Tag Archives: divorce

Time To Redo This Ten-Year-Old Research – and Examine Men This Time

(To my readers: A recent move and downsizing has been a bit of chaos. Culling is tough – and worth it, since less is easier to re-move than more. Still unsettled, but with reliable internet, I’m back to the blog. Thanks for reading!)

When was the last time you heard of a man who, newly separated or about to be from his girlfriend/lover/wife, murdered her… and often her children? It happens often enough. Here and here and here. This man had the chutzpah to claim his religion allowed him to murder his wife. This man set up the murder to look like an anti-Muslim hate crime. This man, a police officer, murdered two of his small children as well as his wife.

What were these guys thinking???

Often enough, the relationship is discovered post-mortem to be replete with abusive and controlling behavior on the part of the husbands. They monitor where their wives go, who they talk to. They insult them, attack them with words and fists. They apparently believe that to do so is “manly”. Especially to a smaller person who would not be permitted under current rules to enter the same boxing ring.

Bad enough, right? Definitely cause for friends and family to haul her to safety and haul him over the coals.

Yet to accelerate to murder?

In all this household culling, I’ve unearthed articles I printed out once upon a time. Most have been trashed. Several, I kept, including this one entitled (it was 2005) “Why breaking up is hard to do for women”. In it, the author quotes a study of brain research that found that “brain activity associated with separation grief follows a unique pattern that is different to other types of loss such as bereavement”.

At least in this small sample of 11 women getting over a recent break-up and using MRI technology, “the results suggested that the women who claimed to be suffering the most following their break-ups had the greatest brain changes when thinking about their former relationships”. Their neural pathways had been altered by the trauma of relationship loss.

Such changes evidenced as grief, depression and sadness. Said one woman, “To me, the break-up felt worse than a bereavement. I felt angry, depressed and physically very lethargic. I could not concentrate on anything and would lie on my bed for days on end.”

That’s a female subject. Women’s depression commonly is experienced as sadness and withdrawal.

Depression in men, however, can look quite different. Irritability, hostility, anger, substance abuse are all signals of male depression – and they are clear risks to others. They may even, as above, be lethal.

It’s beyond obvious that we need to assert to male friends and co-workers, to brothers, sons, and cousins, “No matter how bad you feel, do not take anyone else’s life.”

Another factor to make clear is that emotional trauma – for so long the criticized province of women – can affect the brain of anyone at all. Yet it is temporary. It will not last. During that period, we need to protect vulnerable people, especially wives and children, from the man whose brain has been affected. And society needs to make sure he does not attack.

If that means taking away his guns and knives, why not? How much does it cost society to lose a murder victim? How much in lost hours, lost hopes, the therapy for survivors and friends? How much to arrest, try, convict and incarcerate the murderer? Those costs – which ripple out like a stone cast into a pond – are too high for society when by acting, we can prevent them.

It would help, too, when this ten-year-old research is replicated with adult participants who are, this time, male.

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Conflict-Free Divorce Is Just As Damaging To Children As Conflictual Divorce? Really? And Is It More Damaging Than Living In A Home With Both Parents But Filled With Conflict, Rape, Abuse . . .?

A child’s brain


A recent article suggests that what used to be called “European divorces” – where the parents act civilized and put their children’s needs first and foremost – is just as damaging to kids as conflict-driven divorce.


Ha. Ha. Ha.


When my eldest daughter was a college first-year, early on in the fall semester she and her hallmates engaged in a meet-up moment in the dorm, trading histories in a circle with coffee. Many of them had divorced parents. Lots of those parents had handled the circumstances badly, despite their educations (high) and wealth (ditto). The girls spilled tales of nastiness, verbal abuse, can’t-be-in-the-same-auditorium-together and vengeful holidays.


When my daughter’s turn came, she hesitated, then told of her parents: how they not only attended her sports events but actually sat together; how holidays were conflict-free; how they worked hard to make sure the children whose lives they had disturbed experienced as little pain as possible.


Wow, said her listeners. We would give anything if our parents would act like that.


In my work as a mediator, I’ve seen too many divorcing parents who are at each other’s throats, with – as we examine the effect – surprise that their children are hurt by their immaturity. Sometimes one ends up murdering the other – and/or the children, too.


I’ve also seen collaborative parents whose older children actually tell them how pleased they are to be living with less furor than their peers.


Case closed.


Yet there’s another aspect of this: Even if conflict-free divorce were hard on children, would it be harder or more dangerous than life for children where both parents stay married to each other, but where the family home is rife with conflict, abuse, assault and rape?


That cannot be. Because living in those homes is terrible for kids. Sir Patrick Stewart, now age 74, still recoils from memories of his father’s physical rages against his mother, beatings that local police did nothing to help, for which local ambulance staff even blamed the victim.


Because Ray Rice is in the news, let’s think for a moment of his little daughter’s experience of life. So far, her parents have been in conflict. There’s been verbal abuse. There’s also been horrifying physical violence perpetrated by her father. Since it was clear from Rice’s behavior on that dreadful video that it was not the first time he had punched the mother of his child, chances are that their toddler, Rayven, has already witnessed violence.


