There are two ways to solve society’s divorce crisis.
One is pretty easy, which is great! We like easy things because everyone can do it!
The other is hard, which is a bummer. We generally prefer easy over difficult, and most of the time it makes sense to choose the easier way when the result is the same.
I think divorce is the great social crisis of our time.
The consequences of divorce on individual people and families are nothing short of life trauma for one or both partners, their children, extended families and close friends. There is often financial suffering, and more importantly, suffering of the mental, physical, spiritual and emotional variety.
The trickle-down effects of divorce on society as a whole have been well documented. Children in unstable homes often grow up struggling emotionally, have trouble in school, experience dysfunctional relationships and never learning what healthy ones look like, all of which leads to sick and broken people who hurt others, commit crime, and repeat the cycle.
Is it Fair to Label it a ‘Crisis’?
Of course it is.
First, marriage is a thing which affects 95% of all people (in the United States, but I’m super-confident this applies everywhere).
Second, marriage consists of two people VOLUNTEERING to commit the rest of their lives to one another, most of the time doing so in front of hundreds of witnesses and spending $30,000 on a big party to celebrate it. These two people are serious, and you can tell since they’re investing so much in it. The vast majority of the time, both people exchanging vows are totally convinced they will love and honor one another forever.
Third, despite that, 5-10 years later, more than half will divorce. Those brave enough to marry again end up divorcing 67% of the time, even after experiencing what didn’t work the first time.
Fourth, (and most frightening) is that so few see it coming. We date and we’re happy. We want to get married. We get married. Then millions of things happen both good and bad over the course of many days, and emotional ups and downs, and perhaps children and other life changes.
And then it breaks, and people die inside. Then they get divorced, and most of the time, can’t even tell you how it all happened, because there’s rarely some big thing to point to as the reason. It’s many countless little moments no one knew were important until they looked back later and identified their missteps. Which some never do.
Fifth, (and most disturbing) is that it seems so few talk about it, making me wonder how things can get better if no one ever talks about it.
The Two Divorce Solutions
Solution #1 is Easy! – Redefine Divorce, making it “less painful through rebranding and rethinking.”
This sounds awesome! After all, I’m a huge proponent of the power of mindset, asking the right questions, and reframing problems to find solutions!
Maybe divorce isn’t a crisis! Maybe it’s an opportunity!
Here’s what a couple of super-smart doctors had to say about this exciting new method of dealing with the end of a marriage—The Inconvenient Truth About Love and Divorce, they say:
“Divorce is intrinsically hard, but our attitudes make it harder than it needs to be. Guilt, shame and a sense of failure significantly raise the emotional cost of divorce.”
“…people contemplating divorce are generally profoundly unhappy. America has taught us that the pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human right — yet because our society feels threatened by divorce, it does not particularly want to attach that concept to the dissolution of marriage. We want to talk about love and happiness on the way into marriage, but after the exchange of rings, we demand an old-fashioned narrative, one of self-sacrifice, loyalty and hard work.
“These attitudes are rooted in the past, when marriage was an economic institution designed to build wealth and raise children. While it was surely the case that humans longed for love and happiness as much then as they do now, those feelings were not expected to derive from marriage. The pursuit of love and happiness was not considered to be an adequate reason for marriage, and it certainly was not an adequate reason for divorce.
“Today, in contrast, the vast majority of Americans marry for love. We promise at the altar to love one another until death do us part. We do not pause long enough to ask ourselves what that promise signifies, because we do not want to know the answer. Can anyone commit to feel an emotion in perpetuity? No, of course not. We can force ourselves to be loyal and self-sacrificing, but we cannot force ourselves to love. We humans have little control over our hearts.
“This truth is so inconvenient that we try to tell ourselves stories about how love can be created through determination and hard work, but we don’t really believe our own stories. If we did, we would all still agree to arranged marriages. In reality, some modern couples are held together by a strong bond of love, but for other couples, love fades, leaving behind an existential question: If we married for love, what does it mean, now, to be married without love?
“If we, as a society, were honest with ourselves, we would admit that it is not reasonable to expect people to marry for love yet not to divorce for lack of love.”
Maybe you didn’t pick up on this earlier, but I think the co-authors’ take on love, marriage and divorce is about the dumbest, shittiest, unhealthiest and damaging take on this topic that I’ve ever seen.
Maybe murder would be better dealt with using simple rebranding and rethinking!
Is murder really so bad? After all, everyone dies anyway. By demonstrating empathy and support for murderers, we can see that what they really did was simply accelerate an event which was inevitably going to happen anyway. There’s no evidence the deceased is suffering. Let’s not think of it as “murder,” and start telling ourselves different stories!
Maybe I’m being an asshole. That’s probably not a very good example.
I shared this TED article written by Astro and Danielle Teller yesterday on Facebook, curious what others may think and feel about it.
