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March 2, 2010: Divorce

Topic Host: Tyler Asman

In March we will be discussing the ins and outs of divorce (and consequently, of marriage, too). Some questions to explore include:

- When did the rising trend in rates of divorce begin, and why?
- Divorce may be more acceptable, but is a change in societal norms too simple an explanation?
- If we're so bad at staying married, why do we keep getting into it in the first place?
- What are the biggest contributors to divorce?
- How can divorce be avoided?
- How to marry well and do a good job staying married.

Please post a comment if you have any interesting resources you would like to share.

Or, if there is a particular angle/question you'd like explore, let's hear it!

Here are some background materials to review:
A very brief outline of an Austrian study - why divorce rates increased - quick stats - correlation of other factor (age, religion, education, etc.) - NY Time Mag article on improving marriage and perceived problems

Myths of divorce - mostly I thought this was funny....


  1. Great article from The Atlantic:


  3. Thanks, Tyler, for handling this topic with such passion and openness.

    Once again I was struck by how nuanced the discussion was. There were no prevailing trains of thought and a drive to consensus was not part of the conversation. I feel satisfied in our lack of group conclusions about what makes marriage work, and under what circumstances divorce is better than staying together. I asked the question about fundamental “truths,” but I’m glad we didn’t try too hard to identify any.

    I appreciated KaLynne’s perspective that marriage is not a fundamental good – that the institution itself serves the people who participate in it rather than the other way around (Sorry, KaLynne if I’m putting words in your mouth – feel free to contradict/clarify). I find myself struggling to articulate the opposite view. For me, there is something bigger about marriage as a force unto itself that serves the greater good, and that as people we have a certain responsibility to society to participate in it and support it. I can’t think of another human arrangement that provides such a constant opportunity for development of character. For marriage to “work,” I think both partners have to practice discipline, selflessness, sacrifice, love, resolving conflict, and self-respect. And these opportunities are amplified when couples raise children. As I mentioned in the dialogue tonight, I believe being in a relationship has much richer potential for growth and depth of experience than being alone. I think the commitment carries its own power regardless of the players.

    We talked about relativism - about expectations of marriage being rooted in the culture we come from and how those expectations dictate our happiness with the results we see. In chatting with Denver after the dialogue he mentioned the need for spouses to develop a shared understanding of those expectations from the beginning. I like that idea, but what does that look like? It is a whiteboard discussion? Is it a cyclical conversation you have forever without ever really resolving anything? Does it require a counselor? How much pride-swallowing is required on both sides to adjust one’s expectations in order to match another’s – or is that even necessary? I think to some degree this is the “stuff” of marriage – the work part people kept referring to. It’s the process I called learning, and I think Matt called education and Tyler talked about in relation to the NYT article on improving marriage like you would anything else.

    I feel oddly hopeful after this conversation – perhaps because I am so entrenched in the American ideal of hope and possibility that we discussed (irony noted). Whatever the reason, I am surprised and pleased that I am walking away from a dialogue about divorce feeling hopeful about marriage. I loved what Ed said about marriage being about commitment to another person's happiness - not just commitment to a person or even to an ideal, but to understanding and seeking to satisfy your spouse’s needs and wants. There is a simplicity about that approach that I love, even though the implementation is far from simple.

    Thanks to everyone for your good thoughts. So glad we do this every month.


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