Monday, July 17, 2006

Til death (or our respective legal teams) do us part

A few days ago my wonderful friend Alison and I were MSNing about the things we normally MSN about – how everyone is crazy in our families except us, motherhood and marriage. Alison and her husband just celebrated what she claims is her 4th wedding anniversary (I don’t see how can this be true as I’m still only 29). She joked that according to the stats they are officially out of the “danger zone” because if a couple is going to divorce it will likely happen in the first 4 years of their marriage.

I can’t find the stats to exactly back up her statement, but what I did find is as shocking. Here are some numbers for you from a very quick and dirty Google search:

In 2003 there were 106,400 marriages in Australia and 53,100 divorces. Currently about 32% of marriages end in divorce. 6% of divorces occur in the first year, 33% within the first 5 years and a further 22% in five to nine years of marriage.

The peak divorce rate in 2003 [Canada] occurred after three years of marriage, when 26.2 out of 1,000 marriages ended in divorce. The proportion of marriages expected to end in divorce by the 30th wedding anniversary inched up to 38.3% in 2003, from 37.6% in 2002.

A list of world divorce statistics can be found here:
What the hell’s happening in Belarus?

An American publication provides these Canadian stats for 1998 – it claims that the fifth year of marriage is the highest for divorces and that in 1998, 36,252 children were involved in the 69,088 Canadian divorces that happened in 1998.

Now I don’t intend to offend anyone, but I probably will anyway. I know that some of us may have divorce in our backgrounds (our parents, ourselves, our friends, our siblings, our partners) and may have ended relationships where kids are involved. Really, I’m not trying to attack you or your mother personally. However, my over-riding questions are: “What the hell is wrong with us?” “Are we a society of quitters?” “Do we not even try anymore?”

Please, I don’t want to hear everybody’s tale of how “my parents really should have divorced because they were so unhappy for 25 years (which is my story incidentally)” or “my sister’s husband was an abusive asshole.” For these reasons, divorce is certainly the way to go. Obviously, not every marriage should last “no matter what” and people shouldn’t stay with an abusive spouse who is somehow hurting their kids or themselves.

It’s hard to believe, though, that most of the divorces of 20somethings and 30somethings in the first few years of their marriages are due to abuse and gross infidelity. Are people just getting bored? Are they lazy and don’t want to put in the hard work that is necessary in keeping a relationship going? Are they giving any thought whatsoever to whom they are marrying in the first place and why? Are people going into marriage thinking in the back of their minds “no biggie, we’ll just divorce if it doesn’t work out?”

When kids are added to the mix it’s just so much more atrocious. I have read a ton of books this year aimed at new parents (specifically new moms) about parenting and all the changes that happen in relationships as a result of the baby. A common message in these books is that many marriages end within TWO years of having a baby. I just can’t believe that after having a child one’s not going to do everything in their power to keep the marriage going. There are good times and bad in any relationship – often that first year or two after having a child is going to be bad! Are we just not willing to stick it out? Is our culture of immediate gratification, “fun, fun, fun” all the time, and constant entertainment turning us into people who can’t deal with hard knocks at all – or simply choose not to?

I don’t have any definitive answers, just opinions and my own experience. I believe that I will never have to deal with these issues – I married with the intent that “it’s for life.” My views on marriage have changed significantly since having Daniel, but in ways that make it even more unlikely that I would ever leave Dustin. I must admit that I have become more conservative and feel strongly that Daniel needs two parents forever (I’m well on the way to becoming a good Catholic, apparently!!). I know I am so lucky because Dustin is a good husband and an even better father. However, we do have our problems – lots of them sometimes! – but we are committed to each other and our family and to making things work. We try to focus on what’s good and ignore the bad – not always a great strategy, but one that goes a long way with a baby in the house. And, personally, since having Daniel, I just can’t imagine doing “this,” any of this, alone. I really don’t know how single parents do it. I also can’t imagine Daniel not having the option of playing with and learning from his dad almost every day of his life.

Again, I don’t pretend to have answers - I just don’t think it’s OK that “our generation” especially is turning to divorce in such alarming numbers rather than showing any efforts to make things work or - gasp! – stay in a marriage that is OK, but not perfect for the sake of their kids. I also think a great disservice has been done with the message that kids are somehow going to adjust to divorce after a couple of years. Tons of research indicates that divorce affects kids for their entire lives and that the best thing one can do for their children is provide them with two parents if possible. Is it a coincidence that the generations that are divorcing at a rate of 40% are also the generations that were the first to be “children of divorce?” The work of a controversial shrink, Judith Wallerstein points to this. She has been met with a lot of resistance – some people completely hate her because she suggests that parents should try to keep their marriages together even if it means trying radical and unpopular things like sleeping in separate beds. Do we hate the message because we’re scared it’s true and don’t want to be inconvenienced? Are we just not willing to sacrifice any part of ourselves for the greater good of marriage and family?

