Defending Divorce: Really?

Written by Michele Weiner-Davis


As a liberal, card-carrying Democrat, it might surprise some that I am appalled by Pamela White’s article “Defending Divorce”, in the Boulder, Colorado, newspaper, The Boulder Weekly. When nearly one out of every two marriages ends in divorce, divorce hardly needs a defense. But that’s not the reason for my dismay.    The article is filled with erroneous assumptions and information, which I would promptly like to debunk.

The author considers it to be “meddling” that a proposed law requires couples with children to take a class about the impact of divorce and then go through a “cooling off” period before being allowed to divorce.  Her article demonstrates no appreciation for the havoc divorce leaves in its wake, especially when children are involved.  Children have no veto power in a decision that will forever alter their lives in often not-so-positive ways.  The least responsible parents can do is learn about the insidious ways divorce effects their children.  And as to the “cooling off” period, while it might not help, it certainly can’t hurt.

Furthermore, in regards to the waiting period, the author writes, “Once two people have decided they can’t stand the sight of each other, there’s really no place to go.”  Excuse me, but as a therapist specializing in work with couples on the brink for nearly three decades, I’m here to tell you, divorce is almost always a unilateral decision, leaving the desperate spouse in the dust.  I’m certain that the left-behind spouse would jump at the chance to slow things down.

Additionally, while admittedly there are many, many unhealthy marriages, the author assumes there are two ways of handling this dilemma- getting out or staying miserable forever.  But certainly, there is another realistic possible outcome- improving the quality of the relationship so that both spouses feel happier and more connected.  In the last decade, there has been a proliferation of effective, marriage-friendly therapy and evidenced-based marriage education classes that truly change the dynamics in failing relationships.

Should this new legislation pass, the author worries that women will get stuck in psychologically abusive relationships with alcoholic, controlling husbands.  (A bit of male-bashing?)  Research suggests that severe problems such as this account for only 10 to 15% of all divorces.  The remainder of marital dissolutions are due to garden variety problems such as poor communication, growing apart or an inability to manage conflict, all of which are solvable problems.

The author and I do agree on one point; it should be more difficult to get married.  A marriage license requires little more than a few bucks, a blood test and some signatures, hardly solid preparation for a challenging, lifetime commitment.  But the good news is that today’s pre-marital classes are much more informative and life-transforming that those offered in the past.  Furthermore, relationship skill-building classes are now required in many junior and senior high classes throughout the country.  Indeed, prevention is key.

And yes, as the author suggests, more women than men file for divorce- two thirds, to be exact.  But as someone in the front lines with couples, the causes the author cites for these filings- women’s unfair share of housework and childcare, infidelity, money problems and so on- are merely red herrings.  Most women leave because they feel emotionally neglected despite years of trying to get their husbands to be more responsive.  Again, with help, these problems can be resolved.

Divorce should not be looked at as a jailbreak from prison.  Research tells us that, contrary to popular belief, people in long-term healthy marriages live longer, are healthier, happier and do significantly better financially.  Their children do better across countless dimensions as well.

So before jumping to the conclusion that putting a beat between the decision to divorce and moving out is Big Brother in action, consider the benefits of spouses working things out, keeping their families together and tucking their kids in bed at night…together.

Michele Weiner-Davis, LCSW
Director of the Divorce Busting Center in Boulder and author of Divorce Busting.

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