The High Failure Rate of Second and Third Marriages

19 08 2012

Statistics show that in the U.S. 50% percent of first marriages, 67% of second, and 73% of third marriages end in divorce. What are the reasons for this progressive increase in divorce rates?
Theories abound. One common explanation is that a significant number of people enter a second or marriage ‘on the rebound’ of a first or second divorce. Often the people concerned are desperate; they do not allow sufficient time to recover from their divorce and to get their priorities straight before taking their vows again. In which case, they enter their next marriage for the wrong reasons, not having internalized the lessons of their past experience. They are liable to repeat their mistakes, making them susceptible to similar conflicts and marriage breakup follows.
Another reason might be that individuals in second and third marriages know divorce is manageable and is not necessarily a tragedy. They have handled it once, so they will handle it again. They may even recognize the warning signs earlier than they did first time round and are quicker to react, more determined to minimize the agony.
The growing financial independence of women is thought to be one of the reasons for the significant increase in the incidence of divorce in first marriages during recent decades. As individuals get older, they generally become more financially stable and feel more independent. It is, therefore, reasonable to assume that the greater economic self-sufficiency gained with age adversely affects second and third marriages even more than it does first marriages.
However, I believe that the prime factor affecting the breakup of second and third marriages is that there is less glue holding the marriage together: children, family. Parent-child relationships can be a source of conflict in some marriages, but overall children act as a stabilizing factor in marriages and when children are absent the marriage is prone to be rocked by minor storms.
Because the great majority of children born to married couples are born during their first marriage, when the parents are up to about thirty five years old, most couples in a second marriage do not have common children to bind them together. Conversely, not having shared responsibility for kids means it’s easier to leave when you are going through a rough patch. Perhaps ‘for the sake of the kids’ is not reason enough the stay together, though it can sometimes save a relationship.
In addition, because the couple does not have children in common, the element of family is not as central in second and third marriages. Consequently, the desire to ‘preserve the family’ is not a strong stabilizing factor. For the couple there is less at stake in allowing the marriage to collapse. This reduced importance of the family in second and third marriages may also explain why the couples concerned are said to be less ‘committed’ than those in first marriages.
Ironically, the presence of children in second and third marriages, if they are from previous marriages, can cause problems and lead to tension. Having to adjust to your spouse’s children and his/her relationship with them is often difficult for couples. Inevitably rivalries and arguments arise, making this a constant area of conflict. In these cases the children can be a destabilizing factor in a second or third marriage.
Generally speaking, relationships become increasingly tangled and complicated with subsequent marriages, as more and more individuals join the ever-expanding family. On a day-to-day level, maintaining those relationships is not easy and frequently generates animosities all round.
Clearly there are many people who learn the lessons of their first divorce and move on to happy, long second marriages. But all the evidence suggests that it gets harder and harder to keep the show on the road as you move onto the next marriage. It is this trend that is reflected in the divorce statistics.

Diagnosing Malignant Divorce.

19 08 2012

The chief hallmarks of a malignant divorce are: one, the speed at which it occurs, and two, its ferocity.

It is astounding how quickly relative amity turns into outright enmity when divorce is in the air. One minute you are functioning as an ordinary couple; the next you are at one another’s throats. All resentments and past accounts are called in, with no holding back. Even the one diaper change you failed to make seventeen years ago is not forgotten.
The shift from knowing the marriage is holding to sensing its breakup is explosive. All the emotions and forces that were contained or constrained by the marital framework are released when the marriage disintegrates, like a dam bursting. The pent up anger accumulated over years comes gushing out. In the blink of an eye, now rampant feelings turn into their dark shadow, their antithesis: love becomes hate; security becomes insecurity; what was recently sexually attractive becomes repulsive.
A question arises: were these feelings always there just waiting to come out or are they the product of the breakup? Agonizingly for the ‘victims’, answers are not immediately apparent.
One of most destructive traits of a malignant divorce is the tendency to renounce everything you had and cherished before. Somehow the years of being together, what you built up, the family you nurtured are all swept away in one fell swoop. They are not, of course, but that is the feeling you are left with when your spouse announces, “It’s over.” It is akin to wiping out the last ten or twenty years of your life. And in the event of betrayal, questions are asked of the most precious commodity of all, love. Does his/her infidelity invalidate the love we once had?
In the best cases, the two members of the couple recognize that the relationship has ended, value their achievements and mourn the loss. But a malignant divorce turns everything sour and you just want to be shot of the whole lot and have nothing to do with anything that he/she was part of, especially the intimacy. It all feels horribly contaminated so both parties try to distance themselves from anything they had in common, sometimes even their kids. They now count everything they had, personal, material and emotional, as ‘loss’, loss on a grand scale.

