There is more divorce today because of changing attitudes and values. There are also very different expectations of marriage.
Attitudes & Values
Fifty to 100 years ago divorce was a rare and unacceptable event. It was the cause for judgment and great shame. When I was a boy, I didn’t know anyone whose parents were divorced. There may have been some but it certainly wasn’t something that was talked about. I had two aunts who were divorced. One of them rivaled Elizabeth Taylor in the number of notches on her marriage bed.
Marriage was considered to be forever, both by religious beliefs and attitudes and by society as a whole. Being unhappy in your marriage was certainly not grounds for divorce. Unfaithfulness might have caused some divorces but most men and women would forgive and forget rather than go through the pain of divorce.
In the past, marriages were expected to last forever. Divorce was a powerful stigma, especially among Catholics and some other religious groups. In many cultures in the past, and in some still today, marriages were arranged. It was always hoped that the couple would find love but it wasn’t necessary. Expectations of these marriages were very different. In some ways such arranged marriages lasted longer because of lowered expectations, as well as the other reasons mentioned above.
Expectations have changed dramatically over the years and even over the centuries. In the 17th and 18th centuries in Europe romantic love became the new ideal and was sought by all, or at least by the aristocracy. The peasants still married for more practical reasons.
These romantic expectations have continued to our day and have increased considerably. Our movies, TV, and books extol the virtues of romantic love. The myth of finding one’s “true love” is alive and well in modern society. Our expectations of marriage tend toward the myth of happily ever after. Much modern divorce is the result of the shattering of these myths and expectations.
A friend of mine told me that sex was 90% of a relationship before marriage and 10% after marriage. He wasn’t simply referring to the gradual cooling of passions in a marriage, although that is the experience of most couples. He was referring to the change that occurs in our understanding of what is important in a relationship. If we are mature enough, we will gradually realize that good sex is not enough to maintain any marriage.
If our attitudes, values, and expectations don’t change as the passion and sexual excitement begin to dim, we will realize that we didn’t have what we thought we had. No marriage has lasted long that was based only or primarily on sex. The reality of marriage is that it must be based on friendship and mutual respect. You must like your partner, not just love him or her. You must enjoy being with that other, have fun together, share a philosophy of life as well as dreams and goals.
A marriage counselor once told me that she can tell within a couple of minutes of seeing a couple for the first time whether they will divorce. She can tell by whether they appear to respect one another. Without mutual respect, there can be no real marriage.
The Up Side to Divorce
It would be unbalanced to talk about the negative aspects of divorce without mentioning the advantages. In the past, many couples lived in an ongoing hell because they didn’t feel that they could get divorced. If you think about the impact of an unhappy marriage on the children, divorce doesn’t seem so bad. Staying together for the children has always been a mistake. Children pick up on what is going on and are harmed by a bad marriage even if there isn’t a lot of fighting and yelling.
I think my parents should have divorced because they were both unhappy and lived lives that never came close to their dreams and expectations. For them, and for many others at that time and today as well, divorce would have been economically impossible. I understand that many couples today, in this economic crisis, are staying together simply because they can’t afford to divorce. This is an interesting side-effect of the economic downturn.
Divorce is never a positive outcome for a marriage. There is almost always pain, regret, anger, and disappointment, disappointment in the self and the other. There are wounds that may take long to heal or never heal. There is a sense of failure and self-recrimination as well as blame for the partner.
The only antidote is for young couples (and mature couples) to take more care in making this important step. Understand that romantic love and/or good sex is never enough to sustain a relationship. Don’t seek the best possible lover. Seek the best possible friend. Look for someone you can talk with for hours and laugh with often. Seek out someone with a similar philosophy of life and similar life goals.
Romance is wonderful. Falling in love is incredible. But romance will not sustain a marriage and it is better to grow in love than to fall in love.
I am a spiritual counselor as well as writer, teacher, and workshop leader. My expertise is in dreams, past lives, and in spiritual growth. I am the author of “The Hidden Meaning of Illness: Disease as a Sym… View profile