How deeply we misunderstand - and poison - marriage, separation and divorce

I generally don't agree with Kathryn Jean Lopez on politicized "social issues". But in this interview with  National Review Online, she is unusually realistic and insightful about what really happens in divorce, and how it compares to, and is worsened by, the stilted, cornball, anachronistic discourse on marriage, separation and divorce, which dominates both media and professional discussions of them:

We tend to view divorced couples in one of two ways: either as two impetuous adolescents in adult bodies who argued too much and made the best choice to move on, or as two unfortunate souls who simply “fell out of love.” My observation of many divorced couples suggests a third scenario that is far more common: A couple is married with children. One spouse is frequently (but not always) from a home where one parent abandoned the other. Their level of conflict is within the range of normal. There are no red flags that the marriage is floundering until around the time when an adulterous relationship begins, and at some point is revealed. Once this happens, the spouse who is having the affair is usually supported by his or her parents and adult siblings, and if not explicitly encouraged to leave the marriage, is enabled by them to do so. A divorce lawyer is hired, and the process of dismantling the marriage and the family (which is virtually inevitable at this point) begins.

Here is the part that may surprise people: It is the abandoned spouse who is frequently ready and willing to forgive the infidelity and go to marriage counseling to save the marriage. It is the abandoned spouse who often puts his or her personal anguish and betrayal aside for the sake of the commitment they have made. In the old days, we called this emotional maturity; it was a desirable trait. Today resisting a divorce because it runs contrary to your religious beliefs (or for any reason, for that matter) brings mockery and ridicule. It can cost you your children and your livelihood.

... Young people, in particular, deserve to hear the truth about what to expect from a vocation to married life at this time in history. It can be the most fulfilling, joyful part of your entire life, and yet it is so very hard! At some point (and for many couples, extended periods of time), it will hurt if you’re doing it right.

... The theme that always seems to emerge in my discussions about, and observations of, marriage is community. Who we associate with — those with whom we share our intimate thoughts, beliefs, and dreams — these are the folks who influence the most important decisions we make. This means our clergy, our friends. Frequently (and perhaps surprisingly) it also means our family of origin: our parents and our siblings. And I wonder sometimes if parents realize the power they have over their adult children to influence their decisions for good or for bad. They can often be the deciding factor in whether a son or daughter chooses to abandon a marriage, or instead sets about the hard task of putting an end to an adulterous relationship, asking for forgiveness, and going home to start again. ... Every one of us is susceptible to peer pressure, of either the positive or the negative variety. In generations past there was a natural sort of positive peer pressure within families, churches, and communities to conform to basic standards of integrity, maturity, and sexual restraint in (and prior to) one’s marriage. Of course people didn’t always meet these standards, but they existed and they served a very important function for marriages — a safety net, if you will.

"A Guide to Saving Marriage: Building a different kind of culture." National Review Online, Sept. 7, 2013

Healing Separations, Controlled Separations: Can they save marriages?

I was a toddler when the no-fault divorce revolution really got going, but I heard a lot about divorce and separation from a very early age. People used to separate for a time, to work on their marriage or just to find out what it would be like to be apart, and then get back together. Of course, many separations would start out with that idea, and then become permanent, and sometimes it looked like one spouse intended that all along. Nowadays, a marriage-saving separation is a pretty old-fashioned idea and separation generally means eventual divorce. With divorce laws now being "unilateral", an agreement to a temporary or conditional separation isn't legally binding, and the further apart people get, the more everything around them conspires to pull them further apart.


But some experts have been designing a more durable, productive form of the old model of "trial separation". I have seen an agreement about a "Healing Separation", and I've heard considerably more about "Controlled Separation". From reading the book by its inventor, Lee Raffel, and hearing her talk about it at a Smart Marriages conference, it sounds like a very promising model. I asked Smart Marriages founder Diane Sollee about it, and she said, "It has helped so many couples, and many therapists said they loved using it." Jen Abbas deJong has collected the stories of five couples who separated and reunited in stronger marriages.


Living together while separated for the children: Debra Messing

Many people are living together while separated for economic reasons, as NPR recently reported. So is Debra Messing, Jenna Busch on Pop2It reports: 

Debra Messing and her husband of 10 years Daniel Zelman are getting a divorce. Messing's rep told E! News that the couple "privately separated earlier this year after a 10-year marriage. The decision was mutual, and they remain supportive of one another and committed to raising their son as a family." The couple have a 7-year-old son named Roman. US Weekly reported that the couple have been living together to make things easier for him.