Divorce is heavily weighted in favor of malignancy because it involves fundamental, powerful emotions and drives: love, sex, jealousy, betrayal, anger, protection of children, physical and financial security. Once the emotions are threatened by the dissolution of the relationship they erupt with a vengeance. Hence the ferocity.
Because these deep emotions are fundamental to our being, our response to a threat to them is equally fundamental, equally primitive – primordial. And without trust, the adhesive of all normal relationships, which has inevitably broken down, the floodgates are open, breakup follows and things rapidly descend into acrimony, hostility and chaos.
Daggers are drawn, both figuratively and literally. A frenzied few are willing to kill for what is close to their hearts and their deeds are recognized as “crimes of passion.” More often both parties make do with being thoroughly nasty and screaming at each other; neither is listening. Dialogue has gone out of the window. Accusations, blame and threats become the sole mode of communication.
Issues arise one by one: the house, the kids, assets, friends. In fact, everything becomes an issue, a source of conflict, whether it’s an important matter like child-care arrangements or a trivial question like who is going to get which photo album. These ‘issues’ cannot be dealt with because each party is adamant, there is nil room for compromise and the wretched couple is dragged deeper into the mess of their own making.

To top it all, the sad irony of divorce is that the anger expressed, the extent of the malignancy, exists in direct proportion to the difficulty of breaking the bonds. In other words, the force needed to blow apart a closely-knit family unit with kids is tremendous. Consequently, reasonably decent, long marriages can easily end in toxic divorces.

Where Have All the Men Gone?

19 08 2012

An outsider casting a glance at the list of contributors to the Huff Post’s divorce vertical could be forgiven for thinking that divorce is a women-only phenomenon. When a man does appear he invariably deals either with the financial or the legal aspect of divorce, very rarely indulging in discussion of emotional issues and almost never of his own emotional experience of divorce.
Considering that men comprise fully half of the individuals who get divorced isn’t it reasonable to expect they would at least be a significant presence in the divorce discourse? As party to the breakups, surely men should be participating in discussions like their women counterparts, expressing thoughts and feelings. Yet as things stand, men are grossly under-represented in heartfelt divorce talk in the media, which is dominated by women.
By way of explanation, justification or maybe apology for this bizarre state of affairs reference is made to men’s supposed reticence to engage with their feelings, much less to talk about them openly. Expressing feelings is thought to be a sign of weakness, even unmanly, so men shy away from it. By contrast, in general women are thought to be more able and willing to get in touch with their emotions and more likely to express them in public.
The relatively small number of men visible in divorce territory seems to confirm John Gray’s division of society into stereotypes from Venus and Mars. This is disturbing because the very nature of divorce – two people terminating their marital relationship – demands something approaching equal reflection and consideration by the parties. Moreover, the fact that men are playing a marginal role in the divorce discourse implies that many of them are not processing their divorce experience, one of life’s major transitions, and not learning its lessons. This does not bode well for their mental health and, more particularly, jeopardizes their prospects of establishing satisfactory relationships. After all, if we do not learn from our experience we are doomed to repeat it.
With this in mind I would like to put out a call to all men contemplating divorce, in the throes of divorce and those already divorced: “Let us know what you are going through.”
For sure men are feeling the pain, sadness and loss that accompany divorce but are bottling up these feelings instead of releasing them. As a man who has publicly revealed his deepest feelings and vulnerabilities (as well as elation), I can vouch for the veracity of the axiom, “A pain shared is a pain halved.”
On the plus side, there must be plenty of stories waiting to be told by men who feel that their divorce has opened the way to better things, perhaps even transformed their lives. No doubt there are tales of triumph and joy that can provide both motivation and inspiration to those still stuck in the rough.
The divorce community, divorcees and professionals alike, would value more men’s stories and opinions on divorce-related issues like betrayal, recovery, open marriage, children and dating. It’s not as if the men are busy chopping logs or pondering the origins of the universe. By abstaining from the debate they are simply shirking their responsibility, primarily to themselves, but also to their families and to society. There is a lot they can teach us.
We all stand to benefit if more men are drawn into the divorce discourse, through persuasion or coaching, and contribute to our understanding of the BIG-D. At the moment their bit of the puzzle is missing, leaving a gap that is crying out to be filled.

