Part pleasure and part pain, marriage relationships and divorce relationships are arguably the single most important source of income for the therapist community. And when the therapists can’t put Humpty Dumpty back together again, there is always a bevy of hungry, drooling lawyers just dying to inform you about your rights in the break-up.
The Devil’s Dictionary (1911) defined marriage as: “A community consisting of a master, a mistress, and two slaves, making in all, two.”
Why all the problems? Why all the pain? Why is marriage---an institution that used to be synonymous with longevity and solidity, the foundation of our Western societies, now most often associated with brevity and expensive therapist bills?
I’ll tell you my story in a moment, but first I’d like to share with you some observations and reflections.
In many cultures, marriage is seen as a contract in which each party needs to fulfill his or her role, and very little space, if any, is given to romance, love, or sexuality apart from the minimum needed for procreation, or producing children. In some societies, husbands and wives are literally chosen for each other, often on the basis of family ties or economic imperatives, and little or no attention is paid as to whether or not the couple loves each other or is suitable for each other. In Western cultures, we at least pay lip service to the idea of love and compatibility being the most important considerations in marriage, but the reality is that those relationships allegedly or initially founded on love often fail, and fail dismally, before the planned ones. Why is that?
In my opinion, getting married is not the last step in our relationship stages, but rather one of the earliest ones. By assuming that once one is married, most problems will go away or take care of themselves, I feel we set ourselves up for a lot of future pain.
The marriage ceremony is meant to seal our relationship commitment while the marriage certificate brings with it some considerable tax-deduction advantages, at least in the USA. But whether married, shacked up with a partner, or living out a fantasy with multiple lovers on a commune, the relationship building needed to maintain balance, health, and love is just as elaborate whether you are married or not. Unfortunately, there is a belief in the collective unconscious that once married, we are thus obligated to one another by law and/or by religion, which used to pretty much guarantee that neither party would rock the boat. If no one is interested in rocking the boat, then why rock it? The maintenance of the status quo was pretty much assured. In recent years, since the 60’s at least, there has been a huge increase in the numbers of divorces and failed marriages, but there doesn’t seem to be any clear reason as to why. While I am certainly no supporter of people staying together when they clearly aren’t getting along, I do not believe that the marriages need to be so short, or the divorces so painful.
The marriage illusion:
I am not advocating that you avoid marriage if that is what you really and truly want. But if you are tying the knot because the woman is pregnant, or to please the grandparents, or because it is an obligatory step in any way in your life, I would suggest holding off. I am simply trying to present another perspective on marriage---mine, that is---and one that is not so mainstream.
I think that a marriage relationship is often misconstrued as “the be all and end all” of relationships. Many think that by getting married, they have and are showing a real relationship commitment, as if the legal agreement magically creates the loving bond necessary between two people who want a healthy relationship.
A relationship commitment needs to flow freely, as it grows or regresses as you get to know yourself and your partner. The bond from the heart does not grow stronger through legalities, or even through religion, but through freedom of choice. When two people desire freely to love each other and build a life together, they have the foundation of their union. That desire to love and to build was the very foundation of my coming together with my partner, before marrying him a year later, divorcing him after seven years, and getting back together a year after that, stronger than ever.
Marriage can actually limit the growth of a real loving bond between a man and a woman, for like any institution, it comes with limits, rules and definitions of what is and what should be. In short, the union may lose its fluidity and spontaneity, and become rather constrained by marriage. That may be why going outside of the marriage (i.e. “ cheating ”) is often so tempting: we are breaking the limits, the borders of what is permitted by a legal marriage. You might be better off creating your own ceremony if you want to honor your bond with your loved one, rather than institutionalizing your romantic relationship.
The actual papers involved with getting married limit the expansion of your feelings and your decisions. For example, if you find yourself in a situation from which you could use a break to take some distance from your relationship, the fact that you are married, and having to adhere to certain laws, might affect your decision or restrain you from just followingfreely what you feel you need or want. Notwithstanding, there are material perks that come with marriage, guarantees that if such and such happens, fair settlements shall be taken care of by law. Nevertheless, I still feel that if the marriage was not about the material things from the get-go, then there is no need to foresee or prepare for a legal battle or problem, given that the spouses should be able to handle their finances, common belongings, alimony, and more by themselves.
Turning to marriage counseling for help is not the same thing as turning to a lawyer or simply to the law, as the latter is about division. A couple of times, my husband and I went to marriage counseling, and the counselor would try, after hearing both sides, to bring us together, to bridge when and where it was possible. However, the marriage law is about enforcing the union through rules, or drawing divisions in a relationship in order to spell out who and what belongs to whom and who did what. It is the nature of law, and it has its place, but I think that in the context of a loving relationship between two people, the lines are way too leaky and porous to be cut and dry legally; after all, it does take two to tango!
Recognize me as I recognize you:
My big complaint in my former marriage was that I was very rarely recognized or received with my complaints, blame, and issues with him. The fault was put on me, almost all throughout my marriage, or was simply redirected to me in very manipulative ways. To further complicate things, his children from the first marriage were not connecting well with me, and vice versa. I was the outsider, and to my new family, my husband and his children, I was guilty of most of the problems.
It is very painful to be alone, alienated from your own family, and in a situation in which you are not recognized for the good you bring or the good in you. To my credit, I was making incredible efforts to not only recognize my husband for what he did do for me, but also recognize when he was legitimately right, and I was learning from him. It became harder and harder for me to continue making efforts, as it mainly was a one-way street. I was always the only one responsible for all the sorrows and fights .
