The Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale states that divorce is the second most stressful event that a person can experience in their lifetime, ranked behind the death of a spouse or the death of a child.
Why is divorce so stressful? Why is it so painful? Why is it so hard?
Many of you reading this will be divorced, be going through a divorce, contemplating a divorce or know somebody in one of those three positions. Virtually nobody is untouched by divorce and its effects. Whether you were a child of divorced parents, whether you are supporting a friend through his or her divorce or whether you are a professional advising in relation to divorce, divorce impacts upon people and society in many ways and is always known for having a cost. A cost in terms of pain to the participants, a cost to the children shuttled between two parents, the cost of lawyers, the decrease in living standards, the pain of having the intimate details of your life put through the court process, the comments and queries from friends, neighbours and colleagues, the pain of having to choose one divorcing friend over another, the disruption, the agony – why is it so hard?
Governments around the world have sought to make divorce easier to reduce the pain involved. Some are it harder, believing more effort should be made to overcome the vagaries of life, after all, wasn’t it meant to be for richer for poorer, for better or for worse and in sickness or in health? Why have an early get out? Work through the hardships, comments are made such as “look at me and your father we have had our problems but we celebrated our golden wedding anniversary last month” or “nothing worth having comes easy” or “nobody said love would be easy”. These governments have looked at many ways of ameliorating the impact of divorce, reducing the cost, mandating a collaborative approach to achieving divorce and the resolution of the issues, compulsory mediation, courses and training to support the individuals through this difficult time. Hundreds of millions of pounds, dollars, euros have been spent on schemes, commissions, pilots, laws and new regimes to address the hardship off divorce.
They have failed.
Why? Why does divorce remain hard?
Divorce as a process is not hard. It is who is using the process that makes it hard.
Before we expand on that, it is pertinent to consider why does divorce occur in the first place.
According to statistics 45% of marriages in the US end in divorce, 42% of marriages in the UK end in divorce and in France it is 55%. What lies behind these divorces? The grounds for divorce vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction but include adultery, unreasonable behaviour and separation.
What the majority of people do not realise is that the majority of divorces occur because one or more of the parties involved in the marriage is a narcissist. This is not to say that all marriages end because one or more of the parties are narcissists, but the overriding reason for a marriage failing is the involvement of a narcissist.
Where two healthy individuals (i.e normal or empathic and thus not narcissists) are in a marriage they will have disagreements because neither party will live either a blameless life or one which is apart from the vagaries of life. They will have external disagreements about whether President Trump is good for the USA or not, what should be done about the plastic in the seas and did The Big Bang Theory last for one season too many? Those discussions may be energetic, passionate and robust arguments exchanged but those involved will not call one another names, they will not storm off, hit one another, sit sulking or start playing on their phone and start flirting with some random individual from cyberspace. This is because neither party is interested in control over the other individual through any means (because neither is a narcissist), they are not naturally manipulative and they have no need for conscious manipulation owing to their emotional empathy. They just either do not behave that way because of their inbuilt safeguard against such behaviour and/or they mentally check themselves from such behaviour because they have emotional empathy for the other person and therefore will not act in such a fashion.
These couples will also have internal disagreements which will be about such matters as one party is working long hours and the other person feels lonely, the fact they are not having sex as often as they once did, concern about the way one has disciplined a child and similar matters. These internal disagreements will be addressed in a constructive fashion because of the lack of a need for control, the lack of instinctive manipulation and the presence of emotional empathy. They may feel angry, sad or hurt, but they will not operate from an alternate perspective because neither are narcissists. They will listen, acknowledge the position of the other person and find a solution. Moreover, these internal disagreements will actually not happen very often – why is that? It is because of their inbuilt emotional empathy that they conduct themselves in a fashion which does not bring them into conflict with the other person because they do not HAVE to have control of that person, they do not need fuel, they do not react to perceived threats to control. In essence, the way that they are means that not only do such internal disagreements rarely happen in the first place but when they do they are addressed in a constructive fashion.
External stressors may cause temporary aberrations in behaviour. For example, the natural emotional empathy of a party becomes reduced owing to stress, fatigue, financial pressure, worry about a child, ill-health or bereavement. This may cause one party to respond in an unpleasant manner however they soon recognise what they have done, they correct the problem, provide genuine remorse and most importantly of all they do not repeat it five minutes or five weeks later.
Empathic people are not saints. They make mistakes owing to a temporary reduction of their emotional empathy which is caused by external stressors generated by the circumstances of life, a life which is not static. However, these mistakes are limited and moreover are not repeated again and again. Such repetition is the preserve of the narcissist.