Divorce Can Lead to Better Things

17 05 2010

I went through the divorce mill and came out the other side feeling better for it. However, it was not plain sailing. The breakup was tough, really tough. Firstly, I was shocked to learn that my wife was having an affair. It hit me like a train; I was torn apart. Secondly, divorce was not in my script at all, so when I saw my marriage crumbling beyond repair after nearly twenty years together and three kids, I was totally disoriented.

In fact, my whole life disintegrated. My family was in tatters; I was no longer a husband or life-partner and was struggling to remain a father. I lost all sense of who I was and my confidence plummeted. I felt completely deskilled instead of the reasonably competent person I had been. Every one of my accounts was called in – I stood naked at the counter of life. For me this was loss on a grand scale. Most of all, I felt emasculated and impotent in all senses.

Somehow I managed to turn the situation around. It took time, of course, and I was fortunate to have help, in the form of therapy. The therapy helped me to rebuild my confidence, to start believing in myself and to put myself center-stage. I shed a lot of my emotional armor and began to develop an awareness of my feelings. This fundamentally changed the way I functioned, shifting me from being ‘in my head’ to being ‘in my heart’ more; from looking out to looking inward. I gradually came to the realization that “it’s all in me”, that we see the world as we are, not as it is.

As I lifted the lid on my emotions and got in touch with my anger and my grief, so I found it easier to deal with my situation, particularly vis-à-vis my ‘wife’. I moved from a position of feeling weak and powerless to one in which I felt passionate and powerful. This turnaround stood me in good stead throughout our protracted divorce. In addition, I got the whiff of freedom in my nostrils; colors suddenly seemed brighter, smells sharper. My kingdom was smaller but at least it was mine; I was in charge of my own life. I learned to enjoy my unmediated contact with my children and not having to consult another person constantly. When my wife was away there was a welcome feeling of calm, relaxation and ease in the house that I came to appreciate.

My battered ego was given a boost once I started dating other women. I began to feel like a sexually attractive man, something I had not felt in relation to my wife, even in relatively good times. Just going for a walk and holding hands with a new woman was exciting. Naturally, I did not hit it off with every new woman I met, but I did with a few, which was enough to show me that alternatives existed. There are lots of fish in the sea.

With hindsight, I can see that what initially seemed like a double blow – my wife’s betrayal coupled with the sense of abandonment I felt as a child of ten when my mother died – eventually became a transformative experience for me. The change I underwent allowed me to enter into an exhilarating and loving relationship with the woman of my dreams.

While in the throes of divorce, I was sure my days of despair would never end. But as my story indicates, there is a way through the trauma of a breakup. Handled correctly and with a bit of help it can lead to better things. Better than you ever imagined.


10 05 2010

At the time of my protracted and painful divorce I learned to use affirmations and they really helped me get through an extremely difficult patch. Below is a list of some affirmations that I found effective. Some are specifically related to divorce, others apply to any sort of crisis or stressful period, a few are always valid.
Choose the ones that work best for you, copy them (maybe even by hand) and keep them with you at all times. Look at them regularly, until they become part of your thinking. Good luck.

Divorce affirmations
a) Seven points to keep in mind to help you ease the pain of divorce.
1. Let go of the past; learn from it.
2. The relationship with X is over. Rejoice.
3. Drop the X issue.
4. Life will be better without X.
5. My divorce has opened the way to better things.
6. He/she is off my back. Don’t pick up that load again.
7. I am infinitely better off without her/him.

b) Seven more points to keep in mind to help you ease the pain of divorce.
1. There are no endings; only new beginnings.
2. Life will return.
3. The pain will pass.
4. A new life beckons.
5. Give myself credit; keep my eyes on my own ship.
6. Go easy on myself.
7. I have a lot going for me.