Every act of violence, every word of conflict, acts on children’s minds just like a drug does. Agitation and fear wash through them, setting up a cascade of neurochemicals that have the power to change circuitry. It alters their brains.


If the abuse is directed at them – physical abuse like that suffered by Adrian Peterson’s little four-year-old son, whom the football player (6-foot-1 and 217 pounds) assaulted with a whip-like branch; rape and sexual assault; the daily slaps common in some cultures – children’s brains receive an even greater neurochemical flood. Now the brain itself is under attack. The changes in it may never recede. It may be primed to run, to attack, to freeze, rather than rationally approach life. It is no longer a healthy brain. It is the damaged brain of a survivor. Just as a scar tells of a wound to the skin, a child’s behavior can reveal what she endured at the hands of people bigger than she.


So, is conflict-free divorce worse than that?


I don’t think so.



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All Breakdowns Cost . . . Not Just Marital Ones


A Telegraph story quotes UK Welfare Minister Lord Freud about couples cohabiting without being married: “Those couples are four times more likely to split when their child is under three than if they are married.” He promises to support marriage (by which he really means heterosexual unions, as being more likely to produce children who need looking after) and reduce payments to single parents – most often, of course, female parents.


It’s awfully nice that Lord Freud cares so deeply about children. Would that the rest of the Conservative Party did. If only they had not removed the benefits that married couples received, years ago. If only, too, they acknowledged that marriage, even heterosexual marriage, in undergoing a revolution. It will never again be the 1950s-style union the Tory Party would like to recall, even those Tories who have no memory of the 1950s because they were born after that era.


Caring for children, giving them loving guidance, is an essential task of society. So why do the UK and US make it so difficult?


The BBC reports here that many parents are paying more for childcare than they are for their average mortgage. Another report here points out that London parents, in particular mothers, cannot afford annual childcare costs of approximately $18,000, so they are leaving work – at a time when many politicians blame non-working parents. Whether there are two parents or one paying hardly matters, when the issue is the high price of quality childcare. Is Lord Freud addressing that? Hardly.


In Sweden, many parents are unmarried and stay that way. It is not marriage that keeps them in the home and caring for their children – it is the sense of family, of responsibility and partnership, which are supported by Swedish national policies.


When bad marriages create pain, why keep them intact? It is not just spouses that suffer from the evil actions of the adult they’ve married. Children suffer, too.


As a child, Sir Patrick Stewart witnessed his father repetitively beat his mother. He has never forgotten. “As a child, I heard in my home doctors and ambulance men say, ‘Mrs. Stewart, you must have done something to provoke him. Mrs. Stewart, it takes two to make an argument.’ Wrong. Wrong! My mother did NOTHING to provoke that — and even if she had, violence is NEVER, ever a choice that a man should make. Ever.”


Now that he is, as he says, “an old white man” who will be listened to, he has been speaking out against domestic violence because that kind of breakdown costs. His work for Refuge, a nonprofit that helps women whose husbands and partners mauled them, is proud and essential work. Yes, Sir Patrick survived. He has done well. How many others have not? How many former children never got over the trauma of their parents’ treachery? How many perpetrated violence themselves?


That, Lord Freud, is a family breakdown.


There are married parents who stay in the home and abuse and rape children, either hiding it from the other parent or threatening the spouse with murder, mayhem, deportation if word leaks out.


That is a breakdown of the family.


What about the parents – heterosexual, married – who subject their daughters to the horrors and continuing pain of FGM? Who beat their children for talking to a friend of a different religion or caste? Who arrange marriages of underage children to people they have never even met, often much older than they? Who perpetrate or condone dishonorable killings of their own children?


Lord Freud, what more horrible evidence of family breakdown is there?


You think this does not cost???


In terror, in mental illness, increased violence, suicide, intergenerational conflict, arrests, lawsuits, trials, convictions, prison time? In fear, blame, shame, in children wondering where help lies, whom can they trust, dare they tell a teacher?


We understand. For you, money is the only counter, and your party does not want to pay for other people’s children. We get it, you think it essential that both biological parents care for all their children within the context of a legal marriage.


But seriously, Lord Freud, the lack of marriage is not the problem here. It’s the lack of structure. The lack of hope. It’s a society that has turned its back on loving guidance – both of those words equally stressed. It’s condoning violence within the home, financial shenanigans that remove jobs, unlimited immigration (and in the UK, giving immigrants benefits no other society allows, simply for arriving) that pits very different cultures against each other. It’s the lack of respect for schools and teachers coupled with an economy so shaky that no one knows when they might be downsized or sacked, where entrepreneurship is sometimes the only logical answer.


It’s not the lack of marriage alone. If it were, Sweden – with its thousands of unmarried yet diligent parents – would bubble with unrest.



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Rom-Coms to the Rescue!


A scene from Don Jon


Just in time for Valentine’s Day comes the news that romantic comedies can save your relationship!


This news, heralded in multiple places, comes as a shock to many men, who routinely put down the films their girlfriends and wives like. It boosts the usefulness of rom-coms far above the CGI trappings of movies like the Transformers franchise. And the comparison that Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character makes in the movie Don Jon, that romcoms are like internet porn? Not even close, man.


