Many authors and theorists have proposed that the idea of a “soul mate” is a basis for our high divorce rate.
The summary of this argument is that if you believe that your soul mate is out there, then you believe that marriage will work if you just find the right person.
Thus, if marriage gets hard, then you married the wrong person.
In short, believing in a soul mate is believing that marriage is about the other person’s personality, not our own efforts. Or, so the argument goes.
Timothy and Kathy Keller argue against the soul mate idea in their recent book, The Meaning of Marriage. The following excerpt succinctly makes their point:
You never marry the right person
The Bible explains why the quest for compatibility seems to be so impossible. As a pastor I have spoken to thousands of couples, some working on marriage-seeking, some working on marriage-sustaining and some working on marriage-saving. I’ve heard them say over and over, “Love shouldn’t be this hard, it should come naturally.” In response I always say something like: “Why believe that? Would someone who wants to play professional baseball say, ‘It shouldn’t be so hard to hit a fastball’? Would someone who wants to write the greatest American novel of her generation say, ‘It shouldn’t be hard to create believable characters and compelling narrative’?” The understandable retort is: “But this is not baseball or literature. This is love. Love should just come naturally if two people are compatible, if they are truly soul-mates. “
The Christian answer to this is that no two people are compatible. Duke University Ethics professor Stanley Hauerwas has famously made this point:
Destructive to marriage is the self-fulfillment ethic that assumes marriage and the family are primarily institutions of personal fulfillment, necessary for us to become “whole” and happy. The assumption is that there is someone just right for us to marry and that if we look closely enough we will find the right person. This moral assumption overlooks a crucial aspect to marriage. It fails to appreciate the fact that we always marry the wrong person.
We never know whom we marry; we just think we do. Or even if we first marry the right person, just give it a while and he or she will change. For marriage, being [the enormous thing it is] means we are not the same person after we have entered it. The primary challenge of marriage is learning how to love and care for the stranger to whom you find yourself married.
Their point is made from a Christian perspective. But, the point stands regardless of religious or spiritual issues: “The primary challenge of marriage is learning how to love and care for the stranger to whom you find yourself married.”
Food for thought for those married or wanting to be married. I certainly see the soul mate belief echoed in many clients and their spouses.
I don’t know whether the soul mate belief contributes to our divorce rate, and we may never know for sure. But, I do think some serious consideration of the issue helps immunize a marriage from divorce.
In my experience, differing and unmet expectations are often the genesis for divorces.
Typically, tension develops because the husband and wife entered the marriage with unspoken but differing expectations about the issues they will confront after the wedding.
Those differing expectations can create conflict. Unresolved conflict creates rifts in marriages. Rifts create divorces.
One way to immunize your marriage against divorce is to learn to resolve conflict effectively. That is something that typically takes time to learn and very few people possess that skill on the day they are married.
Another great way to help immunize your marriage against divorce is to identify and address your differing expectations before the wedding.
How do you do this? Pre-marital counseling is a great tool for identifying potential future conflicts.
But, if pre-marital counseling is not your cup of tea, there are tremendous benefits to simply having a conversation with your future spouse about some typical issues that I have seen come up in marriages that end in divorce, such as:
– Who will work and how much will they work? What kind of work/life balance do you expect the other person to maintain?
– How much money do you expect to make as a couple?
– What kind of lifestyle do you each expect?
– Will one of you will stay home if you have kids?
– Do you want kids? How many?
– Do you prefer to be financially conservative (lots of saving, low risk moves) or more daring (lower savings, higher risk moves)?
– What kind of parenting styles do you anticipate?
– What are appropriate discipline techniques for your family?
– Where will you spend holidays and who else will be there?
– How involved will your in-laws and extended families be in your lives?
– How will you share the chores of the household? Will you share them at all? If not, who is going to do them?
– How clean do you expect your house to be on a regular basis?
– What kinds of things do you expect to be able to spend money on?
– Who will handle the family finances?
– Will the family follow a budget?
– Do you believe in having debt, or are you debt averse?
All of these issues and more can be sources of friction in a marriage if not addressed early on. Every couple has their own points of conflict.
I have found that many people make assumptions about their future spouse’s feelings on these topics; only to later find out they were wrong. There’s an old saying about what happens when you “assume”, and it holds true in marriage as well. Don’t assume what your future spouse thinks about something; find out.
