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Rocket Engines In Glass Housing, Or, Saturday Morning at 9:31am

Today I read that Heidi Klum and Seal may be getting a divorce. Not confirmed, but the story’s out there. The other day Dooce, perhaps the most well-known female blogger of all, wrote that she has separated from her husband.

On the one hand, why pay attention? Divorce is common. Just because these are famous people? No. No. Because divorce is heady and raw and difficult, and remains one of our most uncivilized processes.

You know that we haven’t solved marriage, don’t you? Especially modern marriage. People have been tying the knot for centuries, but only pattern we know now for, what, 70 years? Give or take. We allowed love in, and free choice, then justice-infused divorce. Thus we found ourselves here. With a difficult and apparently intractable pain in our heart.

Nobody wants to get divorced. It feels horrible. So personally horrible in my case that you may want to discount everything I say. But even if I take my own reaction with a grain of salt, the analysis troubles me. All kinds of institutions spend all kinds of energy on the wrongness of divorcing. And yet it happens, frequently. Here’s my question. Do we need to, if I can use the term, deconstruct?

Are we, as a society, taking the wrong approach? Is all the cultural language around staying married only sound and fury? I’d like a closer look at why we think it’s best to stay married. While we see all sorts of data saying it’s best for children, which I will not dispute, while the religious have their codes, what other remarkable benefit or virtue to long marriages can we find? Other than preservation of capital, and happiness, I cannot think of one.

Happiness is a private matter.

Let’s presume, just for the sake of deconstruction, that the primary driver of society’s focus on marriage should be the welfare of children. In that case, given that it appears to be so hard to stay married, should we maybe spend more time understanding the real machinery of child nurture, than on marriage endurance itself?

Bear with me. Imagine an engineered system. In this case, the design center being the care of children. But let’s say that system has a particular sub-system with a high failure rate. Let’s say, hypothetically, that one has to house rocket engines in glass, and that no matter how much time you spend optimizing the design, explosions happen. Don’t you then shift to designing the ground below the rocket, to minimize damage? Don’t you then start working on your glass-melting processes? Your recycling, if you will? Systems should degrade gracefully.

You can imagine what that might look like, the way things might change.

I mean in no way to minimize the pain of marriages’ end, or our desire that they last. I am only asking that we start to tease out the next thread of thinking and expand parameters under consideration. That’s what one does when problems don’t get solved in a reasonable period of time.

But balance my ideas here. Go and read Miss Whistle, a blog by Bumble Ward. She posts a lot of poetry, but in between poems you’ll find some absolutely painful and beautiful writing on the startled end of a long marriage.

Or visit Delia Loyd, who often writes about how to stay married, at Real Delia.

Deconstruction aside, I encourage you, if this is happening to someone in your life, to forgive. To anneal, if you can, what’s shattered. It may or may not be their fault, and in any case, there’s no more to be gained from shame. What matters is the children, and that’s where we ought to focus our societal heart.

Have a lovely weekend. I hope your dear ones are sleeping nearby.

36 Responses

  1. Another brave post, with so much wisdom, so much honesty. Marriage can work very well for a long time if one is very lucky, as I’m happy to attest, but the whole thing is an odd cultural construct with roots in protection of property and lineage, bolstered by deceptive narratives involving hearts and arrows and lace and roses. We change. They stop working. How can a parent’s or two parents’ unhappiness contribute positively to a child’s upbringing? Endurance might be something we want to model to our kids, but not to have them learn it as taking priority over any kind of self-care.
    Aim those rockets at any shame that still accrues to divorce — it truly needs to be blasted away.

  2. It will be so sad if they have filed for divorce. Especially since they renewed their vows every anniversary.

    …I am one of two children from my Mom’s second marriage, my Dad’s only marriage. She was married for about ten years to her first husband and my half sister had to endure that breakdown… But between my parents is love. Purely. And it has been 32 years, 33 this July. The way they look at each other sometimes, so adoringly, is so beautiful.

    So, there is often a happy ending, I think. Even…. If the pain and hurt make it hardly bearable when it first happens.

