Do not even think about divorcing until you watch the tapes of
Frank Pittman's keynote addresses at the Smart Marriages conferences,
"Teaching Men Marriage" and "What Are Men For, Anyway?" Order 752-006
and 753-006 from 800-241-7785.
DVD: $25.95. Or audio CD for $15.95. This below is NOT a transcript of
the keynote. It is a response written by Pittman to an article in the journal, Family Process.
Response to "The Death of 'Till Death Us Do Part': "Marriage in the 20th Century"
Frank S. Pittman, III, M.D.
Bill Pinsof has given us an articulate, beautifully documented examination of the
emergency state of modern marriage. From down here in the trenches I can assure
you it is as he describes it. Divorce, an emergency solution to desperate circumstances,
used to be an extreme action, reserved for emergencies. Suddenly it has become the norm.
Pinsof’s solution seems to be to declare divorce normal, to make marriage therapists
neutral about marriage, and to dedicate ourselves to removing the stigma from fathers
(and theoretically mothers) who run away from home, children, and adulthood in their
ever frantic search for the narcissistic fulfillment they consider happiness (which
fatherless men, raised by single mothers, tend to see in terms of seduction and
abandonment of every new women.)
Pinsof’s family of the future would involve single mothers, now declared "normal"
their fatherless children, also rechristened as "normal", all enjoying the benefits of no
longer needing men except as sperm donors, unless the guy wanted to hop on for a
temporary gig. We all know that neighborhood, and the theory of a world without men
(except every now and then) might set feminist hearts aflutter, but the reality is a disaster.
Scandinavians may have built a social system around government supplementation of
an increasingly fatherless world, but that hasn’t reduced their suicide rate. So far our
social efforts in "government as father" have not impressed.
Women may not need men anymore. Great. Children still do. But it may be even more
pressing that men need families, and wives, and relationships (like marriage for instance)
which are permanent, total and equal, and even, if people work at it over time, based on
love. I realize that some people would feel safer if marriage were less total, less permanent,
less equal, so they’d have an easier out. But the requirements of marriage are largely based
on the needs of children rather than the wants of those afraid of adulthood.
Pinsof’s proposal of neutrality toward divorce, marriage, and what happens to the children,
would, in my nightmare, leave a world of angry, overworked women, child-like disconnected
men, and depressed children with no concept how to become grownups. This could not be
much worse than what we have now, but it would surely further feminize poverty, redefine
childraising as women’s work, and undo the freedom women have achieved in recent
decades to raise children and pursue careers at the same time while expecting help from a
man, who is not just passing through, but is committed to the children as well. Men aren’t what
they could be, or even what they will be if we can train them better for marriage and childraising
rather than just for war, sports, making money and putting on a macho show. But they are some
help, and a lot safer to have around kids than the average stepfather or pass-through man of the night.
After 42 years of working with over 10,000 couples in various states of crisis, I can confirm
that divorce has already become increasingly popular and is now considered not just normal
but the expected and perhaps inevitable final chapter of marriage. Divorce is considered,
by the media, by the TV and newspaper advice giving "experts," and even by many of the
professional therapists, particularly the youngest and least experienced ones, to be the
treatment of choice for mild depression ("I’m just not happy,") for unpleasantness ("I felt
verbally abused") and for sexual attractions to passing strangers or casual friends ("I must
not be in love with my mate.") All baby boomers are sure they deserve an ideal partner and
when they discover they don’t have one they know they should be free at any moment to
dump this imperfect one, put the kids in storage, and go back to the perfect partner collection
for another try.
The situation is already outrageous and tragic enough without our trying to pretend this is
normal. I can assure you that the least significant impact of divorce is social stigma. These
children’s families and security are being ripped apart, and as nice as the concept of binuclear
families cooperating swimmingly is, it doesn’t happen much. Half the children of divorce haven’t
seen their fathers in the last year and they suffer.
At various times in our history---death in childbirth, death from Plague or in the trenches of WWI,
death from childhood infectious diseases or recently HIV, in some neighborhoods death or
dismemberment from gunshot wounds, have all been so common as to be the normal course
of life. Anything that causes this much unnecessary human suffering is not normal, however
popular. We can change things when we refuse to give up and call it "normal", "god’s will,"
"human nature" or, here, "primate nature". Witness the change in our attitude toward cigarette
Divorce is not a benign procedure. As the data has come in (Wallerstein and Hetherington measure
different things, and put a different face on it, but they find much the same thing) the casualty
rate, the percentage of kids who don’t achieve functional status is about 25%, several times
higher than all other causes put together. Most children of divorce survive but do not recover.