Honestly, though, not all the movies couples watched were romantic comedies. On Golden Pond, for example, is a story about family. And that’s the point.


Here’s what the study, at the University of Rochester in upstate New York, involved, according to The Express:


“Participants in the study attended a 10-minute lecture on the importance of relationship awareness and how watching ­couples in films can draw attention to our own behaviour. Then the 174 couples watched the 1967 rom-com, Two For The Road, about the joys and strains of a 12- year marriage.


“Afterwards, each couple met to ­discuss what they had seen and make ­comparisons with their own ­relationship. As ­homework, they were given a list of 47 films, from ­classics such as Gone With The Wind to the ­latest ­adaptation of Leo ­Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, to watch each week during the study and then discuss.


“Films included some obvious romances and tear-­jerkers such as A Star Is Born (1954), ­Indecent Proposal (1993), Steel ­Magnolias (1989) and The Way We Were (1973). There was the odd comedy ­surprise like Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948), and the oldest film was Made For Each Other (1939).


“Professor of psychology Ronald Rogge said: ‘People have a pretty good sense of what they might be doing right and wrong. You might not be able to get your husband into a couples’ group, especially if you are happy, but watching a movie and having a discussion about it, that’s not so scary.’”


So while romantic comedies were part and parcel of the assignment, the real focus was on watching films about relationships, and then discussing them with regard to the couple’s own relationship. In other words, “Talk, people!”. Those conversations resulted in a reduction in the divorce rate from 24% to only 11%. Couples engaged in the study were less likely to divorce. Whether they had healthy, abuse-free marriages, however, was not researched. All we know is that they were half as likely to file for divorce.


Still, it’s worth a shot, right? The study in its entirety is online, including the list of films. Go ahead, check it out, keep Netflix busy. It could be a lot less expensive – counselors, attorneys, anguish, kids’ emotional pain, time, money, and so on – than divorce. And you can do it yourself!


For married heterosexual couples, this is the ultimate DIY.



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First Comes Love. After That?


Marriage. Or, as in The Princess Bride, mawwige


We pretty much think we know what marriage is. It’s that time that happens after the wedding, be it ornate or a few mumbled words in a registry office, the months and years together. Sometimes apart. With children or not, through choice or impossibility.


We often think it’s a man-woman thing. Or a woman-man thing. In some places, it can also be a woman-woman or man-man thing.


Among people of certain religions, it can be a man+multiple women thing. Much less frequently does it involve one woman and more than one man, although anecdotal evidence out of India and China indicate that such marriages, usually involving brothers, are increasing and will continue to do so as the “lost girls” phenomenon (abortion of female fetuses) continues.


A lot of people, like this Washington Post columnist, think marriage is a state to be desired for all single people. Tell that to the women assaulted and murdered by their husbands, or the spouses of both sexes married to the insane, the emotionally cold, the manipulative, the sociopathic.


Marriage does not carry the cachet it did a generation ago, and with good reason. As divorce became easier, it grew apparent that what we need is a better way to be matched with a loving spouse.


It’s no wonder that in some Western societies, people intentionally have children before they marry. Sometimes they never marry. Swedish children are more likely to be raised by two unmarried parents than American children are to be raised by two parents still married to each other. As we know in rearing kids, healthy presence counts.


This Australian article mentions the thoughtfulness that the current crop of young-and-in-loves bring to the question of to marry or not.


“Australian Institute of Family Studies senior researcher Lixia Qu attributed the decline in the divorce rate to the fact more than 80 per cent of marriages were preceded by couples living together these days and couples marrying later in life. ‘People are quite cautious nowadays about marriage,’ Ms. Qu said. ‘When they do get married, they’re older, they’re a bit more mature, they’ve experienced a sort of weeding-out process.’”


They’re also doing less hormone-driven thinking. In the US, studies show that the divorce rate is higher where people are encouraged to marry young and have children right away. When they wait, they are more likely to have healthier marriages.


The Guardian interviewed 20 young adults from different nations to learn their takes on marriage. Yes, no, maybe so? Their responses varied from “oh, yes” to “probably not” and several stops in between. What was most interesting were their approaches. Thoughtful, measured, and in this era, with a definite eye toward economics.


Which is not to say that the heart has no say. Indeed it does, as well as a concern for both spouses’ well-being. This lovely article lists ten alternative wedding vows, genuinely meaningful ones.


“I promise to nurture your goals and ambitions; to support you through misfortune and celebrate your triumphs” – that’s #6 on the list. What a fantastic promise to make and to keep.


As the reasons for marriage have altered through the centuries (who in contemporary Western society marries in order to connect adjoining parcels of land? – a common course in the Middle Ages), so our taste for marriage waxes and wanes. If parenthood is no longer as important as in the past, if remaining with a partner is the most essential thing, including tax advantages, emergency care and passports, then we will still marry. We will still risk. Perhaps we will weigh the risks and marry not from obligation or temporary passion, but out of a loving friendship.


While searching for a photo, I found this lovely statement:
“If I had my life to live over again, next time I would find you sooner so I could love you longer.”


Says it all, really.


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