Affirmations for you
Seven affirmations about yourself that are important to bear in mind.
1. Love yourself; you are 100%; celebrate who you are. Nobody can diminish you.
2. Grant yourself the power to: be assertive, leave the prison, do what is right for you (and others).
3. Grant yourself what you need: love, warmth, affection, tenderness and appreciation.
4. Be authentic and true to yourself; this is the essence of your strength and source of your power.
5. Go easy on yourself; be forgiving and give yourself credit.
6. Find your center and create yourself out of your talents.
7. Give the whole of yourself unconditional love. This is the chi.

Breakup as Wakeup

10 05 2010

Today divorce is rampant but while I was growing up it was rare. Not surprisingly, I came to believe that marriage was forever.
That is not to say that relationships between husbands and wives were always good back in the fifties. I am sure they weren’t, but for cultural and economic reasons couples tended to stay together, although there were some exceptions.

So, despite the slightly faltering start to my relationship with my future wife, I expected my marriage to last forever. After all, we were from similar backgrounds, had shared values, and we both viewed matrimony as a sacred institution that you did not enter into lightly, nor did you leave it without good reason.

In fact, for many years it seemed we were going to live out my vision of marriage and family life in much the way I had grown up to believe and expect. We lived pretty harmoniously, enjoyed doing things together, and had a wonderful circle of friends. We happily invested time and energy in our three children because their welfare was our primary concern. Overall the atmosphere in our home was relaxed.

This familial bliss continued for about fifteen years before cracks began to appear. For numerous reasons my relationship with my wife gradually deteriorated until we reached a stage where we were hardly touching each other and resentments began to build up. It was a dark period for me generally.

My solution to my mid-life crisis was to seek therapy for myself. By contrast, my wife’s response to our predicament was to have an affair. When I found out, about two months later, it hit me like a thunderbolt. I felt like I had been slit down my middle with a knife; opened like a tin can. The pain just seared through me. What I felt was an agonizing mix of betrayal, abandonment, hopelessness and impotence. It was as if my world had collapsed. My life partner, my wife of nearly twenty years, mother of my three children was saying, “It’s over. You are not good enough. I want a new man.” In the early stages I was completely swamped by a sense of my own inadequacy, as a man, and as a husband. Later these feeling turned into anger and rage.

Betrayal in the form of adultery is always painful. In my case, its exceptional power lay in the fact that it reawakened my deepest emotions: my wife was rejecting me in much the same way I felt my mother had “rejected” me by dying when I was ten years old. In effect the situation that resulted was similar, only now it touched the core of my being.

Initially I wanted to file for divorce and started proceedings. Then some incident occurred which convinced us that we should try to “make a go of it.” We made a little progress but it never got very far. Sadly, we got into a roller-coaster situation in which neither of us could ‘leave the marriage’ – a sort of paralysis. We descended to levels of acrimony that we would never have believed possible for us. It was not plate-throwing but it was pretty horrible. So we were on this see-saw of occasionally wanting to glue Humpty-Dumpty together again while knowing deep down that it was futile.

There are various versions of hell but one of them must be: an estranged couple living in the same house, sharing the same facilities and sharing responsibility for three children.

After almost three years of this misery, left with no choice, I finally initiated divorce proceedings. Within months we had split up and were legally divorced. Amazingly, there was virtually no argument at all between us over the terms of the divorce or the child custody/care arrangements. We shared all our modest possessions equally and each bought a house in the same area. By this time our older daughter was already at university and the two younger children had no problem moving between our two homes.

With the advantage of hindsight, I can see that the breakup of my marriage inadvertently turned out to be a transformative experience for me. The upheaval, coming like a bolt from the blue and feeling like hell, jolted me back to life and forced me to begin afresh. It shook me out of the fog I had been living in for years and liberated me in the process.

As it turned out, my breakup was a wakeup call.

How I Wrote the Book

6 01 2010

At various points in my life I have kept a journal but have seldom gone back to read them, except for the one I kept at the time of the breakup of my marriage.

That one is also unique in other respects: it stretches to almost two thousand pages and covers a period of about six years. My marriage took a long time to unravel and there was plenty to write about. And a great need to write. The journal, a chronicle of the breakup of my marriage, written in real-time in London in the early nineties, would become my book BREAKUP.

During my mid-forties I was feeling low, a sort of dark night of the soul. My work situation was unsatisfactory and my relationship with my wife was at a low ebb after about eighteen years together. As a way of dealing with my predicament I decided to go into therapy and immediately began to record my sessions with my therapist. This was the start of my journal.

