Takedown: Broken Marriages are Meant to be Fixed

Ooh, this week’s takedown is a perfect combination of bullshit nostalgia and judgmental shaming, wrapped in a saccharine sweet packaging. The kind of awful that you feel bad pointing out that it is awful, because shucks, the crapdate poster just wants everybody to love everybody else.

I want an awesome marriage
Back in the good old days, we stayed married NO MATTER WHAT.

Oh look, here’s another version!

Plain and Simple
NO MATTER WHAT.

Both of these pictures were found on Facebook, and both are shared and liked ad nauseum. The first picture was taken from the Facebook page “I want an awesome marriage,” which caters to unmarried and newly married couples. How can you argue with that? I want an awesome marriage! I also want an awesome job, awesome health, an awesome salary, awesome friends, and awesome weather for my picnic. There is nothing wrong with wanting awesome things.

But the mission of said page is “To encourage, empower and work together to get the divorce rate to zero and help us all have awesome marriages!” And there is something terribly, terribly wrong with that.

There are places where the divorce rate is zero, or close to it. Well, not places. Place1. The Philippines. Divorce is prohibited in the Philippines, so: voila! Divorce rate is zero. Problem solved.

Except it isn’t. A divorce rate of zero is not indicative of a magic happy land where all things are magic and happy. A majority of adults in the Philippines support legalizing divorce, and even with divorce prohibited, it is legal to separate, or to annul a marriage, or to get a “declaration of nullity of marriage,” which sounds to me like an annulment but I’m not a lawyer. Prohibiting divorce does not make marriages more awesome, nor does it stop marriages from breaking apart.

But that’s not what this is saying, right? It’s not saying that divorce should be prohibited, it should just not be the quick answer. Don’t throw your love away! Fix it! Just like the lovely old couples did in the pictures, even though clearly at least one of those pictures is wrong because it is showing two separate couples with the same stupid story.

What it says is “fix your marriage, don’t throw it away.” The very thinly veiled subtext, though, is that somebody who gets a divorce has given up too easily, has not put in the right amount of work, is, as the comments on the pictures say over and over and over, too selfish to do the right thing. So the problem with divorce is not that it’s legal, but that it’s the easy way out. Divorce should be a last resort, something that is really difficult to get, so that people won’t just jump ship at the first sign of trouble.

Right?

Wrong again. It’s difficult to quantify what increased shame about divorce does to the population, but what can be quantified is how lives change when divorce is less accessible. When No-Fault divorces were legalized in several states, it presented a clear set of data for comparison: those states with unilateral divorce versus without, and the change in specific circumstances over time. Some states had granted better access to divorce, an easier path to dissolving marriages, and some had not. When you compare the states with easier divorce versus more difficult processes:

Examining state panel data on suicide, domestic violence, and murder, we find a striking decline in female suicide and domestic violence rates arising from the advent of unilateral divorce. Total female suicide declined by around 20% in states that adopted unilateral divorce… Data on conflict resolution reveal large declines in domestic violence committed by, and against, both men and women in states that adopted unilateral divorce. Furthermore, a decline in females murdered by intimates is found, although the timing evidence makes this a more suspect result. (Stevenson and Wolfers 2003)

That’s right. Make divorce easier and the rate of female suicide drops 20%. Domestic violence declines against both men and women. Fewer women are murdered by their spouses. The paper (available in PDF, and well worth reading) goes on to say that it isn’t just that people are able to get a divorce when they need it – family conflict itself changes when people know that divorce is or is not an option. Good marriages get better when each partner knows that they can’t take the other for granted. Bad marriages get worse when everybody knows that divorce is not an option.

The crapdate poster may just be trying to project an image of a personal goal, but what the effect of such a picture has is to spread shame and blame on those who decide to divorce. Although this is not an official barrier to divorce, it is most certainly a social one. The message is clear: if you get a divorce, it just means you were too lazy, too selfish, too uninvested to make it work. Those who divorce are failures. Those who do not, regardless of the situation, are successes. If you are miserable and in physical fights for every day for sixty-five years, but at the end of it, you get to say, “I was married for 65 years,” you are a winner. If you get yourself out of a terrible situation, if you save yourself from domestic violence, if you look to a future of fulfillment, but at the end of it you cannot say that you were married for 65 years, well, you are a failure who refused to try.

The people who are spreading this crapdate, for the most part, are people who are not yet married but have a vision of what it should be like, and people who have been married for a short time. In other words, people who have no idea what they are talking about. My eyes, they roll.

Just because somebody fixed something that was broken, instead of looking for another option, doesn’t mean it is superior. Exhibit A:

Fixed!
Ooh. You should have just bought another cup.

Just because something existed in the good old days doesn’t mean that it is superior. Exhibit B:

Outhouse
I had an outhouse growing up. My grandmother-in-law still has one. Nostalgia is bullshit.

