by Edward A. Dreyfus, Ph.D.

Tom and Barbara were at each other’s throats. They stormed into the office shouting at each other. They wanted out of their eight year marriage. Once I was able to get a word in, the tears began to flow from both of them. Their marriage was over and the pain of that realization was unbearable. The "D-word" struck at their core. As long as they fought they did not have to face the reality that their one-time fairy tale marriage was coming to an end.

The "D-Word" strikes at the heart of all married couples. Prenuptial agreement - agreements made even before marriage - all have provisions for what happens in the event of a divorce. Recent statistics suggest that 50% of all marriages in the United States will end in divorce. In Southern California the divorce rate is purported to be even higher, somewhere in the neighborhood of 60-75%, depending on which study one reads. In this article I will be exploring some of the reasons that people divorce, some of the consequences of divorce, ways to prevent divorce, and, when all else fails, approaches to divorce that can be less stressful to all of the parties involved.

Changing Expectations

The institution of marriage has changed dramatically over the past 100 years. Many factors played a part in this evolution. In the 1890s marriage was often a matter of convenience. Roles for men and women were clearly defined; each knew what was expected of them. Men were expected to work, with their primary responsibility being the family provider. Women were to take care of the home and bear children for whom they would then be the caretaker. Marriages were for the purpose of raising a family - breeding children who would grow up to help with the chores, work the fields, or take over the family business.

With the industrial revolution, the second world war, and finally the technological revolution, much of this changed. Each of these revolutions provided greater leisure time, greater freedom from chores, and a reduction in the need for progeny to be junior workers - in the field or in the home. Thus families had fewer children. W.W.II created a need for women to enter the work force. And when the war was over, they did not want to return to the home. Two-income families became the norm. Today women work for the same reasons men work, not just to provide a second income. They have their own careers, interests, and activities equal to men.

The family changed from "Dad wears the pants in the family" to Mom and Dad are partners in the business of family. The expectations men and women have of one another, and subsequently of marriage, have changed. Couples expect more of one another and from their marriage. With increased information, leisure time, mobility, and affluence people have more time to learn about themselves and to experience various life styles. They have more contact with how other people live. They also have increased opportunity to learn about themselves. In less affluent times, when roles were clearly defined along gender lines, a person's self-concept remained static. Today, however, after being continuously bombarded with information and the possibility of change, the concept of self has become more dynamic.

When two people are married and over a period of years at least one person, if not both, undergoes a significant change in self-concept, the marriage will also change. The selves that married are no longer the same. If interests, goals, values change along with a changing self, you have a different dynamic set up between the two people. In some cases this dynamic is such that the marriage no longer seems viable. When we combine this change with the awareness that we will be living longer, it appears more probable that people will seek a second or third partner with whom they feel more compatible.

It is no longer sufficient for a man simply to be a terrific provider and for a woman to be an outstanding homemaker. People expect more. Men and women want intimacy, romance, affection, understanding, commonality of interests, conversation, common values, and exciting sex, to mention a few of the more common requirements. They want an equal partnership with one another, where both parties participate equally in all of the decisions pertaining to the home and to child-rearing, regardless of who is earning more money.

Increased longevity, increased affluence, and increased opportunity for personal growth, when combined with significantly changing expectations regarding marriage, suggest that people must learn new or different ways of relating to one another if their marriage is going to survive. When this is not possible, either for lack of desire, capacity, or interest on the part of one or both parties, divorce becomes an option.



Dr. Edward A. Dreyfus is a Clinical Psychologist, Marriage, Family, Child Therapist, and Sex Therapist. Dr. Dreyfus has been providing psychological services in the Los Angeles-Santa Monica area for over 30 years. He offers individual psychotherapy to adolescents and adults, divorce mediation, couples counseling, group therapy, and career and vocational counseling and assessment.His book, Someone Right For You, is available in the Amazing Bookstore Catalog.

Dr. Dreyfus can be reached at: (310) 208-5700.


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