I was five years old the year that Kramer vs. Kramer swept the Oscars. Since I was too young to see it, it would be about two decades before I would realise how prescient the film was or how pervasive the term “irreconcilable differences” would soon become. However, I was old enough to sit at the grown-up table when my parents had dinner parties and perceptive enough to pick up on the sidelong glances guests gave each other or the hushed tones adopted when referring to couples who were having a ‘tough time’ or considering ‘parting ways’. The gravity and discretion they deployed made me feel….uneasy…like there was something slightly taboo about all this.
My “kidar” was on point because in the early 1980s there was a significant amount of stigma associated with divorce. Presently, that shame has not so much been eradicated as co-opted by an aggressively cheerful self-help culture that has [to quote New York Times columnist Heather Havrilesky] “little tolerance for slow recoveries.” We talk a good game about “giving space” and “doing you”, but feel no way about micro-managing the mourning process of the emotionally shattered and utterly betrayed. In this waning age of moral relativism where personal freedom supposedly [still] trumps all, the parameters for grieving heart-wrenching partings or marital failure are surprisingly rigid. Now, that’s understandable if you’ve got kids in the mix. But, what about DINKs [Duel Income, No Kids]? Think a 30-something female financial analyst can quietly crawl into a bottle of vodka and not emerge until she’s obliterated all memory of the pretty girl her ex-hubby knocked up at work? Think, again. Fully wallowing is a no-no. After all, there are grief schedules to keep and break-up blowouts to book; buddhic platitudes to mouth and cathartic change to oh so gratefully embrace and accept. All that’s required from you is a change in your perspective. Once you make that paradigm shift, you will see the soul-crushing loss of the ONLY ONE you banked on growing old and dying with is nothing more then a “triumphant rite of passage…a wake-up call or breakthrough on the road to self-fulfillment“. Uh-huh. Right. Truth be told, I’ve always hated such euphemisms. They’re the psychological equivalent of nails on a chalkboard and [these days] there seems to be no shortage of them or reasons to end a marriage.That wasn’t always the case, though. Before no-fault divorce was legislated in Canada and the United States, obtaining a divorce was uncommon, onerous and there were very few grounds under which you could file for one, especially for women. In order to secure one, couples needed to prove one or the other had either committed some kind of sin [e.g. adultery] or crime [e.g. domestic violence]. By 1970, the new law was in full effect and couples no longer needed to be beaten or abandoned to dissolve a partnership, just unhappy and in agreement on their “irreconcilable differences” . This change revolutionized marital relations by not only redressing the existing power imbalance, but facilitating the move from an institutional model of marriage to a “soulmate model”of marriage.
I. Pandora’s Box
Today, modern marriage is being challenged by yet another ground-breaking development: social media. Like Pandora’s box, social media can yield a real mixed bag. While some couples find that digital tools facilitate communication and support, others report being quite hurt, frustrated or even betrayed by them. Now, there are those who argue that social media is a new field; that it hasn’t been around long enough to conduct the kind of studies necessary to explore it in great depth. That may be true, but the reality is you don’t need a think tank to tell you that technology complicates the marital matrix. You also don’t need a subject matter expert to explain to you how social media [much like drugs and alcohol] lowers inhibitions, making it easier to do certain things or reach out to certain people you normally wouldn’t. . The reality is millennial matrimony already labours under a set of unique societal conditions; ones far more permissive and complex then those your Mom or Grandma had to maneuver within. If you’re a Gen X-er or a Millennial you’re personal network is probably like an onion with multiple layers. There’s your inner sanctum of besties, but there’s also layer after layer of ‘friends’ [male or female] of all stripes: you’ve got high school acquaintances and gym buddies you know well, co-workers you’ve befriended, even the odd “work spouse,” exs you’re in touch with and people you’ve casually dated who are in your periphery or closer etc. You would think that only you or the members of your circle has the power to shift or change how close or important the relationship you share is. Not so. As I noted in my previous blogs on dating and friendship, social media has a vital influence on the way we meet and keep people in our lives, especially our mates. Apparently, I’m not the only one who feels that way. CEO of DivorceHotel Mediators Jim Halfens does, too. Jim argues that the temptations that abound in the digital world make partnership a much riskier venture; one that requires more work and investment. Countless apps allow disenchanted partners to manage multiple relationships, be they virtual or otherwise. According to him, “emotional and physical affairs are now delivered on demand thanks to social media and technology.” In 2014, the Italian Association of Matrimonial Lawyers declared that 40% of Italian divorce cases cite Whats App as a factor in adultery and a joint study conducted by the Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile and Boston University published in the July 2014 edition of Computers in Human Behaviour concluded that people who use Facebook are 32% more likely to leave their spouse”. Although there’s still no conclusive evidence that social media is exclusively to blame for the demise of about half the couples we know, it’s still managing to mess with marriages in a serious way and this is how.