In the end, this crapdate spreads a message that times are changing for the worse, that people who divorce are lazy and selfish, and that all marital problems can be solved if we just try harder. Reality, however, shows us that the opposite is true.

I want an awesome marriage. But I want an awesome marriage that is awesome because of the quality of the marriage, not the quantity of years behind it. If somebody has to shame me into staying in my marriage, is that really awesome?

1Unless you count the Vatican. I don’t, because it’s population is less than a thousand and is made up mostly of clergy members of the Catholic church.

Stevenson, Betsey and Justin Wolfers (2003) “’Til Death Do Us Part: The Effects of Divorce Law on Suicide, Domestic Violence and Intimate Homicide”, mimeo Stanford GSB.

 

Published by

Susan

I am old and wise. Perhaps more old than wise, but once you're old, you don't give a shit about details anymore.

43 thoughts on “Takedown: Broken Marriages are Meant to be Fixed”

  1. If you are unhappy in a relationship (or worse, being abused) why would you stay? There are some problems that can be worked out, sure, but if you no longer wish to stay together, why force yourself to be miserable?

    Don’t say kids. I know plenty of people whose lives got better when their parents divorced because both parents became happier and their home lives didn’t involve fighting.

  2. Great writing, Susan!

    I love being married to Mr. Donovan, and we’ve been together 20+ years. It’s very difficult to imagine life without him, and I try not to. We’ve been through some very hard things, and we still deal with difficult things, like most couples, I guess.

    However, I have definitely seen some marriages that I thought were toxic. This idea that marriages should be preserved no matter what can make a terrible situation even worse.

    Those captioned pictures suggest that even a long time ago, women really had a choice about this. Many women a couple of generations ago didn’t have much of an option to divorce…they stayed in bad marriages because they had no way to support themselves otherwise…and this is still the case for some women.

  3. I didn’t get this Pov from these posters at all. The desire to see all marriages succeed and be awesome is not a bad thing. I think we tend to want to read into things too much to find the negative. Maybe it is simply wanting people to be happy and not some underlying desire to have people feel guilted by their decisions. I hope all u married folk out there have awesome marriages!!! and I hope all of you living in a non “marriage” situation live long in love and happiness too. Marriage isn’t just paper to some and is that a result of societal pressures? Perhaps but why does it always have to be so negative?

  4. I’m not sure how I feel on marriage as a whole. With a lineage that is pretty much all divorced folks (including running away from arranged marriages) I still want to be married though I’m not sure what that means. A party? Cake? Mutual understanding that we commit to each other but dont follow the “dont throw away if its broke” mentality?

    I’ve just seen many divorced couples who are great friends now, and I would go so far to say that getting divorced made their relationships to one another better. But what I wonder is why a marriage that doesnt work out is considered to be the greatest “failure” ? And why it is so incredibly necessary to do everything under the sun to save it, even if say, the fault may not lie with you (I’m thinking of counseling for spouses who have been cheated on or feeling like they have been cheated on when someone masturbates, or working through domestic abuse-yes this exists, or a multitude of reasons).

    So even in the most desperate do you just stay? or if at the slightest whim of downfall you leave? I dont know, but the way the media makes it sound is enough to me to hold it at an arms length. we root on for 3 day kardashian style marriages but flay divorcing couples who have been together for years. I dont know.

  5. Marriage was right for me, but I am less convinced that marriage, as we conceive of it today, is necessarily a good thing for many people. I personally take a lot of comfort in the fact that my husband made a commitment to me, but only because I know his commitment means something to him (he gets teary-eyed about the subject, the sweetheart).

    You really make so many great points here, Susan. If I had to pick one, it would be that something isn’t superior just because it’s old. I encounter this a lot in general, but particularly in my community of ultra-conservative evangelical Christians (of which I am a moderate, evangelical member). Tradition is heralded as the great guider and many institutions are kept and guarded simply because they always have been, not because it makes sense to do so.

    Spread the word, Susan. TEACH THE WORLD.

     

  6. My confession of the day; Though I obviously support LGBT marriage equality here in the UK (at the moment we just have civil partnerships, which are beneficially equal but segregationist in name and process)  I really, really despise the idea of the structure of marriage and, though I know I’m young and I’ll prolly change my mind blah blah blah, I worry about how I’ll approach “well, erm, I think it’s one of the most disgusting things about human society ever, actually.” with a prospective partner. Because really. My distaste for it is that strong. I believe marriage is at best superfluous and at worst crippling.

    Did you know that the average length of a marriage which ends hovers around 9-11 years in the UK, and that the average length of a marriage 100 years ago was…well, around 9-11 years?

    The difference? Women 100 years ago died instead of getting divorced, most often during childbirth.

    I’ll take divorce, thanks.

