Second marriages and the face in the mirror

As family lawyers we spend a lot of time dealing with the consequences of divorce. That is, after all, our job. Helping our clients to deal with the turmoil and achieve the best possible end result is one of the main reasons we open our doors in the morning.

I suppose it’s inevitable then that our thoughts sometimes turn to that related but quite different issue: why do people get divorced in the first place? Sometimes, of course, the answer is black and white: they end up divorcing because their partner has abandoned them, their partner has had an affair, their partner has hit them. But the evidence suggests such dramas are in the minority. Most marriages come to an end because someone decides it just isn’t working out.

Earlier this week, one of my favourite sites, the Huffington Post Divorce Blog, ran a thought-provoking interview with the author of a recent self-help book called How To Choose A Husband And Make Peace With Marriage.  According to Suzanne Venker,  modern women, thanks to various social and cultural pressures, have become completely detached from the concept of marriage – they no longer understand or value it and the result has been an epidemic of divorce.

Just women? Well, of course not. Clearly, from the title downwards, this is a book aimed at women, but few could doubt that modern men have come under similar pressures and gone down a similar road in their approach to marriage.

Article author Beverly Willett is a divorcee and was particularly interested in Venker’s views on second marriages. As regular readers of this blog will know, my view of second marriages could be summed in six words: should come with a health warning. They are more likely to be poorly thought-through and more likely to fail. The emotional baggage which inevitably lingers from the first marriage can turn into a bomb which destroys the second.

For Venker, the most important thing to do when considering a second marriage is to really analyse why the first failed. She told Beverly Willett:

“…what keeps many women from making the right choice the second time is the inability to look in the mirror to see what they did wrong or could have done better.”

Again, this is of course, an observation that applies just as much to divorced men!

Venker continues:

“I’ve read the divorce literature, almost always written by women, and noticed a common theme: blame. The same thing happens in the press whenever there’s a Hollywood divorce, too, with the heroine wife hailed as finally free of the loser husband.”

According to the author, blaming one’s ex for everything that went wrong with the marriage is more about feeling good than about moving on for most people. It is an approach which will ultimately prevent you from learning lessons that need to be learned and so make that second marriage even more likely to fail.

She says:

“To suggest all or even most of the women who initiate divorce (about two-thirds) were married to “bad guys” and had no choice but to get out is to bury our head in the sand.”

I think there is a lot of truth in these observations. Nowadays especially, marriage is often overloaded with a complex mix of social and personal expectations. Some people love the ideals and promises of marriage but feel hemmed in and let down by the reality. Some people look to their partners for some impossible sense of inner fulfilment. It’s no wonder so many marriages fail these days.

Looking a long hard look at oneself in the mirror can be painful but the rewards can also be great.

Photo by Julie Elliott via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence

Marilyn Stowe

The senior partner at Stowe Family Law, Marilyn Stowe is one of Britain’s best known divorce lawyers with clients throughout the country, in Europe, the Far East and the USA.

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3 comments

Dan - February 16, 2013 at 1:37pm

Full marks for not putting out the “fembot” line!

Is marriage advisable for any guy in the current climate unless his wife to be is far wealthier than him?

JamesB - February 16, 2013 at 2:40pm

Thanks for this article. I liked it. Yes, the man is usually the given reason. However, many people fall into the trap of believing their own propaganda and thus the real reasons not identified. I think it is an excellent point you raise and I thank you for it. There is a saying something like anyone can make a mistake, but you are silly if you continue to make the same mistake. I think it’s Einstein’s definition of madness. Doing the same mistake over and over again expecting the answer to be different the next time. Tom Cruise springs to mind. Still perhaps some people learn on the third or fourth time, but to me that seems too painful and perhaps even masochistic.

I did read your book this week. I liked it. Especially the comment about the amicable and acrimonious divorces being better than the forlorn hope ones. There was a lot of good advice in there.

JamesB - February 19, 2013 at 2:29pm

Sometimes people just cant get on and cant make it work anymore. But I think that’s about 1/3 of divorces and the other 2/3rds should work things out rather than blaming the other person and letting their pride get in the way.

In answer to Dan’s question, yes, I think so, the best thing surely is to get married and live happily ever after.

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