I was more and more imploding and exploding, due to the fact that I was also repeating a childhood pattern in which I had battled for years against my mother, father and brother who had been lined up against me. I was also pushed along by the presence in my life of a former friend who acted as a catalyst for the break-up of my marriage.
Slowly but inevitably our marriage joined the divorce relationships group.
The culture of divorce:
Ending a relationship is already challenging enough, but divorcing can multiply the emotional pain and the physical suffering---quite needlessly in my case.
Our divorce relationship started off badly, as one would expect but not due to the obvious reasons. Indeed, my husband and I essentially agreed on our separation terms and settlement, but since I was in a hurry to leave I hired a lawyer in order to speed up the divorce process, in the name of saving me time and energy.
Wasn’t I surprised to find out that involving a lawyer worsened the situation, forcing me to go to confront him more than once so that he would follow my requests, and not his greedy and destructive agenda!
When I first met the lawyer, he seemed to understand that I clearly just wanted to sign the papers, and go off with a fair financial settlement for the years I had worked in my husband’s company, and for my general contributions.
By the second meeting with the lawyer, there were more papers, more fees, and he started to talk about “our” money, meaning his and mine! He urged me to ask for half of the house, which was not mine to take, as my husband had worked really hard for years prior to meeting me, and had continued to do so afterwards, to be able to afford to buy our house. At the third meeting, which I went to just to put the lawyer back in his place, as he was not complying with my highly-paid for requests, and trying to create a relationship conflict where there was none, he protested that he was simply looking out for my interests and he said, and I quote: “I don’t want you to come to me in a year from now, to tell me that you did not ask for enough money!”
My response was: “Sir, in a year from now, I will be 32 years old, and not 94 years, and if I cannot take responsibility for my own survival at that time, it will no longer be my ex-husband’s problem!”
I was always uncomfortable with the Ivana Trump’s infamous line: "Remember, girls: don't get mad, get everything." What kind of message is she transmitting here? Why take down someone you once loved? Why take down your ex unless he is trying to do just that to you?
I also firmly believe and apply it to my life, that by getting mad and expressing my anger by myself, and sharing only what needs to be shared with my partner, I will not have this unbalanced need to seek vengeance and to take him down for all he’s worth.
Forty years ago or so, women’s rights were still behind men’s rights, and there was a need to balance the unfairness. However, as is often the case, we have gone from one extreme to the other. Today, in the US and most Western countries, men are often getting unfair treatments in the courts when it comes to divorce. Sometimes, it can mean that a father is cut off from his children whom he loves and cares for, and is forced to pay more alimony and child support than what his income is, just because he was caught cheating on his wife. Seeking vengeance against someone you have loved with your heart is not life sustaining, it is not evolution; it is very unhealthy and is a step back on one’s path.
I ended up in the absurd situation of having to be strong-willed with my lawyer, but not my husband. My lawyer tried a couple of times to literally corrupt me, with pervasive and greedy proposals to take down my ex, including his business, all in the name of protecting my rights as a “poor, single woman” AKA a victim. I was struggling on two fronts, both with my lawyer and with my attempts to recognize my contributions to our marriage fairly in order to come up with a dollar value.
How do you evaluate energy and time according to the money system? What is a fair material recognition of my non-material contributions? What is a fair financial settlement?
Strangely enough, it was as I was walking out the door, that my soon-to-be ex-husband finally recognized me, the good in me, and my contribution to our marriage. He is the one that encouraged me to claim a good settlement as well, and pushed back the criticisms from some of his friends and family, who were insisting that I did not deserve a penny. After all, I had not paid the price, I did not have a child!
With hindsight being 20/20, as the saying goes, I now see that my partner had been right, in that we needed to separate for a while, but not to divorce. It was a costly and more painful process that a conscious and timely separation would have avoided.
We would have been able to focus more on our issues, which had brought about the need to separate in the first place.
Chaotic, yes, but not static: Post-divorce
The first couple of months after our divorce were understandably chaotic, but we had both finally started to shake ourselves free of our routines. Our roles with one another were no longer static; we were freeing ourselves. We were no longer husband and wife, sharing such and such obligations, with the same daily rants. We were now two people whofreely chose to communicate with one another, when they wanted, about new topics or with different perspectives on the old ones. We started to rebuild our relationship, long-distance, through friendship, and a mutual desire to heal ourselves.
We both had good intentions; hence we managed, without thinking about it, to bring the chaos into a balanced order. We opened the way for a new and healthy relationship.
As hard as it may be to believe, chaos is, much more often than we think, better than stagnation. Chaos is about movement, and, while it is not balanced at first, chaos gives you a chance to finally let things circulate, to let some life force in where there was deadness. Motion is almost always better than being motionless, for the latter does not give you any opportunity to change.
By revisiting together with my ex-husband the dead and dusty spaces of our former marriage, and feeling my own experiences there received by him at last, my love for him grew again, and in new ways. We were closer through our divorce relationship than through our marriage, not because divorce is better than marriage, but because we were both freely willing to recognize the other, to listen to the other, to take into consideration the other’s point-of-view, and to move accordingly from our old frozen positions of power and narrow-mindedness.
After a year apart, we started over again, and have now been together this second time for over five years. While the challenges of living in a relationship are ongoing, I can truly say that at this point, this is the most loving, caring and honest relationship that I have ever been involved with.