  3. I also found Dooce’s news disturbing, in the same way that I found Maggie’s distressing at the time. Thankfully, I don’t have much personal experience of divorce, nor do I know either of them particularly well, being sporadic readers of their blogs, but I can’t help but feel like there’s a lesson for me there…

  4. I don’t disagree with you, but I think if one is taking a closer look at why we think it’s best to stay married, then one also has to examine why we place such a high value on getting married in the first place. I personally am so glad to’ve married my husband, but there certainly is a lot of societal pressure to tie the knot. I think, also, that this pressure is there regardless of whether two would-be spouses have thoughtfully discussed what challenges their marriage would face, and how they would plan to overcome them.

  5. My brother is going through a particularly nasty divorce at the moment – fortunately there are no children, but it’s still pretty grim. I wish he wasn’t 5000 miles away.

  6. I think most of us could write a book about love, hope, and dreams of the fairy tale. And then the devastation and despair and non ending second guessing (could I have done something different to stop this from happening. could I have been sexier, or made better dinners, or made more money, and so on). And then we could write another book about watching our children try to make sense of their adult relationships as another generation attempts to create the very unrealistic fairy tale.

    What if we were taught from birth, that there is no one person that will guarantee our happiness. That we will have several relationships in our life and when love and compatibility ends it evolves into friendship or at the least polite acquaintances, and always the welfare of children is the top priority, both emotionally and financially. (meaning = we never use our children as pawns to get even) What if we lived without expectation of a poets love? What if we made marriage obsolete? And what if you stayed with a person just because you liked being with them? Just a thought.

  7. We came uncomfortably close to divorce in 2011. It was shocking and due to infidelity–not mine, but his. It was heartbreaking and exceedingly painful. We have decided to stay married and are putting ourselves back together. I can only imagine that actual divorce is even more painful. NEITHER of us could imagine facing it or not being together.

    So, for me, a long marriage is about preserving happiness. It’s a gift if you can accomplish it in spite of some really difficult and bad things that happen along the way.

    I have a lot of empathy of anyone going through marital issue.

    Blog like this one were a great diversion for me during a difficult year—so Thank you !

  8. This post is such a poignant tale of real life. A life full of joy, despair and changes. Too often, divorce is associated with failure, especially for us women. Among my close friends, only two couples remained married after 30 years. I am the very lucky one who is still mad about my husband, who actually enjoy spending time with him.Secret of a happy marriage, not such a thing.I believe the success of my family life, very close to my parents, having a great relationship with my sons, is mostly due to tolerance and forgiveness. As the saying goes a road well travelled, rocky, sometimes very challenging, but a journey filled with love, passion and adventure. My very best friends were divorced two years ago , a brutal, nasty divorce, a tale of deceit, treachery which tore up 4 lives. A tale of survival, success and a newfound life (for my girlfriend) of independence, freedom and renewal. Divorce can become very empowering even for the one (in my girlfriend’s case) who has been cheated on, lost her home and her community. In redefining herself, she has become a beautiful, adventurous, happier women than I have ever known her to be. As for me, if I were to separate…I would probably become a very thin woman, since in the past 30 years, i have never learned how to cook!

  9. Another great Saturday post, Lisa.And I agree, we need to deconstruct.
    I am the daughter and the grandchild of divorced couples. Well, technically speaking my grandmother never got a divorce because it was not legal in Argentina at the time (It became legal only in 1987), but she left her abusive husband in 1959, put a few belongings in a truck, took her two children and travelled 700 kms to a different province, to safety.
    And it is a a child of divorce that I can say that, from my experience, a happy marriage may be better for children, but when a marriage is no longer a happy place, I disagree with statistics and I prefer divorce. My parent’s marriage was HELL for all of us and both my brother and I (13 and 10 at the time) sighed with RELIEF when they separated and prayed for them not to go back together. That is what destroys children, and abandonment, and hatred, and revenge, and lack of respect. I could understand and respect my parents not loving each anymore, but I couldn’t understand all that came with that.

  10. Perspective is everything. Years ago I went through an amicable divorce as we both had gone in different directions. For my own personal growth, going through that process was one of the best things that ever happened to me; there was no blame and each took ownership for their own actions. I learned a lot about myself during this time. We had no children. When I think of people staying together for the sake of the children I often wonder if the continued arguing, tension, and stress that exisits in the home is worse than the actual separation? I would argue in favor of the separation.