Identifying and discussing these issues early on may not be comfortable. But those conversations will help prevent future conflict and therefore immunize your marriage against divorce down the road. And that is a truly worthy goal.
Frankly, I don’t know the psychological term for it. Maybe revisionist history is appropriate. I seem to remember that the term “incongruence” may play into it.
But, whatever it is called, there is an odd (but predictable) event that frequently happens with divorcing couples. Let’s call it the “contamination effect”.
When a couple decides to separate, the disharmony of the tail end of the marriage somehow contaminates the rest of the marriage. Sometimes one or both spouses look back on the whole marriage through the same lens that they view the separation or divorce. The emotions of the very end of the marriage retrospectively color their view of the entire marriage. Some couples even start playing the marriage over in their head looking for reasons to convert good memories of moments in their marriage to bad memories. The phenomenon is displayed visually in this video.
This often becomes more prevalent as the legal fighting ramps up through adversarial negotiation and court battles. In my experience, the worse the divorce gets, the more the couples’ view of their marriage is likely to be distorted.
And that phenomenon creates a lot more unnecessary destruction. There are enough tough repercussions of divorce. Couples should not have to lose the positive memories of their marriage in a divorce. In fact, I suspect that this kind of thinking is what causes many people to give up on marriage once they have been divorced.
That is just one more reason why it is important that each couple make an educated decision about their divorce process. Choosing a divorce process that does not create more hard feelings can be very important. Honoring the years of marriage while creating a plan for each party to move forward can help couples leave a marriage without having to entirely revise their memories of the past.
There is one big reason why I choose to represent divorce clients in collaborative divorce, mediation and other non-litigation processes: Avoiding this.
The story of The Psycho Ex Wife blog is awful. It is the story of a couple with two children who were divorced but could not stop fighting.
Eventually, Anthony Morelli started the blog to essentially derogate his wife and say all of the nasty things about her that he could imagine. And, to spread the love, he got his new wife involved in the fun.
I’m not sure how he thought this blog was in the best interests of his children. As the judge in his case correctly pointed out, it seems unlikely that Morelli can adequately focus on both the best interests of his children and destroying their mother on the internet.
In fact, child psychologists will tell you that one parent’s out of control anger towards the other will almost always have seriously negative implications for the children. After all, what kind of anger management is he modeling for his kids? And, who really comes off as psycho?
However, based on the 200,000 visitors a month, and the number of visitors sharing their anger about an ex-spouse, it seems that this kind of nightmare divorce scenario is all too common these days.
The good news is that there are good ways to get divorced without generating so much anger and hatred. Is anger a natural emotion in a divorce? Absolutely. But, through collaborative divorce and mediation, the anger is processed and managed so that both parents and children can move on without having to live in the anger of the divorce for years down the road.
After all, what is the point of getting divorced if you are going to spend the rest of your life letting your ex-spouse still control so much of your time and energy?
Can you imagine what Anthony Morelli and his new wife could accomplish if they spent less time focusing on how angry they are, and invested that time into something more productive? How much more time could they devote to their kids, their marriage, their careers, or, here’s a crazy thought, doing something constructive in the world? And, how must the new wife feel about her husband being so wrapped up in his ex-wife?
Bottom Line: If you want to spend your days blogging about how crazy your ex is, then by all means, choose an adversarial process for your divorce. Court rooms and hostile attorneys are the perfect recipe for that kind of post-divorce misery.
But, if you would actually like to move on from your divorce in some sort of healthy way so that you can focus on something other than how much you hate your ex, then collaborative divorce or mediation may be your answer.
I just recently heard about divorce parties. While I don’t know anybody that has thrown one, I think that the idea behind them has some wisdom and merit.
This article about Jack White and Karen Elson’s divorce party points out that a divorce party can be a good thing.
White and Elson threw their party to “honor our time shared.”
While it is admittedly idealistic, the idea of honoring the time that a married couple spent together, even after a divorce, seems like a valuable exercise.
After all, even in the case of divorce, the time during the marriage has value. Often that time produces at least some good times for the couple. It has often led to valued relationships with in-laws and friends. And, given that many marriages produce children, that time cannot be simply discarded as wasted.
I may well help the healing process of divorce for a couple to honor the marriage, even though it is ending. After all, that time cannot be forgotten, cannot be recaptured and cannot be changed. Choosing to view it in solely a negative light is often both unrealistic and unhealthy.
While that doesn’t need to involve a divorce party in every case, it is worth acknowledging the value of the time spent together to help both people move forward in health.
