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When Marriage Falls Apart

February 24th, 2014

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Today more and more marriages are crumbling, more and more couples are struggling and this creates a lot of pain for all the parties involved (including and especially children). The end of a marriage brings with it, aside from the loss of a life partner, many more losses, such as the end of family life as we know it, the loss or transformation of other relationships (children, friendships, in-laws, etc.), the loss of security (whether it is financial or emotional, or both), the loss of a dream, and the list goes on.

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To understand why couples seem to struggle more than in the past, and why divorce has become more common, let's look briefly at some facts about this institution that has taken many different forms across cultures and time periods. Marriage existed for different purposes at different times: from a way of organizing and controlling sexual conduct and providing a stable structure for child-rearing; to a means of preserving power, forge alliances, acquire land, and produce legitimate heirs.

For most of our history women had very little say over whom they would marry (and this is still true in some countries). Polygamy has been another form of marriage that still exists today. In many cases marriage was a way to subjugate women so they would serve their husbands and produce heirs for them, but in other cases it was also a way to protect them.

For most of our history love did not play any role in this union, marriage was considered too serious a matter to be based on such a fragile emotion. In fact, love and marriage were once widely regarded as incompatible with one another.

So it wasn't until fairly recently that the definition of marriage became: a romantic free union between a man and a woman (not to mention the most recent development on gay marriage). Marriage has been and continues to be in a constant process of evolution.

But lets say that in most parts of the world today, this union is based on love. But love is indeed a fragile emotion, and it is not always enough to sustain the great responsibilities and challenges of modern life marriages. As couples become more and more isolated and are the sole caregivers for their children (often both needing to work in order to provide), with the gradual loss of the extended family's presence and support, and the lack of strong communities, this institution is becoming more and more fragile. On top of that, women have become more independent, so they now have a real choice to leave a relationship, which was not the case before.

Romantic love requires the constant involvement of both partners, if either of them neglects the other, or there is poor communication between them, this kind of love cannot survive for very long. It is hard not to neglect one another once the couple is flooded by the never ending load of responsibilities, work, and worries that come with adult life and especially parenting in modern societies. And as far as communication goes, it can be quite complicated to even realize there is a communication problem until it is too late.

Many marriages do survive despite of lack of romantic love however, because there is a lot more involved in this union. Marriage is a true contract, and as the years go by, the bonds between the partners become stronger (financial, filial, lifestyle, etc) and for many it becomes impossible to leave, no matter how unhappy they may be in the relationship.

In most successful cases, the partners learn how to live together in harmony and their romantic love transforms into a companionship that is enjoyed by both of them (at best), or it simply becomes a cohabitation that is tolerated by both (at worst).

Now, for some couples, no harmony nor cohabitation can be found and they become toxic to one another, they bring the worst out of each other and they live in a constant state of struggle, anger, resentment, dissatisfaction, frustration, etc. Those couples are the ones that usually end up divorcing, and it is a good thing, for nobody should live a miserable life...

However, if the couple has children, the separation aside from being incredibly painful becomes also incredibly complex, because, whether they like it or not, they will remain bonded to one another, as parents, for many years. The way the couple deals with pain becomes incredibly important when they have children, because the consequences of their actions will not only affect their lives but that of their offspring, who are innocent victims of the process.

When there are children involved, even if the romantic relationship ends, another relationship needs to be born, and in order to build it, the couple needs to be very mindful about their actions. Now, if their actions are triggered by their suffering, there will only be more negative consequences and more suffering for the entire family.

Pain is part of our human life, however, the way we process pain is unique to each individual, and ultimately to the level of awareness or consciousness that individual has. Pain and Suffering are not the same, and although we can't avoid the pain, we can limit the suffering by finding a mindful way to lessen it or even end it.

When marriage falls apart, there is great pain, but this pain can create more or less suffering depending on how much and how long each individual holds onto their story of "what went wrong" "why did it happen", etc. The good news is, once the relationship ends, there is no need to hold onto the story, in fact, it is time to drop it all together, in order to build a mindful new story that will ensure a healthy transition and experience, not only for the children but for the couple themselves.

If you want to read more about mindful divorce and parenting, here is a good article: Giving Up the Story: A Journey to Mindful Divorced Parenting, another good resource: The Intelligent Divorce.

Have a good week!



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