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What's With Gen X and the Divorce?

by Carrie Michael

Have we all lost our minds?  The current divorce rate (50% of all married couples) in America sickens me.  And Generation X, their immediate predecessors, and the generation following them (what are you people called again?) seem to go through marriage and divorce like monkeys go through bananas.

In my short 30 years, I have watched people I know walk down the aisle, look deeply into their partner's eyes, profess love, commitment, fidelity, and faith, spend tens of thousands of dollars on the big to-do wedding, reception, and honeymoon, and seemingly have it all.  

The next thing I know, my mother is calling me to announce that yet another couple I know was listed in the hometown paper as being divorced.  They still list those things in small towns, you know.  Or, I'm getting a call from a weeping friend, hearing her tale of how her husband cheated on her or just plain told her he couldn't stand to look at her for another minute.  Some of these people dated for many years before deciding on tying the knot, but still ended up hanging from the noose of unhappiness in the end. 

Not yet married myself but with the person I intend on being married to one day, it frightens me to think that he could turn from Mr. I-Love-You-Forever to Mr. Gotta-Go-See-Ya-Later.  Although I don't think he would ever do that (since he is being so careful about committing to marriage in the first place), it does ebb in the back of my mind.  People seem to change without notice, to become someone they weren't in the beginning, and their partner is left floundering and wondering what the hell happened.

So what is the deal?  I have come up with some answers of my own to combat the raging questions in my head concerning marriage. 

  •  People are jumping into marriage hastily because their partner pressures them.  

A friend of mine we'll call Lori had been dating a man we'll call Ted.  Lori and Ted had been together for 3 years, and Ted had not once mentioned the notion of marriage.  Lori  was getting pressure from family, friends, and her own desires, so she put the pressure on Ted and gave him the grand ol' ultimatum.  "You have 3 months to decide whether I am the girl you want to marry.  I have plans for my life, and I want to be married and start a family.  If you can't commit to me in the next 3 months, if you can't propose, then it's over."  Ted, a nice guy who just wasn't ready for that kind of commitment, panicked.  He knew Lori was serious and didn't want to lose her. So he told himself he'd get used to the idea and produced a 2 karat diamond ring for Lori's finger at the end of that week.  That thing was blinding.

Lori happily planned their wedding, reception and honeymoon, but Ted stayed out of the plans.  Deep down he was too scared and just wanted the whole thing to be over with.  No more Bride magazines piling up, no more swatches of fabric, invitation samples, and table favors cluttering up the kitchen table.  Lori didn't notice his disregard for the plans, because when she'd ask his opinion, Ted would nod and smile and agree with whatever she wanted.  

They were married, but within the same year, Ted realized he had made a huge mistake, making such a lifetime commitment before he was ready.  He asked for a divorce and Lori was both shocked and devastated, demanding to know why the hell he bothered getting married in the first place.  "I loved you," Ted replied, "And I didn't want to lose you.  I figured I'd get used to the idea...but I never did."  

Lori cried to me over the phone numerous times, "Why did this happen to us?"  And my reply was gentle but truthful: "If Ted wasn't ready, you shouldn't have pushed him into it."

Although the pressure can come from other sources, not just the partner, it usually filters down into the partner anyway.  A parent pressures her son to marry a certain girl, he does it to please his parents, and now look where he is!  Caught in a marriage that wasn't true in the beginning with a divorce on the horizon.

  • People don't know how to take REAL commitment seriously anymore.

Americans are so accustomed  to the kind of commitment that a lease, a rental, a job contract, and even something we buy comes with, that we think everything can be returned, exchanged, or cancelled with little or no penalty.  

You rent a DVD, and you can return it on time with no fee.  Lease an apartment, and the lease is only for a limited time. You can even break the lease and all you lose is money.  Buy a TV, and you can return it if it doesn't turn out to be what you expected.  Hell, you can buy a house and sell it again the next day if you really hate it.  

Americans are so used to temporary usage, that they sometimes forget that there are commitments that are larger in size, with more to risk and more damage to be done if it turns sour.  Things like marriage and having children include other human beings hearts, souls, and minds.  They are not returnable, and many people cannot recognize this.  They see any commitment as something they can reverse with no penalty.

  • Couples don't communicate enough before getting married.

Todd and Jane were two of the happiest people I knew.  They could go out and have fun together, joking, smiling, laughing...just a great couple to be with.  I always envied them, thinking that they really knew each other deeply, really had a grasp on what a relationship is really made of.  

When they got married, I never thought they would part.  I really saw them as a perfect couple, two people who talked and shared and had it all together.  These two were going to make it!  How wrong I was.

What I didn't know about Todd and Jane was the extent to which they had discussed the important details that go into the bond of marriage.  What do we expect from each other under this contract?   Do we both want children, and if so, how many?  Will Jane discontinue her career as a lawyer and be a stay at home mom if children come along?  How will financial issues be handled?   Unfortunately, Jane and Todd discussed just about every other subject in the world besides what their own expectations were going to be after they got married.

Todd didn't want kids.  He liked them, but he didn't want to have any of his own.  And he never wanted to have a joint bank account with Jane.  His money was his, hers was hers.  The end.  

Jane wanted kids.  She saw how Todd behaved around his nephews and nieces and thought he must want them!  He played and wrestled and cuddled his sister's kids like they were his own... but she never discussed it with him.  Jane was excited about becoming a mother someday and quitting the rat race to stay at home for her family...but she never asked Todd what his thoughts were.  That was what her mother had was the right thing to do...didn't everyone think that way?  And of course they would have a joint bank account!  What's mine is yours after you get married, right?

Heartbroken after finding out the truth, Jane filed for divorce.  She was 30 and had planned on having kids in the next 5 years.  If Todd wouldn't support that, she would find someone who could.  Todd was bewildered and astounded by Jane's desire for divorce, let alone kids and a joint bank account!  He thought he really knew her!

It is crucial for couples to discuss these kinds of things before they decide to get engaged, and the sooner in the relationship the better.  I believe that in order to get married, all couples should have to attend some kind of retreat where they really find out about each other.  Maybe couples should have to attend this before they date for a third would probably keep the pin in a lot of grenades.

I'm sure there are other issues that couples don't consider, other reasons why divorce happens.  I know these are just a few.  Every couple who gets divorced probably has a different twist to the story.

All I'm saying is that we should all really THINK before it happens to us.  How about giving up the idea that divorce is an option?

Want to comment or tell your story? We'll post your comments on the next GHM update.  Email me at


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