As this recent New York Times article points out, some people are choosing to begin their marriage with the (potential) end in mind.
Pre-nuptial (a/k/a pre-marital) agreements have been around for a long time. The new trend is that couples that cannot, or do not want to get married are choosing to put their understanding about how their relationship will work and how it will end in writing up front.
In North Carolina, same sex couples cannot be legally married. So, a pre-marital agreement is not an option. Given that the number of same sex couples in North Carolina has risen 68% since 2000, cohabitation agreements may become far more popular.
For heterosexual couples that want to live together but choose not to marry, a pre-marital agreement is likewise useless.
But, both kinds of couples have the option of executing a co-habitation agreement.
This kind of agreement can set forth the understanding of how the relationship will operate. For instance, the terms can state that one partner will stay at home to raise children, while the other is expected to earn the family funds at work. Or, it can state that both parties will work outside of the home. The agreement can state how many children each party expects to have or adopt, how many vacations the couple will take and even whether one of the partners is expected to cook meals (I have actually seen that).
More commonly, these co-habitation agreements pre-arrange how (but not if) the relationship will end. The terms often set forth how assets and debts of the relationship will be handled in the event of a break-up. They can dictate what process the parties will use to determine these issues in the event of the break-up (Collaborative Law, mediation, etc…).
Some see these agreements as cold or anathema to romance. But many couples are comforted to know that they have agreed not to drag each other through a nasty court battle if things don’t work out. And, having a discussion about big important issues and expectations before entering a long-term relationship is a good idea, even if it does not lead to an agreement.
As for divorce insurance, one company (in North Carolina of all places) thinks it’s a great idea.
From my point of view, the best insurance for your marriage is to discuss the big issues before you get married, and then commit to really truly communicating during the relationship. Discussing the terms of a pre-nuptial agreement encourages that conversation far more than simply buying an insurance policy.
Perhaps the most important skill that Collaborative Divorce attorneys provide and teach their clients is fighting well.
(Cue my wife raising an eyebrow).
Actually, it’s not fighting. It’s resolving disagreements and conflict between divorcing spouses in difficult and tense situations without fighting.
Fighting well is really the art of communicating your viewpoint, needs, and interests in a way that can be effectively heard and received by your spouse. After all, the validity of your concern is invisible if it’s wrapped in anger or criticism.
In fact, the most important thing in communication in a divorce is not what is said, but what is heard.
So, fighting well often means first figuring out what you want the other party to hear. Then you have to form your words to ensure that your spouse will effectively receive the message.
Usually, this means that the words that impulsively come to mind need to be revised.
Many people are far more concerned about saying what they want to say, regardless of how it may be received. In fact, this is by the far the most prominent, if not effective, style of fighting in a marriage or divorce.
This discrepancy between what is said and what is heard may result from people arguing from different sides of their brains. As pointed out in this recent Wall Street Journal article and Today Show story, people have different fighting styles. And, some of that is determined by which part of your brain is doing the fighting.
The article points out that left-brain fighters tend to become blind to non-verbal information when they are fighting. They lose the ability to perceive and judge emotion, tone and body language.
Right brain fighters can become flooded with emotional reactions to words, and lose the ability to hear the actual words that are spoken.
So, in order to fight well, or rather to effectively discuss any point of conflict, it helps to know how you fight, and what information you may be missing from your spouse. At least that way, you can pay more attention to what you may be missing.
And, knowing how your spouse fights can help you communicate your concerns in a way that your spouse will actually hear.
This is one of the skills that we, as collaborative attorneys, work to build in our clients. It is one of the “secrets” to resolving divorce issues without creating more hostility and destruction.
In fact, if spouses can master this skill during their marriage, then they may never need to work on it in a divorce.
I recently had a conversation with a Collaborative Divorce attorney in Rome, Italy (the internet is an amazing thing). He told me that in Italy, a couple has to wait 5 years before a court will grant a divorce.
I was stunned, as even the longest “cooling off” periods in the United States are not that long.
He indicated that this lengthy waiting period might be having an interesting effect on marriage rates in Italy. He felt strongly that the lengthy waiting period was actually driving the marriage rate down. He observed that young people in Italy were more reluctant to get married because it was so hard to get out of the marriage if it went poorly. He even indicated that this was a factor in a falling birth rate in Italy (apparently Italians are less inclined towards single parenthood than Americans).