  11. Honestly, as I am in the first phase of this painful situation, I just wish I had never read this. Deconstruction is something people should just stop doing.

  12. You touch upon a fascinating perspective while also confronting the harsh truth of ‘The End,’ when it comes. (And it has come to a lot of us.) I’m not sure we’ll ever solve it, perhaps because I remain unconvinced it is meant to have a solution.

    Hope your weekend is perkier than our topic! (Not a criticism, far from it, I think many read the Heidi Klum/Seal news with astonishment.)

  13. What a brave and thoughtful post. I’ve been through 2 divorces and am very happily married to my 3rd husband. My daughter is with my first husband, and although we were able to remain relatively amicable, it broke my heart for my daughter who was 5 years old at the time. The next one was even worse. It shattered my daughter’s and my world. We had to completely rebuild our lives. It gave us a strong bond though, and she came through it very well, as did I.
    “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger” ~ very true in this case.
    I was strangely rattled by the news of Heidi Klum and Seal this morning, and thought I was a bit nuts to be affected. I think it must have brought up the shock from my own past, the idea of everything you believe to be true, suddenly not being true at all….Thanks for the links to the other blogs, I will read them.

    1. I meant to say my daughter is the result of my first marriage, she has always lived with me – well, until college anyway. And now, 10 years later, she’s getting married in September.

  14. When my husband and I got engaged almost 21 years ago, we were 22 and 23 and not only very young, but also the children of divorce. (There were eight parents/stepparents at our wedding.) Naturally, there was some consternation over our announced engagement. We decided then, in light of our parents’ marriage woes, that divorce would not be an option. That we’d make it work, no matter what. Luckily, we have thus far not any undue stresses or crises and things are moving along. Still, we work at it, constantly mindful that things could still conceivably crumble. (See, the Gores and their divorce after 40 years.) When I read that Dooce and her husband are separated (with the future of their marriage still very much unknown), I felt sad for them and fervently hope they can work through this. I also hope that the rumors about Seal and Heidi Klum are merely rumors and not reality.

  15. For some reason, the news that Heather Armstrong is divorcing floored me. I’m not sure why; while I (naturally) know who she is and am vaguely aware of the ins and outs of her rise to Blogger Fame, I don’t read her blog on anything resembling a regular basis.

    As for the rest of your beautifully written post, all I can add is that sometimes people do want to get divorced, and sometimes it is in the children’s best interest. Just sayin’.

  16. I admire and realate to this post; thank you.

    A family is even more complex, though, than engineered systems. Neither adults nor children can be assembled, housed or dismantled surely and successfully through advanced graduate degrees and computer models. Some families work because of great sacrifice, others because the structure was abandoned, and I am grateful that some happy families thrive naturally, unconcerned by much.

    When I was on the brink of divorce (which happened), gutted, a friend quoted Jewish family law (as she attributed it): “Where there is no love (between the partners) there should be no home”. Curiously, this buoyed me, though it was still a horrendous time. I can imagine it is even worse to bear it with people watching.

  17. As human beings, we all have a long way to go in creating the glass room that is optimal for the raising of children.

    It is difficult to deconstruct when one has been married once or multiple times because our efforts to abstract become tangled up with our own experiences.

    My marriage to the unlikeliest of men is the source of my sense of wellth (health & well-being). I prayed for this. We have learned, gradually, to honor and protect the other’s solitude, as Rilke wrote.

  18. I’ll admit that I was relieved when my parents divorced. I was fourteen, and even though there had been no loud fighting, there was the feeling of being in a room with a pressure cooker, hearing the hiss. Neither one of my parents handed the divorce, our care, or themselves well from that point, but it was still the lesser of two evils, I think.

  19. My first reaction when I heard about Seal and Heidi was to gasp and yell NO! But the simple truth is no one knows what goes behind closed doors. No one knows about divorce and the process and the emotions unless one is going through it or has been through it his or herself. And even those who have may have experienced something completely different. There are still judgers out there. I hate that. Beautiful post. Thank you! xoxo

    My poor Amid Life has been neglected for so long… I must resume…

  20. The adults in my life growing up looked after their own interests in divorce first, the children’s interests second, if that. As an adult involved in more than one divorce I worked very hard to minimize impact on my young children. It’s a lot easier to do when the divorce process is amicable, reasonable. Another painful lesson in all of this for me personally is that adult children can also be traumatized by divorce, not just young children.

