How many truly good marriages have you known?
Straight, gay, even long-term partnerships. How many have been really happy and respectful? Yes, of course, relationships over years contain ups and downs, but of the ones that make it through, how many are not just long in years, but healthy?
Not many, right?
This amusing-but-true Slate article demonstrates what can impel someone to want to blow up their marriage after kids arrive.
Beyond sharing the inevitable work that comes with children, there are other reasons for marriage break-up. Two people marry who really shouldn’t. One partner changes so much that the relationship is harmed. Or events outside the marriage impact it terribly. Or mental illness erupts. Or. Or.
There are lots of reasons for people not to be joined to each other. And really only one – that they do better together than apart – for them to stay married.
Unfortunately, the American obsession with preserving the two-parent family is hurting women who are being abused within their marriage, and their children, as this article demonstrates.
Researcher Sara Shoener, from the article: “My point . . . was that when we as a community frame marriage as a universally good thing for families, we bolster the obstacles intimate-partner-violence survivors must overcome to secure safety for themselves and their children, no matter their place in the social structure.”
We all know of low-income women who hesitate to leave abuse, who figure they must sacrifice their own health and safety in order to give their children an in-home father figure. Note that the sons of these abusive fathers can grow up to be abusers themselves, that daughters accept more abuse, and that men who abuse their wives are often also assaulting their children in hidden ways.
But what of higher-income families? They’re not as violent, right? Not necessarily.
Shoener notes, “Since the op-ed ran, I have been inundated with messages from women in upper-middle-class families who have been hiding their partners’ violence. Particularly for women who have dedicated their lives to raising children while their partners were the primary wage earners, leaving a violent marriage would entail an upheaval of their entire social and economic lives. For example, one woman wrote and said she was afraid that if she left her violent husband, she wouldn’t be able to afford her children’s school and extracurricular activities, thereby disadvantaging her children and removing herself from her support network. She described a life filled with tennis lessons, PTA meetings, afternoon play dates, and couples’ activities that would have to be sacrificed. The disadvantages of single motherhood look different for different women, but are frequently a factor in their decision-making.”
The reality is that the system, and the US insistence that marriage – any marriage – is better than two single parents, exposes children to violent fathers in order to attempt to buttress unhealthy marriages.
Shoener: “I observed a lot of social service and court systems [where] safety considerations were often overlooked . . .. When survivors [of abuse] resisted this arrangement, they risked being considered uncooperative or vindictive. In fact, many attorneys who represent survivors told me that they try not to bring up their clients’ experiences of abuse to avoid being seen as selfish or petty. Abusers could exploit this reality to garner more power.”
And the system allows them to do this, thus endangering not only the survivor of abuse, but the children.
In fact, men who have been demonstrated to be violent can still have legal access to guns and go on to commit murder, as this article shows. In the US, it happens every day.
How to change this marriage obsession in a reality of politicians who extol marriage per se as an intrinsic good rather than placing weight on the quality of the union?
“I would absolutely agree that children who are lucky enough to have two loving parents [in the home] are going to fare better on average than those who do not,” Shoener says. “But I’d argue that value is derived, in large measure, from economic and social resources — a house in a good school district, money for extracurricular activities, time to check homework — that single parents have a more difficult time accessing. There’s a large body of research that suggests that abusive relationships drain those resources, rather than contribute to them . . .. In my estimation, we could build a stronger community by better meeting the needs of parents in a variety of family structures, rather than focusing solely on incentivizing one that isn’t going to work for everyone.”
If we look at nations that prioritize children’s well-being (the Scandinavian countries, where parents’ marital status is unimportant compared to how they nurture their children), we see that there’s a stark divide between them and us.
Prioritize marriage – no matter what – or prioritize kids? It really can’t be both.
Let’s stop regarding a marriage license as proof of family health.
It’s never been that.