II. The Facebook Factor
Ahhhh…Facebook. Launched in 2004, this social network has singled-handedly flipped twenty-first century dating and mating on its head. It’s transformed every aspect of inter-personal relationships from making friends to managing partners. It’s shifted our notions of self-worth and how we value the people we do and why. It’s a double-edged sword that allows us to ‘build our own tribe’ online professionally, but can undermine everything we personally cherish or invested time to painstakingly build in a swipe or two. Facebookcheating.com is the case point. The website was started by Ken Savage in 2009 after he found out his wife was having an affair with an old flame she had reconnected on Facebook with. The site claims 1 in 3 divorces is caused by FB. When CNN interviewed them back in 2010, Facebook denied it was responsible for breaking up millions of couples world wide and rightfully so. Its ludicrous to blame an app for the destruction of 5, 10 or 30 year- old partnerships when the only person who should shoulder that burden are the philanderers themselves. Blaming Mark Zuckerberg for every Facebook-fuelled hook up and bootie call won’t change a thing. It’s not his job or that of any social media platform to police partnerships or provide the means to insulate users from being potentially tempted. Needless to say, the topic is a controversial one that has caught the attention of not only FB aficionados, but scientists as well. Although they have yet to establish a causal relationship between Facebook and negative marital outcomes, data collected in the last few years does indicate a noteworthy correlation between the two, particularly when you factor in certain demographics like marital seniority and age.A 2013 study done by the University of Missouri School of Journalism generated quite a bit of ink when it found that excessive Facebook use significantly predicted conflict between romantic partners, which then predicted negative relationship outcomes such as emotional and physical cheating, break ups and divorce. Not surprisingly, the biggest issue they stumbled across was creeping. The more a partner used Facebook, the more likely they were to stalk their S.O’s page. What they found often produced feelings of jealousy and insecurity and those feelings could induce arguments, particularly about previous partners. Facebook users are also more likely to connect or reconnect with other users , including their exs, which may lead to emotional or physical cheating. Curiously enough, the findings of the University of Missouri hold only for couples who have been in relationships of three years or less. This suggests that digital tools like Facebook mainly threaten newer relationships as opposed to longer, well-established ones. Family law firm McKinley Irvin makes no such distinction. According to its 2015 study, 1 in 5 people have found something on FB regarding their partner that made them feel “uneasy” in their relationship and at least 25% of the couples surveyed fight about Facebook at least once a week, whether that be because of their mate’s activity on it or the amount of time spent using it
III. The Twitter Effect
Than there’s the Twitter effect. Russel Clayton, a doctoral student involved in the previously referenced 2013 study conducted by the University of Missouri found that active Twitter users are far more likely to experience Twitter-related conflicts with their romantic partners. Moreover, these conflicts can lead to emotional and physical cheating, even break-ups and divorce. According to the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, 81% of lawyers have used tweets as evidence in divorce cases to prove: a party’s state of mind while being on social media; the existence of certain types of communications; and to confirm the time and place certain events took place. Another point of contention among married couples is social media access. About one-third of married couples keep their Twitter account locked and their password private. This practice is most prevalent among younger users age 18-29 who were using social media well before they met their partners.According to a 2013 study conducted by the Pew Research Centre, age playes a key role in how social media platforms like Twitter, FB or Whats App influence the quality of relationships. 45% of the couples 18-29 surveyed said that the internet had an impact on their relationship; only 10% of adults 65 and older reported the same. I gotta say, that’s quite a difference and indicative of a significant generation gap when it comes to value respective users attach to technology.
IV. Where is the Love?
” Marriage is counter-cultural act in a throwaway society.” – Dr. William H. Doherty
So…where is the love? If all the of the above is true…and its all just doom and gloom: is there any hope for modern matrimony? If you go by these stats, there barely seems to be any hope for monogamists much less those who aspire to happily ever after. But, I suppose that’s the beauty of living in what is easily the most creative era of human history. Why? Because we are free to choose the kind of life we want for ourselves and to create our own reality. We have a choice: we can choose to work at our relationships or not. Thus far, the truth is technology can make short work of relationships that are either too fresh or already weak. But, if we value our partnerships, we can make a commitment to strengthen them and invest the time required to create the rock solid foundation they will need to survive. We can talk to our mates and hash things things out, instead of settling for easy answers and external validation from illicit third parties. How is it we can spend months shopping for a car or weeks combing through website after website looking for the perfect pair of boots or bikini, but we can’t set aside time to talk about how much we love our partner or figure out how to get on the same page as them? The CEO of DivorceHotel Mediators Jim Halpens doesn’t feel social media is to blame for killing marriages. He sees it more as a litmus test for marital communication, trust and longevity. Unfortunately, it appears to be one many are failing, even though they don’t have to. Ultimately, the choice is ours. We can succumb to the present throwaway mentality and treat our partners like Kleenex or we can listen to them with R.E.S.P.E.C.T, maybe even meet half way with a lil’ TLC. Above all, if we can find our way from thinking in terms of just “me” and make the leap to “we”, we might just find the loving partner in crime waiting for us on the other side is way better then any third-rate digital fantasy.
How do you feel about love and romance in the new millennium? Are you a mater or a dater? Do you still believe in love and commitment despite the depressing stats? Please share!