Editor’s Note: The following is excerpted from Diane Medved’s Don’t Divorce, and reprinted here with permission. On June 21, the author and her husband, radio host Michael Medved, will join NR senior editor Jay Nordlinger for a public conversation at Seattle’s Town Hall, hosted by the Discovery Institute. Space is limited, so please pre-register here.
Even the best marriages are subject to forces in our pro-divorce culture that exert pressure toward dissatisfaction. They’re magnets that tug spouses apart in their moments of ennui, frustration, or anger, and the inertia of their pull can ultimately propel them to a receptive “Divorce Industry” awaiting customers.
Awareness of these lures can help couples recognize and combat them.
Divorce Magnet Number One: Sympathy, Not Stigma for Divorce
When wedding vows were iron-clad commitments, divorce was considered a failure, inviting responses we now deem “shaming,” followed by long-term stigma. Now it’s usually harder to get out of a business deal than a marriage.
We care what other people think about our looks, our accomplishments, and our associations, crafting sterling online personae, but we worry little that we’ll be tarnished by the failure of our marriages. In fact, acknowledging that you’re “going through a divorce” wins a comforting embrace, a caring reassurance of your value, in a striking cultural flip that took just a single generation.
In fact, you’ll get a lot more sympathy by splitting than by announcing that you’re working to mend your marriage. Friends assume a divorce leaves you shattered and bereft, requiring their piteous hugs, while restoring your marriage implies that you’re bold and hardy. Most people in a difficult marital moment prefer the warm embrace of sympathy, especially when the alternative is a difficult process with an angry or hurt spouse.
“Going through a divorce” is also a nifty excuse for slacking, fudging on promises, and behaving badly. If you miss a deadline or take a long lunch while “going through a divorce,” your excuse is obvious. The assumption is you’re emotionally strained, and since heartache supersedes duty, your hugely emotional event occasions unlimited forbearance. The over-the-top accommodations we make for divorce makes it a no-lose option.
Divorce Magnet Number Two: Sex Is Everywhere (Except in Marriage)
When you don’t like your spouse, when you’re angry or betrayed or verbally abused, sex in marriage is either completely selfish or manipulative. And when a couple perches on the verge of divorce, usually there is no sex.
In that case, intimacy is available everywhere except in the one place it should be. Just the existence of the phone app Tinder keeps non-marital sex and physicality a constant possibility. Business Insider reports that 12 percent of those using the app are in a relationship.
Unsuspecting workers, drivers, TV viewers, Internet users — everyone — constantly encounter invitations to stray. Come-ons span the continuum from subtle to screaming, but most importantly, they’re ubiquitous. Motor down a thoroughfare and billboards splashed with “T & A” vie for your attention. Buy a few groceries and those tabloids at eye level show you the before-and-after of some voluptuous starlet in a revealing evening gown or bikini.
When a couple perches on the verge of divorce, usually there is no sex.
While a myriad of websites and apps offer contact with a live person, pornography offers the thrills without the bother of a close encounter. Younger men routinely access porn — despite evidence that private viewing hurts relationships. A representative study in 2014 by the Barna Group for a Christian organization found that “eight out of ten men [in the general U.S. population] between the ages of 18 and 30 view pornography at least monthly,” as do “two-thirds of men between the ages of 31 and 49” and half of men between 50 and 68.
“Three out of ten men view pornography daily,” the study found, even though many realize it’s a problem. Asked if they’re addicted to porn, a third of younger men “either think that they are addicted or are unsure if they are addicted,” and “18% of all men” think they’re addicted or are unsure, “which equates to 21 million men.”
Pornography undermines commitment to an existing relationship in both the short and long term, according to a series of five studies by Brigham Young University researchers. And the more porn the subjects consumed, especially men, the less commitment they demonstrated.
Divorce Magnet Number Three: Workplace Priority and Proximity
When we teach young adults to fulfill their potentials through successful careers but fail to balance that with any mention of successful marriages, priorities become skewed, and marriage falls into second place. Earning a baccalaureate ostensibly prepares graduates to achieve, but no collegiate institution teaches students that their most meaningful accomplishments will pertain to their families and marriages, even though plenty of academic research shows this.
For example, a 2012 study of 25,000 graduates of Harvard Business School — whose education puts them in immediate demand for top-notch positions — found that recent graduates defined success as career ascent, but 20 to 40 years later, definitions centered around family and personal fulfillment. “For me, at age twenty-five, ‘success’ meant career,” responded a woman in her forties. “Now I think of success much differently: Raising happy, productive children, contributing to the world around me, and pursuing work that is meaningful to me.” The researchers noted, “When we asked respondents to rate the importance of nine career and life dimensions, nearly 100%, regardless of gender, said that ‘quality of personal and family relationships’ was ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ important.”
If that’s the case, why can’t colleges report the truth, that family-building deserves as much preparation and attention as individual career fame and academic supremacy? Why do we celebrate those who strive for professional success but ignore failure or lack of tenacity in marriage? The difference in the way we treat work and marriage excuses neglect of relationships and ultimately foments divorce.
Our competitive workplace has become so demanding that those seeking professional ranks must devote a huge proportion of their waking hours to their jobs — stealing time, communication, and concern away from their families. Priority of career over family introduces emotional distance between spouses, exacerbated by daily physical proximity to colleagues of the opposite sex.
Of course, this can pose serious temptations. Wouldn’t it be great if every worker focused on the tasks at hand and maintained only professional relationships with co-workers and superiors? If every encounter with a new colleague was task-focused, and physical appearance were irrelevant?
Combine these vulnerabilities with trends toward casual fraternization, and the result is more marital infidelity. The blatant truth is that propriety is passé. Standards of familiarity and formality that once defined boundaries have slipped so far that addressing a customer as Mr. or Mrs. So-and-So is often received as snotty or rude. “Hello, Diane, I’m Sam. How’s your day going?” — breezily asks the operator for an online retailer who got my order wrong. Well, I don’t really want to tell you, Sam.
A survey of 31,000 persons on “office sex and romance” commissioned by Elle Magazine found plenty of threats to monogamy in the workplace:
• 92 percent of respondents said a co-worker they found attractive had flirted with them;
• 62 percent admitted at least one office affair (while 14 percent said they would never date someone from work);
• 42 percent were married or in a relationship at the time of an office affair;
• 41 percent had sex on the job, and 16 percent used a boss’s office. Seven percent got caught in the act, but 87 percent got away with no consequence;
• 19 percent had serious employment consequences from an office affair, but just 3 percent lost their jobs;
• 9 percent of married philanderers said their affair led to divorce or separation, while half reported no marital consequences.
Lax marital boundaries and attitudes, a sex-permeated culture, porn, career-achievement emphasis, and workplace chemistry combine to bring even the most devoted couples challenges to their satisfaction. The first defense is to discuss these influences with your spouse where and when they occur. Voicing disapproval to your partner cements your connection, and allows you to prepare together for their impact when these factors inevitably enter your sphere. Vice President Pence was chided for his rule to avoid after-hours dinners with women alone, but with it he avoids any whiff of impropriety and sends the message that he’s dedicated to his work agenda. By increasing communication with your mate, with or without policies you jointly decide, you can create a barrier around your relationship that allows it to remain sanctified and strong.