Why Do Marriages Fail?
Zeshan S. Ghumman Advocate
Marriages fail for many reasons but unmet expectations almost always play a major role. We enter the marriage with very complex and sometimes unrealistic expectations. Whether we were brought up with the “Brady Bunch” or the “Adams Family,” we all have an idea of what to expect in our marriage and family.
When these expectations are met, we feel that we have been successful. When the relationship does not meet these expectations, we often feel as though we’ve failed and this can lead to disappointment, depression, or anger.
Whether we blame ourselves or our partners for the failure does not seem to be terribly relevant. The bottom line is, that when the failed expectations are great, our disappointment is great. The greater the disappointment the greater the likelihood that a marriage will break apart.
Another source of trouble for marriages is the loss of a job or financial reversal, which can upset even the rosiest of relationships.
Often intimate or sexual relationships change because of external pressures, new circumstances, or the maturation process. Our society is exceedingly mobile and this may mean that one partner is required by his or her job responsibilities to move to another part of the country.
This kind of move may interfere with family or social relationships to the extent that one or both parties cannot deal with such a change.
One party being away from the home for long periods of time due to job responsibilities can also cause great stress in a marriage. Unexpected circumstances which put stress on the marriage may ultimately contribute to its failure.
Another leading cause of marital failure is drug and/or alcohol abuse. More and more people in our society are becoming dependent on alcohol or other substances and this can lead to financial or emotional problems many people are unable to deal with successfully.
Physical problems can appear unexpectedly. An accident, a severe illness, or problems linked to the aging process can create stress for many marriages. Emotional problems are often difficult to deal with and understand. This may be a source of tremendous stress, which leads to a divorce.
Domestic violence is also a cause of marital break up. In fact, violence is often seen as one of the absolute reasons to end a marriage.
In addition to these obvious cataclysmic issues, there are also less dramatic but equally damaging causes of marital deterioration.
The slow deterioration of a marriage can occur when couples experience “communication” problems. Often the couple develop at different rates, and find that they are less able to communicate meaningfully with each other.
The exuberance and adventure of the youthful marriage gives way to the less exciting routine of the more mature marriage.
If this natural process is not recognized and dealt with in a constructive manner, then fighting, arguing, and a gradual loss of affection takes place.
This slow deterioration is often unnoticed for many years and only when the fighting or loss of affection reaches crisis proportions does the decision to end the marriage occur.
Another major cause of marital break-up is the inability to deal with crises. The loss of a job, a physical crisis or disability, the birth of a handicapped child, or, sometimes, the birth of any child, can trigger feelings and emotions that people were unaware of previously. The inability to deal with crisis may lead to the deterioration of a marital relationship and many prompt people to seek separation or divorce.
When circumstances lead to the deterioration of marriage, whether it occurs gradually or suddenly, the decision must be made whether to separate or to stay together and try to improve the situation.
The Unsuccesful Divorce:
Millions of Americans have become the victims of unsuccessful divorces. The unsuccessful divorce is one which devastates the family financially and/or emotionally. It leads to ongoing conflict because of dissatisfaction with the divorce agreement. It often results in continued harassment, litigation, or unfulfilled obligations such as child support, visitation, or spousal maintenance.
There have been numerous studies documenting the damage done to the children, the couple and extended families, by the divorce process. Researchers have discovered that not only is the damage wide spread, but that it is also long lasting.
Some aspects of the unsuccessful divorce which cause the greatest amount of damage are the anger, the long periods of time living in a state of confusion and uncertainty, the inability of divorced and separated people to maintain open, positive communication, the general age engendered by the process itself, and the financial stress of martial dissolution.
With the growing number of divorces the courts have become more crowded, causing additional delays. As a result, legal fees have increased significantly.
The system seems to be breaking down and is certainly not meeting the needs of the people. Given these conditions, many professionals in the field have hypothesized that the damage wrought by divorce may, in fact, be due more to the process than to the fact of divorce itself.
As a result more people seeking divorce or separation are using alternative dispute resolution methods. The object of these alternatives is to create a situation in which neither one spouse nor the children end up losers, but rather, the parties can achieve a successful divorce and feel satisfied with the result.
The Successful Divorce:
The successful divorce is one in which both parties feel they have been heard, and have had an opportunity to have input in the formulation of the divorce agreement. A sense of fairness and equality usually predominates even through the pain.
The terms of the agreement are adhered to and there is enough communication so that changed circumstances can be dealt with constructively.
The result: children are not as devastated and both spouses can go on with their lives with a minimum of disruption. The successful divorce is one in which both parties win. The win-win techniques which are gaining greater acceptance at this time are mediation and “self planned” divorces.
In mediation, those seeking divorce or separation use the services of a neutral attorney who can help them reach agreement on all of the issues.
Life has its ups and downs, and some rough spots are unavoidable in every marriage. Many of us consider divorce at one time or another. There are cases when after all attempts at saving the union have failed, it is necessary to end a marriage and this may be the only choice available for you and your children.
For almost everyone, divorce represents a failure. There are many reasons for keeping a marriage together, and relationships can change over time in a healthy way. So even a bad situation can improve.
In addition, marriage is not just a two party arrangement. Marriages involve children, extended families, complex vocational, financial and social networks and also provide each member of the couple with a great many conveniences that enable them to live life more easily.
Telling the Family
Once the decisions have been made to get a divorce or separation and it’s been decided how you’re going to proceed, it becomes important to consider communicating with other family members and friends.
The most important people to communicate with first, are your children. It would be foolish to think that children are unaware that there is a problem.
We have often had people come to our office and tell us they have been talking about divorce for some time but they don’t think their children understand that anything whatsoever is wrong.
We have asked them whether they’ve fought over the last year or so and they say, “Of course, everybody fights”.
