The Divorce Culture – The Good Divorce

Let’s face it: No mature person gets married thinking it will end in divorce. I never met a client or person who thought divorce was a fun thing. It’s often dreadful, difficult, and demanding. But sometimes it’s simply necessary. In many circumstances, it’s the only way to save your sanity, and maybe, in the worst case, your safety.

But despite the horror stories you hear or read about, there are “good” divorces (I had one)- where you and your spouse (and children, if you have them) will fare better, with less household stress, once your parting is complete and your life begins a new chapter. Remember the old wisecrack, “Why is divorce so expensive? Because it’s worth it!” Well, it’s true, sometimes it is.

And there’s more good news to ease some of the guilt you might feel about divorce and its consequences on your kids. Recent studies suggest- contrary to what some have previously reported-that children of divorce are able to adjust just fine, in the long run, to their parents’ breakup. Not that it’s easy or fast. But, overall, the prognosis is good, so long as the kids don’t suffer poverty or abuse after their parents split.

So if you need to get out of a barren, or worse, abusive, unsafe marriage, don’t feel that you’re damning your kids to a life of emotional damage. Will your kids be upset at first? Probably. Stunned? Perhaps. But doomed to permanent psychological impairment? No, say the experts.

For a more detailed discussion of how divorce affects kids, from a study with a decent sample size, see the 2002 book by E. Mavis Hetherington (Professor Emeritus in the Department of Psychology at the University of Virginia) and John Kelly, For Better or For Worse: Divorce Reconsidered.

For more information on the “good divorce,” check out The Good Divorce: Keeping Your Family Together When Your Marriage Comes Apart, a good, older book by Constance Ahrons, Ph.D., the director of the Marriage and Family Therapy Training Program at the University of Southern California. (Read more about the effects of divorce on kids in Chapter 26.)

Why Me?

Well, now you know, it’s probably not a matter of fault. More likely, a matter of choice, though it might not be your choice. Actually, after practicing family law since 1986, and working with countless therapists, clients, and clergy members, the consensus view I gathered is that most couples call it quits because of three basic reasons.

And, most professionals agree that the symptoms of a broken marriage, e.g., apathy, adultery, abandonment (emotional or physical), arise from these circumstances, not vice versa. (Does your marriage fit in any of these categories?)

* Too young when married. In this kind of marriage, the spouses married and didn’t form identities as individuals until long after the wedding. When they did, they found they just weren’t well matched as partners. Oops.

* Immaturity. In this marriage, when the proverbial honeymoon was over (scientists say this euphoria lasts, at most, three and a half years-coincidentally, the time it takes for a human infant to need less attention from both parents) the couple simply lacked the foundation for a lifelong relationship. In other words, they had a so-called “starter marriage.”

* No communication. Along with an inability-or unwillingness- to meet the needs of the other, in this type of marriage, the partners got, as Mick would say, “no satisfaction” from their union or each other.

Of course, no matter how interesting this divorce data might be, none of it will heal a broken heart as your marriage is ending. Even Betty Friedan, the most vocal divorce advocate for women in the 1960s, admitted that ending her own marriage in 1969 was the hardest thing she ever did.

While I understand that you might be walking wounded now, there are still definite things you should be doing, whether you’re the one contemplating the divorce, or fear you are-or are about to be-on the receiving end of a petition or complaint. Remember: “The first step in revolution is consciousness,” in 1960s-speak. So in that spirit, keep your eyes open, your seatbelt fastened, and read on!

Another factoid: Although more men leave the marital home, more women take the legal step to end the marriage.

© Marlene M. Browne

Excerpted by permission from Boomer’s Guide to Divorce (and a New Life), published July, 2004, by Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

About the Book: While boomers grew up watching solid marriages like those of the Ricardos, the Cleavers, and the Petries, they also learned that marriages sometimes don’t work out, and that the real-life effects-emotional and financial-are no laughing matter. For those who are ending marriages and starting over-while coping at the same time with teenaged children, aging parents, looming retirement, health and fitness concerns, and other midlife issues, this book offers valuable advice on:

  • Deciding whether you really want out
  • Setting yourself up for a “good” divorce, rather than a bitter one
  • Finding an attorney-and an accountant
  • Dealing with your family and friends-who gets custody of whom after a long-term marriage?
  • Getting through the minefields of the legal process (there are complications even in “no fault” divorce)
  • Starting over again-establishing credit, finding insurance coverage, and more

About the Author: Marlene Browne is a graduate of Boston College and Emory University School of Law, and has practiced family law since 1986. Ms. Browne lectures across the country on all topics related to family law and appears regularly on national radio and television. A divorced boomer herself, she lives on the East Coast with her divorced boomer husband, Chris, a captain for a major airline.