    1. I don’t think you’ll necessarily change your mind.  The thing is – for a lot of people, marriage has so many benefits (up to the point where I would say it feels like a requirement for certain things) that resistance is futile.  My husband and I could not have stayed together if we didn’t get married (he wouldn’t have gotten a visa to America).  My sister needs to get married so that she can have health insurance.  Society, man.  It pushes marriage like nothing else.

      1. God, you are right about that.  My husband is in the military and we wouldn’t have been able to really be together if we hadn’t gotten married.  We’ve discussed on multiple occasions how we wouldn’t be married now if not for that.  We’d be together, but I doubt marriage would have occurred to us.  I love him and I’m happy being married to him, but I hate that we were all but forced into it.  It’s something I’ve definitely struggled to reconcile.

  7. This is the first Takedown that I’ve personally seen on Facebook, and I rolled my eyes when I saw it. I loved this article- the stats about divorce and female suicide/domestic violence are really intriguing (I’m off to read the study next.) Divorce-shaming is something that really bothers me- my parents divorced when I was starting high school, and they’re both happier for it. The whole “stay in your marriage unless something is horribly horribly wrong” sentiment irritates me, and the concept that you don’t have to be really truly happy as long as both spouses are “okay.” My parents never fought horribly, and there was no violence, but they were both living like shadows of themselves because they were spending so much energy trying to maintain a partnership when they were on completely different pages.

      1. I was old enough to take it well, but it was rough on my little sister. But it was just about the most amicable divorce possible, so there  was no fighting to make it worse on us. Their divorce has had a silver lining in that it’s forced me to examine my opinions on marriage a lot more closely than I otherwise would have, which I think will prepare me to make good decisions about it in the future.

    1. And what really gets me is it isn’t old people who have lived through it and are looking at young people and judging them – it is young, unmarried or newly married people who are posting it, as far as I can tell.  I saw a quote once that said, “No kids are quite as well-behaved as the imagined future children of 20-something single women” or something to that effect.  I think this is a lot of the same thing.  And it makes me see red.

  8. I hate marriage.

    Well, maybe that’s not really what I mean to say. What I really mean is that when I was a kid, my parents taught me that you should be ABSOLUTELY SURE you wanted to be with the person you married, and people who had divorces were often described as “damaged goods.” If you were unhappy in a marriage and you had kids, you should just deal with it. And if you married someone who had a divorce before and you were unhappy, you should have known they were trouble simply because they were divorced before!

    I have a very hard time when I think about marriage, because on one hand, it is constructed as a huge romantic deal along with many positive social consequences. But, on the other hand, I feel like marrying Mr. Silverwane would be the end of me being with him because I wanted to be with him. Instead, I would be with him because I had to be with him. No matter how unhappy I was.

    Not to mention that society looks down on people who have had divorces. And part of it is this very thing. It insists that you must fix whatever marriage you had, no matter how unhappy it was.

    Whereas cohabiting relationships like mine are constructed as being commitmentless because there is nothing that “prevents” us from leaving one another.

    Why is commitment being phrased as tying yourself permanently to someone? Furthermore, why is marriage such a big deal that you “have” to take it seriously? And why does “taking it seriously” have to mean staying with someone for longer than you’re happy? And does that imply that I don’t take my relationship as seriously as I “should” be, simply because we’re not married?

    1. I have a friend who is in a similar situation as you, and she thinks the same way. Her partner is more than just a boyfriend, but they don’t need a piece of paper to prove that they are committed to each other.

       

      And I don’t understand the “there’s nothing that prevents you from leaving each other” argument against cohabiting relationships. To me, that’s exactly what makes them powerful and meaningful- staying together is a constant choice, not a default. You’re not staying because it would be hard to leave, you’re staying together solely because you want to be together.

    2. The added layer here is that there are lots of reasons to get married that have nothing to do with love – taxes, financial aid, health benefits, visas – and it’s both gross that society pushes it so hard and gross that people buy into it so much.  If you love somebody, and you want to be with them, be with them.  If you want a piece of paper and the benefits that go with it, get it.  Argh.

      I hate the phrase “damaged goods.”  Hate.

      1. Mr. Nonsense is technically my domestic partner on paper.  My health insurance through work will cover anyone I’ve been living with for a year….so voila, Mr. Nonsense got health insurance via me. I got a lot of shit from my coworkers for doing this.  Why don’t you just get married?  He’s using you. You know he’d be able to get health insurance if you just got married, right?  You’re just giving him more reason not to ask you.

        I DON’T WANT TO GET MARRIED FOR HEALTH INSURANCE.  No one should have to get married for health insurance. That is absurd to me and since I had a way to get Mr. Nonsense insurance without getting hitched, then why not?  As for him using me, we didn’t even know this was an option because my hospital didn’t really advertise it.  I found out from an older coworker when I was complaining to her that Mr. Nonsense didn’t have insurance and every place he was getting a quote from was outlandish.  Why should he pay a ridiculous amount for shitty insurance when he can just get it through my hospital? But despite my logic I still get occasional shit about it from coworkers.  People just can’t wrap their brains around some things, I guess.

