Ask Aviva: Dumbfounded by divorce


Issue of July 23, 2010/ 12 Av 5770

Dear Aviva,

What is our world coming to? I just got off the phone with my friend. She called to tell me about our mutual friend’s divorce. This is the sixth divorce that I’ve heard about in two months! All are in their twenties, with kids. Why aren’t people embarrassed enough to try to save their marriage? Seriously!


Dear Outraged,

Yes, you have a right to be outraged at the thought of six young families being split apart. It is a very hard thing to go through emotionally, mentally and financially. For some, it can even shake their religious standing.

There are times when divorce seems to peak, and it could be that all of these cases’ family life cycles are in sync with each other because the people involved are cohorts. The first peak of divorce is on average, 6.5 years (so that seven-year itch thing isn’t as much of a myth as one would think). Then there is a lull for those who are in unsatisfactory, yet moderately tolerable marriages. They tough it out until they launch the kids out of the house, then it’s “goodbye” and back to the (now middle-aged) single pool.

Is it possible that these divorcing couples you know of didn’t work hard enough on their marriages? Yes, it is very possible, considering that the average couple that goes into therapy has been sitting on their problems for six years. It would be much smoother for them if they had initiated the therapy while their problems were still budding, before they bloomed and bred resentment. The art is in recognizing what is causing minor disappointment in the marriage and trying to work it out as it comes. The skill is in knowing how to work it out. If a couple’s attempts to iron out a problem leads to more wrinkles, it is time to bring in an experienced outsider. Both spouses should be open to therapy and should feel comfortable with the therapist. If after a few sessions either spouse does not like the therapist, they should keep shopping around until they are both comfortable.

Though this is too late for your peers, there is something that I highly recommend to all engaged and newly married couples. It’s a psycho-educational workshop for happy, functional couples, and it teaches the basics of effective communication and conflict resolution. It’s called the Shalom Workshop.

One local therapist recently saw a few young couples that were open and motivated. The therapy lasted only a few sessions and these respective couples were well on their way to marital satisfaction. Young, newly-marrieds don’t often begin couples therapy, so the therapist tried to find the common thread between these cases. It turns out that all of these couples had taken the Shalom Workshop when they were engaged. To me, this is good news. That is why I encourage it.

Now, to address the next part of your question, “Why aren’t people embarrassed enough to try to save their marriage?” Either they are just being overly dramatic and splitting up solely because they enjoy overreacting, or they are really, really, really unhappy. I suspect in most cases it’s the latter. So I will take license to rephrase your question: Why would a woman make fun of her husband to her friends? Why would a man shirk household responsibility? Why would a woman hide her purchases from her husband instead of being upfront? Why would a man be too stubborn to accept his wife’s influence? Why would a woman blame her husband when she shares at least half of the onus? Why would a husband be sarcastic when having a discussion with his wife?  Why would a woman criticize her husband in a manner more biting than she would ever dare to converse with a stranger? Why would a man speak to his wife in a way that he would never speak to his Rav? Why would a woman give her friend more leeway when she messes up than the woman gives her husband? Why would a man impose indisputable rules for intimacy? Why would a woman throw an object at her husband?

How could a couple who have plunged so deeply into a way of life that they would never have imagined themselves living, continue this way? Once the threads begin to unravel, it can dissipate quite quickly. And I did not even broach the (more common than we’d like to admit) issues of infidelity, addiction or mental illness.

Now I know that you asked me your question out of shock and sadness. You were not asking for my advice, but beneath your frustration, I sense concern. Peeling away your anger and curiosity, I think you may be trying to say: “How can I be there for my friends?”

A classic misstep is to step away. It’s time to step up to the plate. Keep calling the new single moms and don’t back off until they are comfortable enough to call you for a favor.

And the best thing that you can do to prevent divorce is to unabashedly make your marriage the priority.