Furthermore, normal and empathic people have object constancy. They look at a person’s behaviour in the round. They may find their spouse´s habit of never picking up her underwear, the fact she is a poor time keeper and has a strange whinnying laugh all irritating to him, but they recognise she is a kind person, witty, a great mother, hard-working, loving, attentive and interested in many things that he is. Therefore just because of this one (or two or three irritating foibles or behaviours) the spouse does not create a problem for it. He has emotional empathy (people are different and in the grand scheme of things these are not major issues, I would not like it if she ended the relationship because I left my boxer shorts lying on the bathroom floor every day so I would not do that to her) and he balances the 97 excellent things about her as outweighing by far the three irritating habits she has. He deals with or ignores the slight issues.
Accordingly, it is these marriages (and by extension relationships) which last and are largely excluded from resulting in divorce.
When might such a relationship where there is no narcissist involved result in divorce? An example would be where let us say the husband who is under pressure at work (external stressor) and is not at home a lot as he is travelling. Away at a hotel he drinks too much and ends up having a one night stand (quite probably with a narcissist but that is a separate matter). The husband has a temporary reduction in his emotional empathy caused by drink, feeling lonely, being away from home and under pressure. On return home, his reduction in emotional empathy has passed and his empathic traits of guilt and honesty come to the fore. He confesses to his wife. He is genuinely contrite, full or remorse and wants to preserve the relationship His wife is angry but having emotional empathy knows he is not a bad person, knows mistakes can be made (and this is a fundamental mistake) and understands (but does not condone) what has happened. She too wants the relationship to work and they try.
Unfortunately owing to trust having been broken, no matter how much the wife wants to put the error behind them both she just cannot do so. She wants to but her feelings remain the same, even after six months of trying. She is said, nervous and hurt still and unable to work through this issue and requests a divorce. He is heart-broken, guilt-ridden but understands why. He knows it was his fault (there is no blame shifting here), he knows there are reasons why he did what he did but they do not excuse it and he accepts her request with a heavy heart. Since neither are narcissists, have no need for control, have no need to punish, have no need for fuel, they are focussed on parting ways in a prompt and efficient way as possible with the minimum of aggravation. One party will not (unconsciously) see the other´s behaviour as a threat to control and respond with an instinctive manipulation. The divorce proceeds and is dealt with amicably. The divorce process is not something which possesses emotions which make it cruel or hateful. That is pathetic fallacy. It is a process. It is the people within that process which cause the problem, not the process itself.
Think of it this way. If you want to walk through a doorway, you open the door and step through. Easy.
If there is a normal person coming the other way, they may zip through ahead of you, but you still get through without a problem.
If there is an empathic person coming the other way, they will wait to allow you to pass through the doorway first and no doubt hold the door open for you and say hello as you pass by. You get through without a problem and also a smile.
If there is a narcissist coming the other way, control and fuel is required. The narcissist stands in the doorway, holds the door shut, seeks to impose a toll which mean you cannot pass through until it is paid, nails the door shut, coats it with poison or bricks the doorway up. The doorway has not stopped you passing through, the narcissist did.
The divorce process is not hard. It is the presence of a narcissist in the divorce process which makes it hard.
The majority of people who are in normal and healthy relationships will have issues but these very rarely result in the termination of the relationship. When healthy people marry they will nearly always remain together, there will be challenges but they are surmounted because they operate to the same agenda and do not have hidden agenda items of control and fuel (see Why The Arguments Are Never Resolved ) .
Divorces happen nearly always because there is a narcissist involved. The narcissist must control the other person and extract fuel and therefore this results in manipulative behaviour. This manipulative behaviour results in adultery, unreasonable behaviour, abandonment and separation.
Either the victim wants to embark on the divorce process or the narcissist does. It does not matter which party commences it, what matters is that it is a process which like anything else in this world , we hijack for the purposes of extracting our needs. We use the divorce process to exert control over you and gain fuel. If you fight for what is legally yours, this affects our notion of control and we are duty bound to respond through manipulation. Even if you make generous offers, this will feel like control to us, hence you receive a manipulative response. Our sense of entitlement (this is our money not yours/ your money is our money), our lack of accountability (I did not have an affair/I had an affair because she drove me to it/she is controlling and I have enough of her behaviour etc etc), the inherent need for control, our haughtiness, our lack of emotional empathy all combine to make the divorce process hard.
We want the divorce quick, we will delay the divorce, we will not agree with your proposals, we hide assets, we fabricate allegations, we create documents, we dismiss concerns, we dispute experts, we argue over arrangements with the finances, the children and/or ownership of the goldfish. We smear you to family, friends, lawyers, CAFCASS officers, psychologists, social services, the usher or the man in the waiting room. We threaten, we dole out pity plays, we attack in order to ensure we gain control. We will not give you what you want, we have to have what we want because at the heart of all of this are two things – fuel and control.
Most divorces arise because the relationship contains one (sometimes two) narcissists.
The divorce process is not hard. It is MADE hard.
Because it contains a narcissist.
Society has yet to wake up to this.