        1. That’s so awesome that you got health insurance that way! Screw your coworkers for making a big deal out of that. You should be able to make your own decisions on this sort of shit. And I hate hate HATE the idea that people are just “using” each other if they’re not married. Fuck that noise.

    3. Not to mention that sometimes the desire to try and “fix” something can lead to more damage for everyone involved.  And sometimes I think the whole fixation on fixing a “broken” marriage can lead spouses into blaming other things as the reason why the marriage is souring instead of taking a good, hard look and realizing that they don’t work and it’s probably best for everyone involved to call it a day on the marriage.

      Needless to say, I think the mania surrounding whole institution of marriage is bullshit and I like to leave my options open.

  9. I think that we’ve gone a bit too far with quickie-divorces, but ..there are also 72-hour marriages and marrying to strangers in Vegas, so maybe it’s just a sign of the times.
    I do think that divorce should always be a possibility but just like abortions, not something you keep at hand like an easy cop-out. “Oh if this doesn’t work out, let’s go get divorced!’ Marriage is something you should think through and so should ending it be. In my opinion.

    1. I think, though, just like abortions aren’t something people just lackadaisically get, divorce is not something that people really just do haphazardly.

      I think marriage is also different from abortion in that marriage involves relationships, and relationships can be very variable, people can make bad judgments, just because you love someone now doesn’t mean you will in 10+ years, etc.

      My main issue is, if you think that divorce is something that we don’t want to be a “cop-out,” that it needs “thought through” or such like that…how would we make that happen? Do we put in more barriers? Waiting times? Such policies to force people to take it slower? And what would the outcomes be for someone who is trying to escape an abusive relationship?

      If we don’t make it policy and instead establish it as social mores, I think we still might be divorce-shaming on some level, because if we put these insistences in, in my mind it’s almost like we’re asking for someone to “prove” that they’ve thought it through.

      Also, if we don’t want to put marriage on a pedestal over, say, long-term marriageless partnerships, why should marriage be a Big Deal like that where we have to think hard and long on our married status without a similar emphasis on other long-term partnerships?

      I don’t mean to say that you think any of these things are right or should be done, but to me, they could follow ideologically from the sentiment you’re expressing.

      1. Like so many stuff when it comes to humans ..there is no straight line.

        If you give marriage more weight, it might cause more divorces/problems/fears because of the pressure of ‘scoring’ and ‘doing well’. If you let everyone marry via Groupon for $23 ..would that make the ‘institute’ less or worse?

        I don’t think there should be changes on the official side of it, but in the minds of people. We can all fail and it’s personal to what we see as failure or not. We can all make mistakes, but we can also do research and think things through to (possibly) prevent ourselves from making them.

        But in the end ..why should I even care? I’m not hurting by your dozen divorces or ninety years of happy marriage.

         

  10. I have mixed feelings about this. I wholeheartedly believe that a couple should not stay in a miserable relationship just because they don’t want to be Divorced, but I also believe that if you were willing to marry someone, it’s worth trying to work things out when they get hard. I guess I just take it on a case by case basis. Most of the time I have no problem supporting my friends’ decision to end their marriage, but there are one or two that I am silently judging because it looks a lot like they just didn’t want to put any work in. I guess that’s what makes this such a powerful picture – there is a teeny-tiny kernel of truth in the propaganda.

    1. I can see that.  In my personal interactions with people, divorce is already such a huge pain that it’s not something that people take lightly.  I might be sheltered.  But even if so – I am probably a really terrible citizen, but I don’t really care if people are married or not.  I am not a sanctity-of-marriage kind of person, I guess.

      1. I don’t really care if people get married either. The more I think about it, the more I realize that the cases where I am feeling judgey are the ones where I actively don’t like one of the people involved. I’m letting their cavalier attitude toward marriage be a symbol for how I just think so-and-so is a flakey selfish ass.

          1. My first marriage took place in New Zealand to a citizen of that country while I was a resident there. Once we separated, we had to be separated for three years before we could even file for divorce, and it took another year after that for it to be finalized. It was also expensive as hell.

             

  11. Oh goodness. Nicely done, Susan. I’m reminded of when Mr. Juniper and I got married; whilst I was looking up the legal bits and pieces involved in getting married, I also looked up what was involved in divorce.

    I can appreciate an element of the message, we do live in a different time, where people and ideals are treated differently. If people want to aspire to an age in which the longevity of a marriage is deemed more important than the happiness of those involved, then that’s up to them. I don’t wish to aspire to an age in which marital rape was legal and unmarried mothers were put into asylums.

Leave a Reply