If it’s true that the best way to be a parent is to set a good example, are we in major trouble?!


At 1:14 PM , Anonymous akk said...

This is such an interesting topic, one that my dad now prefaces with "what the hell is wrong with your generation". Good stuff here but I am still on the baptism thing. Right. I just want to clarify that exposing your child to the teachings of The Church and simply baptizing for insurance into the happiness eternal are two different things. I think it's great if you and dustin attend church and support and encourage daniel's learning about religion, spirituality, history, etc. Just know that one more baptism under the Catholic Church is one more vote against gay marriage, abortion, birth control, and condom use to prevent the spread of HIV. I'm not judging; just saying.

P.S. *Loving* the blog.

At 1:27 PM , Blogger Momily said...

So you're saying you don't want to be Daniel's godmother?

At 7:31 AM , Blogger Cynto said...

Weren't you the one that once noted that divorce rates may be up but that in the past due to many women dying in childbirth, men dying in various wars, and overall rampant disease wiping folks out that people didn't remain married *forever*. They often remarried as widowers/widows and often had 'blended' families and the such.

However, I do agree with most of what you are saying. Just watch one of those Bride-type TV shows and you can see how people get so swept up in the idea of getting married that they seem to forget that the day after the wedding and for the rest of their lives they will be married. You see women who have been planning their wedding well in advance of ever even meeting the groom. Something is wrong with that.

At 4:48 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Luke says:

As much as I hate starting any discussion with "As a lawyer...", I think that my professional experience may be shed some light on this topic. The only qualification that I add is that Family Law makes up less than half of my practice and I have only been a lawyer about 3 1/2 years. I have more experience with people getting divorced than most, but I am by no means a hard core family lawyer.

In my experience, one does not have to be married to have a messy break up. The divorce statitics Emily cites presumably do not include unmarried parents who grow to hate each other and do terrible things in the throes of a custody / access / maintenance battle with their ex.

Personally, I felt that the ritual of getting married and making vows to Carla before God, my family and my nearest friends to be an utterly profound action. Likewise I cannot imagine how a parent could raise a child without the support of the other parent. All this said, the suggestion that high divorce rates is a sign of self involved people who see divorce as an easy alternative to making the marriage work is a bit of an oversimplification.

Divorce is usually a horrendous process that people will only follow through with if the alternative is even worse. It is least painful when the spouses agree on the myriad issues that come up, but if they are able to agree in the first place they usually are not seeking a divorce. What assets do we own? Who gets what? Is this a matrimonial asset or a business asset? How do we make custody and access arrangements work around our work schedule? Often times, separation requires even more cooperation and flexibility than living together, especially when there are children involved. Most people basically understand this, which is why I think these days most people are MORE cautious about getting married than they were when our parents and grandparents were young adults. How many people these days get married so they can have sex? Or because the girl is knocked up and they "have to" get married?

As for reasons why marriages end... there are many reasons. Sometimes the middle age husband wants to screw someone who's younger, prettier or more glamourous. Sometimes they get married too young and realize that they just don't like their spouse. Sometimes the relationship is flat out abusive. Although I am definitely not the lawyer for the elites, I have yet to see two people marry or divorce for anything close to ludicrous reasons Hollywood types do it. Most people only give up on their marriage after years of unhappiness and multiple unsuccessful attempts to make it work.

If anything, I think the high divorce rates over the last few years and the catastrophic effects they have on families has hit home the point that marriage really is important, and if you're going to take the plunge you had better to it right.

The best approach to spiralling divorce rates is not more counselling and deeper guilt, but better marriages in the first place.

Despite all this it is still easier to get a marriage license than to adopt a dog from SPCA. How many people would support a law that required people to take a 5 hour long course on co-habitation before the government would issue a marriage license? Many churches (including the Catholic Church) require such a course before they will do the wedding, but they tend to get labelled as antiquated and oppressive for doing so.

Those are my thoughts on a Wednesday morning before going to work.

At 9:36 PM , Blogger AEG said...

Alison said:
I am not sure where I heard that divorce stat, but it made me feel good (since I said I had beat the odds!). I do know my mom has said that her research shows two bell curves for marriage rates -- one at around 20 for people who don't go to post secondary, and then another curve somewhere in late 20s for people who do. I wonder how divorce rates compare. I can only hope that all of us with the "over-examined" life have made our choices wisely. I know that after 4 years of marriage and twins that I have never felt more attached to Kevin than I do now. . . .


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