FOCUSING on divorce in Hong Kong, where Eastern and Western cultures exist side by side, Asia Magazine observed: “Lack of communication, infidelity, sexual difficulties and incompatibility are factors which are usually at the heart of marital conflict with both Chinese and Western couples.” The story is the same elsewhere in the world.
Both men and women with career-first mentalities are quick to sacrifice their families for their work. Thus, they slam closed the shutters on family communication. Tired after a day of work, the husband buries his head in the newspaper. Junichi and his wife operated three restaurants and worked from eight in the morning until ten at night in different places. “There was virtually no communication between us as husband and wife,” admits Junichi. This lack of communication led to serious marital problems.
Another factor leading to breaking of marriage bonds is people’s view of extramarital sex. Sex outside of marriage is now so rampant that 20 percent of the males and 8 percent of the females who responded to a survey in Japan admitted that they had had sexual contacts outside their monogamous relationships within the past year. Not unusual is the career woman in Japan who went out with men other than her husband. She flitted from one man to another, thinking, “If my husband finds out, I’ll just divorce him.” Modern society winks at these affairs.
This same society promotes a me-first attitude, so that both husband and wife become self-centered, which leads in turn to incompatibility, another cause of divorce. “We as a couple could have separated anytime,” says Kiyoko. “As soon as we were married, my husband told me to be a robot and just do as I was told. When things were going well for him, it was not too bad, but when things got rough, he wouldn’t admit his faults and blamed everything on others. I was also to blame, since I used to rebel against authority. I found it very difficult to obey my husband when he was being unjust.”
Other reasons for divorce are violence and drunkenness, financial problems, difficulties with in-laws, and mental abuse.
What Is Behind It All?
However varied the reasons for divorce are, there is something more behind its worldwide surge. Although the East blames the influence of Western society for its ills, the acceptance of divorce in the West is a recent phenomenon. In fact, divorces in the United States tripled and in Britain quadrupled over just the past few decades. Andrew J. Cherlin of The Urban Institute (a research organization investigating social and economic problems in the United States), though admitting that the causes for the rise in divorce are not well understood, lists “the increasing economic independence of women” and “societywide attitudinal shifts” as being among the factors behind the trend.
For women in the United States, as well as those in other industrialized countries, to be married and working outside their home is no longer unusual. However, the husband’s portion of the household chores has been very slow to increase. It is no wonder that some women mutter: “What every employed woman needs most is a wife!”
While women work their fingers to the bone washing, cleaning, fixing meals, and caring for children, in the United States, “many men enjoy time spent in ‘hanging around,’” says the book The Changing American Family and Public Policy. This is observed the world over, say anthropologists. In Japan it is not unusual for menfolk to go out socializing after work. They claim that it is a must for smooth human relationships at their workplace, while they ignore smooth human relationships at home. Since men, according to their logic, are the breadwinners, women and children should not complain. With more women working, however, such thinking is shown to be mere rationalizing.
Another major factor contributing to marital failure is the “society-wide attitudinal shifts” or, as the Journal of Marriage and the Family puts it, “a decline in the ideal of marital permanence.” To brides and grooms of the 1990’s, the traditional marriage vow of “till death do us part” no longer means just that. They remain on the lookout for a better mate. If that is how newlywed couples view their bond, how strong will it be?
These social changes are not at all surprising to students of the Bible. This inspired book reveals that since 1914 we have been living in the “the last days,” which are “critical times hard to deal with.” People are “lovers of themselves, . . . unthankful, disloyal, having no natural affection, not open to any agreement.” (2 Timothy 3:1-3) So to people who love themselves more than their mates, who become disloyal to their spouses, and who cannot come to any agreement in their marriage, divorce becomes the only way out of their marital problems.
A Door to a Happier Life?
Divorce, in most cases, has not proved itself to be a door to happiness. “Divorce is deceptive,” says mental-health researcher Judith Wallerstein after a 15-year survey of 60 divorced couples. “Legally it is a single event, but psychologically it is a chain—sometimes a never-ending chain—of events, relocations and radically shifting relationships strung through time.” Her studies show that a quarter of the women and a fifth of the men had not got their lives back on track a decade after divorce.
Especially vulnerable are the children of divorce. From the same research, Wallerstein found that for virtually all the children involved, divorce exerted “powerful and wholly unanticipated effects.” Some children who deny any negative feelings over their parents’ divorce may suddenly find such emotions surfacing later on in their lives when they seek a marriage mate.
This is not to imply that all victims of divorce will never find happiness, since some do. For these, a reshaped personality arises, usually from the ashes of the old. For example, once the shock of a divorce and its accompanying grief and doubts about self-worth are over, an innocent mate may emerge from the ordeal a stronger, more vital, whole person.
One wife whose husband left her for another woman explains that after the hurt and anger start to subside, “you find that you are different inside. Your feelings have changed. You can never be the person you were before.” She advises: “Take time to get to know yourself as an individual again. In marriage the mates generally subdue their likes and desires in deference to the other person, but after a divorce, time should be taken to find out what your likes and dislikes are now. If you bury your feelings, you bury them alive. One day they will come back, and you will have to face them. So you might as well face your feelings and work through them.”
Because of an increasing awareness of the problems divorce poses, it is becoming less attractive as an option. Time magazine reports that a growing minority of counselors are now encouraging troubled couples: “Stay together.” David Elkind of Tufts University wrote: “Experiencing a divorce is a little like breaking your leg on a ski trip: No matter how many other people at the lodge break their leg, your broken leg doesn’t hurt any less.”
Divorce is not an easy way out of marital problems. What, then, is a better way to resolve marital differences?
A legal divorce or a legal separation may provide a measure of protection from extreme abuse or willful nonsupport.