I think frequent MBTTTR commenter Lisa Gottman summed up my initial thoughts nicely with this:
“One aspect of love is emotion, but it’s also involves our cognitive choices and relationship skills and biology. So many people get divorced because they don’t understand where love went or how to fix it.”
And then kicked more ass with this:
“Also, by these authors’ premise, we could also apply these principles to children. That used to be a practical way to get help for the farm or just a lack of birth control. We now have children for love. But you know what, we don’t feel love for them sometimes, or when they’re teenagers maybe not at all for years.
“Should we consciously uncouple from them too? How about our annoying relatives? The mom who is not abusive but just has poor boundaries. Do I get to consciously uncouple from her because I don’t feel a lot of touchy feely emotions of love each Thanksgiving when she criticizes the meal?”
Because I read that article and was totally dumbfounded. The Tellers are brilliant, highly accomplished people. Astro is a successful entrepreneur, scientist and author. Danielle is a physician, scientist and author.
And if THEY don’t know, then it’s no damn wonder so many people out there don’t know either.
LOVE IS NOT AN EMOTION.
Love is certainly something we feel. But it is NOT a “feeling.”
And I needn’t say more than Lisa already did regarding our feelings toward our children or family members. We don’t “feel” like waking up and going to work sometimes. But most of us do it anyway because it’s what we must in order to achieve something we desire—paying for homes, food, transportation, electricity, TV and internet service, eliminating debt and every other life expense. We WANT these things, so we do things we don’t want in order to acquire them.
We don’t wake up every morning for the rest of our marriages feeling the same emotional waves of infatuation and lustful desire as we might have in the early days of our relationship. We’re soul mates and best friends!!!
Umm. No you’re not. And it won’t take long for hedonic adaptation to firmly take hold of your brain and make you shittier at several aspects of human relationships.
It’s your job to KNOW you will get bored. It happens to every person about everything. Always, always, always. You can’t trade in your boring spouse for a new one who will magically never bore or upset you one day.
The Tellers are smart. But on this, they’re terrifyingly wrong.
Solution #2 is Hard! – Wake Up Every Day, and Make the Choice to Love Hard, Just Like You Promised
The Tellers called it “old-fashioned.”
They labeled “self-sacrifice, loyalty and hard work” as being outdated concepts we should all move past. If it doesn’t feel good, don’t do it!
Yeah, great message. That should do wonders for the world’s youth who don’t want to go to school, and who want governments to just give them things without making any discernible societal contribution.
When you don’t mow your grass, your lawn looks shitty and your property becomes ugly.
When you don’t exercise, you gain weight and your muscles atrophy, and you look worse and literally become less healthy.
When you don’t educate yourself or develop skills, you end up ignorant and unskilled, and a life of difficulty and poverty is likely. (Yes, I know there are layers of complexity related to certain unearned advantages here.)
When you neglect Things Which Need Done, or even just Things We Should Do, your life suffers in whichever areas you are neglecting. This is a universally true thing, applicable to everyone in every culture, since the beginning of recorded human history.
We must DO STUFF—some of which isn’t fun and maybe doesn’t “feel good”—in order to achieve something we want, or maintain a particular state of being.
Treating marriage or any long-term monogamous relationship as something that lives outside this universal truth is dangerous, delusional, and fuels the problem we’re already having.
The Problem: We’ve Cheapened Marriage
We’re all probably a little guilty.
I am with the Tellers that a “non-confrontational approach to divorce” is a better way of doing things. Kindness almost always has merit. And I’m totally cool with “conscious uncoupling.” Two people calmly and collaboratively agreeing to go their separate ways. That’s awesome. Good for them.
Just do it before you get married.
Because, Marriage = Forever. That’s the entire point. Any hesitation to sign up for forever lends itself, I think to simply NOT getting married.
Succeeding in marriage and avoiding divorce has NEVER been advertised as something easy to do. That doesn’t make it “old-fashioned.” It just makes it true.
The solution to achieving future love and happiness is NOT encouraging everyone who doesn’t feel loved or feel happy to treat their relationships like an older-generation iPhone they want to upgrade.
The solution to achieving future love is to actually love—because when we give, we receive.
The solution to achieving future happiness is to realize there’s no such thing as a life destination where Happiness lives. We don’t arrive somewhere, discover we feel happy, and then simply stay there forever. Happiness is something we feel along our various life journeys in our endless pursuits of whatever it is we choose to chase.
Choose to love. Choose gratitude and contentment while doing so.
It’s rarely easy. It’s often hard.
But it’s always good.
Life is full of hacks and shortcuts.
Like with physical fitness, education, and our individual pursuits of excellence, in Love and Marriage there are no shortcuts. Just the long way.
No one promised it would be easy or feel good every day. Only that it’d be worth it.