In the Southern United States, and North Carolina particularly, laws are designed to protect and promote marriage. North Carolina requires a one-year separation period before either party can even ask a court for a divorce. Ostensibly, this is to prevent people from making hasty decisions about divorce. The thinking is this: “If we make it hard to get divorced, then less people will get divorced.”
The Italian situation presents an interesting question though: At what point do the lawmakers’ efforts to protect marriage actually start backfiring? Is it possible that people in this country or this state are less inclined to marry because divorce is so hard? Is it possible that our divorce laws are actually driving down the marriage rate, instead of driving down the divorce rate?
I am not aware of any scientific research on this topic. But, it presents an interesting policy debate. Perhaps marriage as an institution is best served by making divorce easier, instead of harder.
In emotionally charged situation, its not so much what you do, but how you do it.
Just ask LeBron James.
One of my colleagues is a Cleveland native. I never understood why the people in Cleveland hated James so much after he left. After all, he had created a lot of money and good will for Cleveland for years (about $300 million per year according to one estimate). Then I talked to my colleague. He explained that it wasn’t the fact that LeBron left. Rather it was how he left that caused the hard feelings. James’ timing, and the show he made of his signing with Miami kind of rubbed it in Cleveland’s face. Clevelanders feel that James hurt his old team as much as he could on the way out. At the very least, they feel that he was coldly disrespectful in his departure process.
As a result, James is a pariah in Cleveland, and even in Ohio at large. In case you didn’t know, James is a Cleveland native. But, now he can’t even go home without hearing it from local fans. He literally went from hometown hero to public enemy number one. And only recently has he acknowledged this mistake.
James could easily have preserved his name and reputation in Cleveland if he had handled things in a more effective manner.
What does this have to do with divorce?
I don’t know of a much more emotionally charged situation than divorce.
Like the James situation, divorcing couples are facing changes. However, divorcing couples are facing a much more personal and emotionally charged situation than the melodramatic James debacle.
The repercussions of a divorcing couples’ divorce process will have far more serious consequences for their children, families and financial lives than a sports story.
Therefore, the “how” of a divorce typically has a far greater impact than the actual decision to divorce. Couples can choose to resolve their differences in the co-parenting and financial aspects of a divorce without losing their dignity or the respect of their spouse. Or, they can choose to go about things in a deceitful, combative, and positional fashion.
Couples can choose to work together in a collaborative divorce or even mediation. Or, they can choose to go after each other in court.
Child specialists will tell you that the way a couple divorces typically has more impact on a child than the fact that the parents are divorced. Mental health experts will tell you that this is true for parents as well.
If you are considering a separation or divorce, then give some serious thought to how you handle that divorce.
After all, as LeBron James learned, it’s not necessarily what you do, but how you do it.
Randolph (Tré) Morgan III is an avid sports fan and an experienced family law and collaborative divorce attorney accepting cases in Raleigh, Cary, Apex, Garner, Fuquay-Varina, Clayton, Smithfield, Wake Forest, RTP, Durham, Chapel Hill, Holly Springs and surrounding areas. He focuses his practice in divorce, child custody, alimony, child support, equitable distribution, property division, paternity, guardianship and other family related matters.
Historically, few people travelled the high road of divorce. This has been true in the past because the adversarial nature of the American justice system creates a “me versus you” structure to divorce.
However, as new “non-court” legal processes like mediation and collaborative divorce have developed, lawyers have been able to offer clients a chance to take the high road in resolving their child custody, alimony, property division, and child support issues (while usually saving untold amounts of time, money and destruction). These processes reject the “me versus you” approach of the courts with a joint problem solving approach borrowed from psychology, business and politics.
As highlighted by this Huffington Post article on taking the high road in divorce, most people’s greatest concern in their divorce is their children. The article highlights how taking the high road actually protects children from the negative impacts of divorce.
This divorcee’s story is an example of the changing face of divorce: From fear based mudslinging to respectful and dignified discussions. As the author’s personal story reveals, taking the high road is not the easiest road, but it is usually the best road.
Randolph (Tré) Morgan III is an experienced family law attorney catering his practice to clients who want to walk the high road of divorce in Raleigh, Cary, Apex, Garner, Fuquay-Varina, Clayton, Smithfield, Wake Forest, RTP, Durham, Chapel Hill, Holly Springs and surrounding areas. He focuses his practice in divorce, child custody, alimony, child support, equitable distribution, property division, paternity, guardianship and other family related matters.