Whither Marriage?/Martin Rosenfeld

Posted on September 28, 2010


Two significant article/essays appeared last year dealing with divorce and its outcomes. They underscore the need both for marital mediation and divorce mediation. These pieces appeared in Atlantic and Time magazine. First, a word on marital mediation. An article on this newer mediation field appeared in mediation.com in May 2009. Marital mediation is a term attributed to John Fiske in 1997 wherein he described a type of consultation between married people who wish to talk without “pathologizing”. Marital mediation helps a couple talk about how to stay married. The goal is to effect behavioral changes so the couple can maximize their happiness together. This stands in contradistinction to the two magazine articles that are highlighted below.

The Atlantic Magazine article on marriage was entitled “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” by Sandra Tsing Loh. Ms. Loh is convinced that happy marriages are at the the 10% level. Why then do people stay married, despite the lack of love and happiness? They do so, says Ms. Loh, for their children, to spite their parents, or because there is no other real option. Her advice is to avoid marriage (she was involved in an unhappy union) or risk suffering the pain of having a mid-life break-up for something “as fleeting as love”. Ms. Loh’s article is hard-hitting and judging by blog comments, she is well known as a resident cynic and biting observer of the human condition. Is she right? Only the reader can judge. She does make her depressing case in a well-written piece.

A similar tack is found in Time Magazine (July 13, 2009) in an essay entitled “Why Marriage Matters” by Caitlin Flanagan. Ms. Flanagan documents the marital trainwrecks such as that experienced by the Edwards” and Sanford’s. She concluded that the marital breakup statistic is the single-most force causing hardship to this country’s populace.

Ms. Flanagan examines the toll divorce exacts from children. While we recognize that marital bliss is something of great worth, we are not prepared to put in the hard work and sacrifice to get to this point. The essay concludes with the question of what marriage’s purpose happens to be. Is it meant to give pleasure to adults or does it have the traditional purpose of ensuring the new generation’s safe passage into adulthood? (She bypasses MANY other possibilities.) The final verdict? “What we teach about the true meaning of marriage will determine a great deal about our fate.”

The above essays, viewed one year later, paint a frightening picture. Divorce rates are roughly 50% of all marriages. The work of mediators and mediation will have much impact on how future generations thrive (or fail) in light of the odds that are adverse to their interests. Our work is cut out for us. I prefer to think Ms. Loh of Atlantic magazine is wrong. If she is not, society will pay a heavy price for its inattentiveness to the issue of failed marriages. It is the hope of this blog that some conversation will be paid to the question of how long we can allow the lack of civility to pervde the marial relationship. Reader comments are welcome.