Monday, June 04, 2012

When the Cure Is Worse than the Disease

There was an article in last week’s Jewish Press (unavailable online) that really made me sad. It was on the subject of divorce.

Needless to say Orthodox Jewry has not escaped this phenomenon and has experienced an increase in the number of divorces. This is not news to me. I know far too many cases of it.  30 or so years ago (which seems like a blink of an eye to me) it was somewhat rare to know anyone who was divorced. But suddenly beginning about that time and without warning - there seemed to be an explosion of divorces. Married couples with children that were friends of mine that for all the world seemed perfectly happy - were splitting up. One after another. And children suffered.

I’m not saying that all these couples should have stayed together. It is very true that in many cases divorce is a far better alternative them staying married. Especially in abusive situations. But I have to wonder if modern society has not impacted Orthodox marriages in ways that have accelerated the rate of divorce to the point where marriages that are salvageable end up in divorce anyway.

Divorce is so common in western culture today that if I am not mistaken more than half of all marriages end up that way. Orthodox Jewry has nowhere near this divorce rate. But I think we are doing are darndest to catch up. It has become far more acceptable to be divorced than it used to be.

Divorce used to have such a negative stigma attached to it - that even bad marriages where couples would have been better off divorced - stayed married and suffered.  That too was bad. But I fear the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction. Divorce is now so wide spread and matter of fact that there is practically no stigma at all attached to it. The result in far too many cases is a broken home in circumstances where it could have remained whole.

This is tragic. Unfortunately children from broken homes suffer the most. They are the innocent victims. There is no way to get around that. While many do survive into adulthood as fine well adjusted people who themsleves have successful and happy marriages, the sad fact is that many don’t. Some live lives in fear of ever getting married. Some suffer from depression blaming themselves for the divorce. Some go OTD or worse.

What can be done to stem this tide of preventbale divorces? I’m not sure. But I do think this is an issue that is being under-addressed.

I don’t know the author of the article in the Jewish Press. The name M. Silver does not identify whether the author is male or female.  Nor are there any credentials attached. Nonetheless I think the author made some valid points about things that are not sufficiently considered by couples getting divorced.

One is the fact that the cure may be worse than the disease especially for women. That may not be fair, but I think it is unfortunately true.

I don’t think it is a secret that divorced women tend to fare less well than divorced men. Being a divorced single mother who most often retains custody of the children may very well bring her less of the freedom she sought than more.  I think it should be obvious that single parenting of children of divorce is a far greater task than it is in a committed 2 parent relationship where there is no divorce.

That there is no father present – at least on a regular basis - could easily make a child resentful of a mother that they may blame for the divorce. Whether that is true or not. The challenges of raising children in a broken home environment are far greater than might be imagined. The resentment children may have that is generated by the acrimony of divorcing both parents may very well go unnoticed and be under-anticipated. The pain of a mother whose children blame her for a divorce can be more overwhelming than the stifiling feelings she had when she was married.

Another unfair but probably true fact is that divorced fathers who do not have custody of their children have a far easier time getting remarried.  When that happens and there are children by a second wife  -  there tends to be somewhat of a disengagement with the children of the first marriage - no matter how unintentional -as the father bonds more with the children he lives with and had by the wife he now loves.  The  resentment the children from the first marriage may develop toward both parents can easily be understood. But that doesn't make life any easier.

 One thing that stood out for me in Silver’s article is the following:
Please understand, the majority of parents in this situation convince themselves that their past love for their children, and their emphatic assurances of committed unwavering love gong forward, will suffice in comforting and fortifying their children for the coming onslaught. This is wishful and erroneous thinking.
The compromises that a single mother might have to make now will in my view make those she felt forced to make while married pale by comparison.

To me this means that every effort should be made by both sides in a marital dispute to learn to compromise. Marriage is far more about giving, than taking. I doubt that was ever a marriage where no problems existed. Every family is different. Some families have more problems than others. The question is at which point do the problems become so over-whelming that staying together is no longer tolerable.

In the past I think there was a far greater effort to remain married and solve those problems via compromise than there is today. 

Again – I don’t think all marriages can be saved. The last thing anyone should do is remain in an abusive relationship whether it is physical or mental. That will inevitably be far worse for children than a divorce. But in my humble opinon, the increased rates of divorce we are experiencing today tell me that that in far too many cases, divorce is an option that was taken far too quickly… to the detriment of virtually everyone.