The other morning, I read an AP article which quoted Brian Wilcox, the director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, as saying “[divorce is] basically a social and environmental toxin.”
As a divorce professional, this type of shaming comment is infuriating. In my view, this mentality is up there – or should I say, down there – with believing that to be gay is to be mentally ill.
Marriage – and unrealistic expectations of marriage – are the leading causes of divorce.
Marriage, as it currently exists, is an out-dated, one-size-fits-all institution that no longer works with who we are as a people (presuming it ever did!). Divorce is not the problem! The way marriage is set up is!
I’m not opposed to marriage. I married for the first time five years ago. I think it’s a wonderful statement about the level of love and commitment you have for your mate. I agree that the commitment of marriage should be taken seriously and I even agree that we have a “throw-away” mentality that has found its way to the marriage realm.
But I feel very strongly that it is because we have so much pressure in our society to marry and stay married that we have such high divorce rates. Divorce has been around since the inception of marriage and, throughout most of history, and it has carried much less stigma than it does today.
When marriage first came into being formally with laws and rules, it was seen more as a business negotiation set up to keep wealth & property in family lines and to make children “legitimate heirs.” Love only came into the picture as a basis for marriage in the past two centuries.
Marriage has morphed over time and taken on more and more responsibility that is not healthy or even realistic to ask of two human beings.
In her book, Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage, Stephanie Coontz comments that never before has a culture set such high standards for what marriage should be and do for a person and a society. In the last two hundred years, marriage has evolved from a union designed to meet only our most basic needs to an institution wherein all of our needs are expected to be taken care of. Husbands and wives in the Western world have come to expect their mates to satisfy and fulfill their every need – physical, social, economic, emotional and intellectual.
Coontz believes that, although the intention of having marriage satisfy more needs was meant to strengthen the institution, the unrealistic nature of these expectations actually threatens the stability of marriage.
We have set the bar of marriage so high that it is next to impossible to reach it, yet we shame and judge those who can’t maintain it and we commend those who “stick it out,” or stay and suffer. What’s wrong with this picture?
I’m thrilled that there is a Marriage Project and that people want to preserve the highest form of commitment we have. But please don’t make people feel worse than they already do when they can’t make their marriage work. Square pegs don’t fit into round holes and denigrating them only makes a bad and sad situation worse.