We have also questioned whether they’ve spent less time together and the reply usually is, “Of course we spend less time together.”
In many cases people say they are not even sharing the same bedroom anymore. We then ask, “Well how is it that your children don’t know that you’re planning a divorce or separation?” The answer is. “We always try not to fight in front of the children and they’ve never told us that they suspect anything.”
In these cases most of the children over seven or eight years old have been living with the expectation that their parents were going to get a divorce.
In fact, most have discussed it with their friends, especially those friends whom they know have been through a similar process.
With younger children, we often find that while the children have not been conscious or specifically aware of the process which is about to take place, they have been living in a state of tension and may be terrified or confused about what is going on in their home.
The fact is that most children already know that something is going on and the older children know, pretty much, what is going on.
However, it becomes very important once the decision is firm to let the children know from you what is about to happen and to give them an opportunity to get used to the idea and give both parents feedback.
In our experience, children are best told about an upcoming divorce or separation as soon as parents are sure that it is going to take place.
It’s usually best if children are told by both parents together and it should be understood that older children must be told in a somewhat different manner from younger children.
A trip to the library can sometimes be very helpful as there are a number of children’s books, usually including pictures, simple statements, and graphic illustrations, to help parents tell their children what is about to happen.
With older children it is important to sit down and make it clear that the decision is made by parents and not the children, and to reassure the children that the decision had nothing to do with anything that they have or have not done.
Children should always be reassured they will still have two parents to love and that they still have two parents who love them.
Ideally this could be accomplished in a family setting. However, if great difficulty exists in communication within your family, a divorce counselor or a child therapist (psychologist or social worker) might be very helpful.
Some churches and synagogues provide these services and it is often a source of comfort to children to know that they have someone else with whom they can discuss these confusing events.
Schools should also be informed and many schools have school psychologists, social workers and guidance counselors experienced in helping children and families through these difficult times.
Generally, one of the first things that happen when a couple decides to divorce or seperate is that one parent decides to leave the home.
This is, again, a very important issue to discuss with children. We often suggest that children, depending on their age, can be allowed to have an active part in looking for, or selecting the new residence for the parent who is moving out.
This allows children to understand that they will still have a place in the life of the parent who is leaving. It reassures them that their interests are being considered and that their opinions are being sought.
This is not to say that children should be given the impression that they can make or change the decisions regarding the divorce or separation.
It is quite important that children understand that while their love and affection is important and their security is to be protected, that the decision to divorce or separate is one that is made by parents not children.
Although the marriage may end, the family continues. This is the most important reason to prepare the way for a successful divorce or separation by informing family, extended family, and friends before the reality takes place.
When people are confided in they usually have better feelings afterwards. While it may mean there will be some unsolicited advice, it usually means that there will be more support available to both parties as well as the children than if friends and families were left out of the process altogether.
Most people entering into the divorce or separation process understand that there will be an end to the marriage, a change in the relationship between each parent and his/her children, a change in finances, and a change in relationships with extended family and friends. However, it is often not understood that divorce also takes its toll in many other ways.
Effects on Divorced Individuals
Two of the most prominent effects on an individual going through divorce involve feelings of guilt and having second thoughts about the divorce.
It sometimes takes a considerable amount of time before an adjustment can be made. You can expect to have times when you are unsure of the rightness of decisions.
During this period of adjustment there may be a confusing roller-coaster of feelings regarding the former spouse. These can include the full gamut of emotions such as anger, despair, affection, love, etc.
Sometimes people go through a phase known as “post traumatic shock syndrome” during which time he or she may experience depression, anxiety, confusion or an inability to think clearly. During this “shock syndrome” many people experience difficulties on the job as well as in interpersonal relationships.
This can last for weeks or months and it is advisable to seek professional help if the disruption is extreme.
Stress related physical illness can also occur during this time and the importance of emotional and psychological support as well as the need to take care of yourself physically and emotionally cannot be overemphasized.
It can also be expected that after the divorce has taken place there will be significant changes in social patterns. Getting involved in the singles’ world is often difficult and can engender feelings of anxiety as well as pleasure and excitement.
Often, relationships with friends, family and colleagues change, and you may find that you are treated differently because of your new marital status. Old sources of support may no longer be available, and new ones need to be developed.
Effects on Children
Divorce always has an affect on children. Sometimes children appear to be unaffected but, in almost all cases, the reality is that the feelings are either suppressed or there is a process of denial in place. Children usually feel confused and unsure as to how they should feel about each parent and how they should act toward each parent.
This is especially true around visitations and you should expect a period of adjustment. In this way, children determine what the new boundaries are in the new situation. Some children become depressed. Others become angry and many blame themselves for the fact that the divorce took place. It is extremely important during this time that parents be as supportive and nurturing as possible for their children.
They should be aware that there is often an attempt on the part of the children to manipulate by playing “the two ends against the middle.”
It is especially important to be sensitive to the fact that children may have trouble recognizing and expressing their feelings to newly divorced parents. Professional help should be sought if there is an indication that a child is experiencing a great deal of difficulty.
Sometimes a child’s feelings are displayed through changed behavior such as sleep or eating behavior. There may be changes in social patterns, and often there is a change in the way they relate to peers and authority figures in school. Deterioration in school grades may be seen and this too should be a sign to the observant parent that a problem is developing and professional intervention should be sought.
Various physical or psychosomatic illnesses may appear as a result of the stress or tension of the divorce. This is prevalent among children, but also may happen to the adults. Again, the observant parent will seek professional counseling for the child when stress related illness occurs such as headaches, stomach aches, allergies, or frequent accidents, such as falling down.
Divorce is a stressful and traumatic life change, the effects of which can surface in many ways. Be prepared to help yourself and your children through this difficult time.