They get along well enough to function but not well enough to achieve success in relationships.
We can’t raise kids this way. What of the adults? Half the divorced partners remain miserable, half
have temporary relief. In general, though you would never know this from what’s on TV, married
people are not just healthier and wealthier but happier than divorced ones (and they get a lot more
and better sex.) Most divorced people remarry. The divorce rate for second marriages is higher
than for first. Divorce clearly doesn’t teach them what they failed to learn the first time around.
I’ve heard many explanations for why these last two generations of people in Western society
(the baby boomers, etc.) did such a lousy job with marriage in the wake of the sexual revolution
and the celebration of escape from having to grow up. Just look at the movies from that era
to understand how powerful the message that happiness would come from running away from
home. Pinsof includes some of the better explanations, but surely the best is that society
encouraged divorce as the shortcut to happiness and therapists became neutral about marriage,
some of them actually believing the heartless and outrageous myth that "the kids are resilient,
they’ll be just fine." Well, they won’t. The belief that kids don’t need parents is based on the
idea that children are the real adults, sent by the devil (ROSEMARY’S BABY 1968, THE EXORCIST
1973, THE OMEN 1976) to keep grownups from running out to find and embrace happiness,
while adults are delicate children who will surely be miserable if they don’t get their heart’s desire.
I’ve also heard various explanations of why the divorce orgy slowed down in 1980. That one is
easy, anybody who looked up could see that divorce as the secret of happiness did not work
for the grownups and sure didn’t work for the children.
Many forces have merged to destroy the human family. Just as patriarchal men have run away
from home if they couldn’t be the boss, there has been a strong feminist push to declare men
to be unnecessary, and potentially dangerous, in the lives of women and children. Actually,
abuse and incest by fathers is fairly uncommon, while abuse and incest from stepfathers and
passing boyfriends is alarmingly high. As Hamlet told us, the man who sleeps with the Queen
is not, thereby, the King nor the father of the Prince. Fathers are not just interchangeable men
in a child’s life. And unless the value of fathers is understood and appreciated, it is going to be
hard to make the human family and human civilization much different from the family and civilization
of our cousins the chimpanzees.
Rather than normalizing divorce, let us see this blip in the history of marriage as a warning of what
happens when the world fails to support the family, or especially fails to understand the function
of men in families and the function of families for men. Fathers certainly don’t have to be boss,
but children need them on their parenting team.
We have to understand what divorce is about. Despite all the research about marriages failing
if couples complain, criticize, stonewall or show contempt, I don’t know any couples who don’t
do such things some (or most) of the time. But I have rarely seen an established first marriage
end in divorce without someone being unfaithful. (Our researchers fail to ask about infidelity,
since they tell me it is so nearly universal, it couldn’t possibly be relevant.) Affairs occur in good
marriages and bad, and wreck either.
Helen Fisher, in ANATOMY OF LOVE, gives a fascinating neurochemical explanation of how
infidelity causes divorce: infidelity is exciting, causing an excessive production (in men and
women) of testosterone and amphetamine like neurotransmitters, at the expense of comfort
seeking and nesting hormones like oxytocin or happiness and contentment producing hormones
like serotonin. People in affairs are nuts, dependent, desperate, miserable and paranoid, unable
to relax around their familiar mates. They are not necessarily unhappy with their marriage before
the affair, but they are afterwards. Adulterers can’t reestablish intimacy as long as they harbor a
secret or fear their partner’s anger and rage. (See the recent movie UNFAITHFUL for a picture of
what a thoughtless, motiveless affair can do to a serene and cozy marriage.)
The skills, including fidelity and honesty, that make marriage work are easily teachable, just as the
skills that make sex work are easily teachable. But no one will bother if therapists are busy being
neutral and the media are touting the joys of divorce
To me, looking up from my caseload of the betrayers and betrayed, the divorced and divorcing,
the children of divorce and the survivors of the last generation of divorces, this is a societal
emergency. Normalizing divorce, even further than it has already been normalized, is a cruelty joke.
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