What’s the Last Straw?
What Makes You Decide “This Is It, It’s Over?”
There are a variety of reasons for ending a marriage, but some experts said one reason is usually at play: conflicts over what they want from their relationship.
When women choose to divorce, they are taking a leap of faith that they can build a better life for themselves or their families alone, said Susan Shapiro Barash, the author of nine books that explore women’s issues.
They are taking a big risk,” Barash said. They are shaking up the family, putting their children in much less than optimal situations. They are doing it because they think they can make a better life for themselves.” Barash has interviewed thousands of women to explore the personal issues that guide them for books such as A Passion for more: Wives reveal the affairs that make or break their marriages and Women of Divorce: Mothers, Daughters, Stepmothers. Barash also teaches about gender issues at Sarah Lawrence College in New York.
She said they women with whom she has spoken tend to be disappointed in what their marriages are offering in their lives, and they are willing to find their way without a husband. Women are very disappointed in marriages,” Barash said. Romantic love is at a premium.”
The reason for many divorces is a sense of expectations not being met for one or both of the spouses, said Lynn Jarrett, a licensed clinical professional counselor who has been a relationship expert for 18 years. They have expectations that aren’t even discussed until they are married,” said Jarrett, who is also the founder of Forte Enterprises.
Included under the umbrella of unmet expectations are a variety of issues, Jarrett said, including emotional needs, sexual desires or financial issues. In her experience, financial issues have been at the forefront of many failed marriages. They have very different ideas,” Jarrett said. They are entering into marriage with debt. They don’t have good money management skills.”
She and her husband mentor newlywed couples in an effort to help them begin their marriages on solid footing. She said she has seen that the first few incidences in which one spouse is disappointed in the other can cause a fissure in the relationship that continues to erode if it is not discussed. There’s this great divide that comes pretty quickly at the first hurt or sense of betrayal,” Jarrett said.
And if it is left untended, it will get worse, she said. A lot of hurt, rejection, sadness, anger, frustration,” Jarrett said. There isn’t a lot of trying to understand each other’s personality differences.”
WITHOUT RESOLUTIONS TO THE CONFLICTS, MARRIAGES WILL FAIL
As couples mire themselves in the negative feelings that arise during a conflict, they continue to feel helpless about how to repair their marriages, said Christie Lawrence, who, with her husband, runs Pathways Life Management Seminars in Texas. The seminars, a system founded by Dr. Phil McGraw, help couples resolve conflicts within their relationships.
Lawrence said that by the time couples reach her seminars, many are in crisis, her term to mean that they are well on their way to divorce court. Her goal in her seminars is to help couples learn to discuss and resolve the negativity between them. She said most couples do not have the tools to heal the issues between them.
There are a variety of reasons for divorce,” Lawrence said. What happens with most people, there really is no course on how to be married; you are just supposed to know what to do based on what you have seen modeled. The challenge is you may not have had good role models.”
For example, Lawrence said, one spouse may have spent a childhood listening to parents argue, and uses that model to be very vocal about dissatisfaction. The other spouse may have come from a household in which no one fought about anything. That spouse would be completely caught off-guard by a loud argument. They think it’s the end of the world because they truly do not know how to do conflict because they have never seen it,” Lawrence said.
With most of the couples Lawrence sees, there is some kind of sensitive, hot topic between them. Any time discussion creeps toward the topic, the arguing begins, she said. And the common way to manage the hot topic is to try not to discuss it, she said. So couples ignore it, and you know how successful that is,” Lawrence said. So they feel hopeless.”
In her line of work, Lawrence said, she has seen a countless number of ways that couples destroy their relationships: controlling, attacking, fault-finding, abuse, neglect. The hardest for her to tackle in her seminars, she said, is when one spouse has a romantic relationship with someone else. You’ve got a variety of relationship-defeating behaviors that are really toxic,” Lawrence said.
When a relationship is at its end, it is because the partners see no way to repair the damage, she said. When someone files for divorce or is ready to leave, it is because they have lost hope that the situation can ever change, or that the other person can ever change,” Lawrence said.
Michele Bush Kimball has a Ph.D. in mass communication with a specialization in media law. She has spent almost 15 years in the field of journalism, and she teaches at American University in Washington, D.C. She recently won a national research award for her work. She can be reached at m.kimball@Wevorce.com.