To my dismay, after a few months of weekly sessions I began to suspect that my wife was having an affair and I confronted her. My suspicions proved correct: she had begun a relationship with a work colleague two months earlier. It came as a terrible shock – a real blow. The world seemed to collapse around me. I was thrown into turmoil, shaken to the core. I ached and agonized as the implications of the revelation gradually became clear to me.

What I was experiencing immediately expressed itself in my journal and I began to write furiously to keep pace with events. Every day, at all hours, I poured my heart and soul into my journal, unexpurgated and unfiltered. I just wrote, page after page. Sometimes the writing took the form of reams of flowing prose. At others it appeared as telegraphic notes, numbers or even doodles and symbols. In parts it is elegant, quasi-poetic script in others an almost illegible, crude, disjointed scrawl – all faithfully reflecting the fluctuations of my mood.

I had to get my feelings out of my system and onto the paper. The very act of writing was cathartic; things written suddenly assumed a clarity that was absent before. In short, my journal became my veritable “shoulder to cry on,” my refuge, my confidant. Of course I continued recording my therapy sessions as well. Sometimes it is difficult to know where the therapy ends and where “life” begins.

As my wife and I went through the torture of alternately trying to split up and battling to stay together, on and off over a period of a few years, I would religiously go to my journal and transfer to the page what had happened. It is my version that exists, not my ex-wife’s. It is subjective and one-sided, maybe in the extreme, in this case. However, for all its shortcomings, it has the virtue of being a brutally honest record of what I felt and thought at the time. It’s an insider view of marital disintegration, with all its agony and pain, as well as a testament to my process of transformation, leading to a new life.

The journal, all two thousand pages, was hand-written, mainly on A4 sheets of paper but also in two smaller hardcover diaries and twenty-three little notebooks of the sort I kept on me at all times. Being a semi-organized person, I dated every entry. When I left London in 1998 I stored all this material in boxes in a friend’s garage in Muswell Hill.

In July 2005, while sitting on the veranda of my pottery studio in the Jerusalem hills, the thought crossed my mind that my life story was encapsulated in an object that hung behind the studio door – a sweater. A green jersey as I like to call it. That jersey was knitted for me by our maid Johanna when I was a teenager in South Africa in the early sixties. Since that time I have lugged it across three continents and worn it for almost fifty years.

The jersey provided me with the inspiration to resurrect my journal, at the time still in my friend’s garage in London, as a book. Initially I had severe hesitations about publishing the journal because it is personal, intimate and confessional, but chiefly because my present partner felt a certain discomfort at the thought of my dabbling in my previous relationship. I put my doubts aside and when I was next in London I boldly decided to have all two thousand pages scanned onto a disc. I then got rid of all twelve thick folders of A4 sheets by putting them into the paper recycling bin. Somehow this act symbolically terminated the journal’s direct emotional association with the breakup of my marriage and placed it in less emotionally-laden territory.

Back home in Israel I began to type up on the computer the contents of the journal, which I could now see digitalized on an adjacent screen. Given the great length, the multiple, obsessive repetitions and the excessive detailing, I had to exclude a lot if I wanted it to approximate a standard book. I made a point of reducing but not adding anything. As to distancing me from the trauma, the digitalized format from the disc failed to keep all my emotions at bay. Despite the time lapse of some fifteen years, rereading the journal upset me. It really was a grim time.

Over the next two years I continued cropping the text. It now stands at 260 pages, just over 100,000 words – a good length. In the meantime I have added a prologue as background, a short introduction and an epilogue, divided the text into chapters and made some minor cosmetic alterations to facilitate reading. It has undergone copy-editing. Essentially BREAKUP, my book, is taken word-for-word from my original journal.

The Green Jersey, which gave me the inspiration to write the book, became its working title but I dispensed with the name, on the grounds that its connection to the subject was incidental. I did, however, go in search of the woman who knitted the jersey for me. In September 2007, after a nationwide effort in South Africa to track down Johanna Maart, I eventually made contact with her family. Sadly, she had died but I had an emotional reunion with her sister and four daughters in Wellington, near Cape Town, where I showed them the jersey. For me it represented the closing of a circle.

Green jersey