their marriage before starting litigation. Makes sense to me.
Did you know that once upon a time many states also imposed waiting periods on remarriage following a divorce decree? For example, Vermont law once prohibited the guilty party in a divorce action from remarrying for a period of two years. But those laws went by the wayside, too, and today only a handful of states retain the last vestiges of such restrictions. Instead, most states give parties free reign to retie the knot before the divorce gavel is cold. And yet two-thirds of second marriages are on a crash course toward marriage failure number two — one form of suffering merely traded for another.
We’ve lived with unilateral divorce long enough that we’re no longer in the dark about the effects on children and parents. While incidences of domestic violence have decreased, other social problems have worsened. Divorce brings higher rates of mortality, heart disease and cancer, and may place divorced men at greater risk of suicide. Research indicates that children of divorce have higher rates of teen pregnancy, depression, aggression, juvenile delinquency, divorce, learning difficulties, and substance and sexual abuse compared with children whose parents remain married. (And that’s just for starters.) Then, of course, there’s all that financial hardship.
So what might happen if we asked couples — parents especially — to wait before pulling the divorce plug? In musicology, this pause is known as a rest. And while an interval of silence can serve many purposes, one of the more basic is allowing vocalists and musicians the necessary time to breathe. What if parents had a similar time out, only this time we filled the pause with added purpose, arming parents with information about the effects of divorce, along with marriage education? That’s what the Parental Divorce Reduction Act proposes, a no-brainer to my way of thinking.
Moreover, some people believe the decision to split is the end of the story, but what if it could initiate a new beginning? Might the odds of reconciliation improve? Might pausing permit couples to gain perspective in order to remember the good times when they’re all too caught up in the bad? After all, two-thirds of all family divorces involve low-conflict marriages, and there’s real research out there that with time and marriage education some marriages are salvageable.
One million children a year suffer the consequences of a broken home, too. Aren’t any of them worth pausing for?
When Alan Colmes interviewed me on FOX radio last year, Carmen from Michigan called in. Like me, she had also been left for another woman. But she didn’t give up on her marriage either. “If you’re going to fight for anything in your life, it’s your family,” Carmen said. With time, she and her husband began to repair what once seemed irreparable.
I, too, tried to save my family from divorce. My ex-husband, though, was in a hurry just like Carmen’s. With sheer grit, I tried to slow the process down. Unlike spouses in every other state, I even had the so-called protection of a now defunct fault-based system of divorce that prohibited my ex from shedding me without cause. So I got my day in court. But the system was just too well-oiled and primed to effectuate family disintegration. And so I ultimately failed.
We know what happens in life without the necessary pauses. A baby not quite ready to walk, tumbles. The teen-child who still needs her mother’s guidance becomes a mother herself. We step out from the curb before spying the bus. On a global level, we can find ourselves in the midst of war or an environmental or financial crisis. And in the case of our families? We know all too well where so many of them end up.
Years ago, when my youngest daughter was in elementary school I’d often find myself egging her on to keep up with me as we walked to school each morning. “You’re just walking too fast,” she told me one day. “That’s why I seem so slow.”
“Don’t worry,” she added, smiling. “We’ll get there.”
The beauty of the pause is that it has the power to bring us back to who we are and what we hold dear before we step pell-mell from the curb, propelled into action that can irrevocably change everything and often accomplish nothing.