    Thank you for your thoughtful post Lisa.

    1. Susan,
      Everything you wrote is so accurate about how things have changed. And yes, parents who wait “until the kids are grown” – wow, sometimes harder I’ve seen.

  21. Every second marriage in Austria does not last. Divorce became normalcy.
    Do people really need to fall in love all over again? How mature is that?

    1. “need to fall in love all over again”
      Maybe it’s my Latin blood or you may blame it on too much time listening to the Beatles, but I do believe we do need love in our lives :)

  22. To say that marriage is only about children is not only wrong, but hurtful. I’ve been married for 8 years and I never intend to have children (but at 31 this could change). Does this mean that my husband’s and my 12 year relationship is merely a figment?

    Also it’s upsetting because that is a common argument used to claim that marriage is only for heterosexual couples.

    1. I’m sorry, I’m confused. Why would it be used as an argument for claiming that marriage is only for heterosexual couples? Homosexual couples can, and in fact do, also have kids.

  23. Ah, you are breaking ground M. Lisa! A book comes to mind instantly, “Choosing Civility”. A heavily-weighted, lite read, it may very well contain the rules necessary to construct that shakeable foundation built to withstand life’s tremors; becoming also the deconstruction manual if ever necessary. Products and by-products of the divorced surround on all sides, hurtful acts attempting to fill voids of low self esteem cut so deeply. The resulting scar tissue never completely heals. And on it goes… For some, mind you, not all. Tremendous post.

  24. Marcela – no doubt, we need love. But do we need to fall in love, for the kick, the thrill, feel the butterflies …? I prefer to “stick to my love” as long as possible. Even if it means I miss this heavenly feeling – falling in love <3 <3 <3 (I am referring to couples who divorce beause they fell in love with another person)

  25. I have been pondering this for a few days and it sticks with me. I agree with the commenter above – that I think you have a book to write.

    I worked in healthcare performance improvement – how to change community behavior (how to keep from killing patients! sad but true.) And we were beginning to use the tools of six sigma to measure and define what was preventable; studying types of human error and what steps could be taken to prevent the different types of errors. For example, sending someone to classes about the importance of not locking their keys in their car. This is the equivelent of what we typically do with our nurses when they make an error in patient care. A better fix for that type of error is the one like my car has – a design feature – a physical barrier that will not allow my doors to lock if the keys are in the ignition. Luckily, healthcare is getting better at understanding how to design for less chance of error rather than relying on humans in stressful situations to always make the right decision.

    Many of your commenters focused on the adults in a divorce. I read your idea to be about preventing the real problems with children that we typically see with divorce. And designing prevention in from the beginning.

    In youth development/mentoring work we understand that a child only needs one outside adult (who has a close long-standing relationship with the child) and the child will be able to bounce through nearly every pitfall of growing up. But mentoring programs are difficult and costly to administrate at a community level. Parents would be best positioned to create those relationships for thier child in the early years; when things are going well.

    Maybe your plan would require that the parents assign that adult at birth and nurture the relationship as an insurance policy? According to what you present, there is a 50% chance the back-up plan will need to be implemented. Your book could outline and support this.

    Even good parents are struggling. This is a specific action with no cost, supported by facts. As I say, I think you have a book to write!

  26. the topic brings a uniquely different opinion and perspective from every one of us. obviously there is no right or wrong – it’s all what people make of their situations in the end. i’m sad to hear that Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis are separating. I was hoping there were brave people who could make “long term happy” work for them. God bless Tom & Rita.

    someone once said they thought people often marry the wrong person, or divorce too soon. i think there’s wisdom in that.

  27. I came back to this post because I have been thinking a lot about the idea that there must be a way to make this better, to make sure children are protected when divorce occurs…it occurred to me that in-court, compulsory parental counseling when there are children involved could help. What I mean is that, as soon as a divorce claim is filed in court and there are children, parents are provided with the assistance of parental counselors who can guide them through the most difficult stages: what to say, what not to say, how to respond to difficult questions, how to deal with grief, how to assist children in dealing with grief, etc. Ideally, assistance for children would also be provided….just a thought…

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