In an earlier post, I wrote my thoughts about what I see as a possible transformation that occurs in marriage. In particular, the marriage is a bond that strengthens the individuals in their resolve in interacting with the rest of the world. I stated it as just my thoughts in a conversational manner.
Recently, I read a reference about how a divorce can increase the risk of suicide and that risk is higher for men in particular. I read several commentaries about different proposed explanations. Divorce is often precipitated by depression and that pre-existing depression could account for some of the suicides. Divorce settlements are often not ideal or satisfactory to either party.
I don’t know anything about marriage so I know even less about divorce. But I was thinking about how my earlier discussion about marriage would play out when it comes to divorce, separation, or death of spouse. They all have the same effect of breaking that bound that I supposed would strengthen an individual.
I recognize the risk of reading too much into suicide rates that are representative of only a small part of the population. For example, just because a suicide rate may be higher doesn’t mean that the peer group as a whole is more depressed or unsatisfied with life. For this discussion, however, I’m making the presumption that the suicide rate does somehow relate to the well being of the entire population of each group. This is a continuation of my discussion of what changes I think comes with marriage.
There is a difference in suicide rates between divorces and becoming widowed (with the latter being higher). But both are much higher than a continuing marriage. Suicide rate of never married is somewhere in the middle between the low suicide rates for being married and the high rates for being divorced/widowed.
In my earlier post, I suggested that a person who never married has some kind of social handicap that is removed with marriage. That social handicap somehow limits the potential of that individual. A marriage removes that handicap. I described this in a generally broad terms of marriage making one more comfortable with life. This fits with the lower suicide rate for married people compared to never-married.
But why wouldn’t the suicide rate revert back to the rate of the never married when a marriage ends? The answer to this question causes me to refine my definition of what changes when people get married. Entering a marriage may involve accepting a new handicap that wasn’t there before. Entering marriage brings greater comfort with interacting with the rest of the world while at the same time losing the prior comfort of being single. When marriage ends, that original comfort of being unmarried is lost or at least needs to be relearned.
I recall growing up in the 1970s when there were a lot more debate about the advisability of loosening requirements to complete a divorce. Somewhere around that time, I heard of the concepts of no fault non-contested divorce where the marriage should dissolve immediately on mutual agreement to end the relationship. At the time I probably agreed with the concept because it made sense to think of marriage as just another type of contract. There are some details to work out in terms of dividing up assets, but this is not much different than other contracts. Even when considering the impact on children, marriage is not the only contract that can impact vulnerable third parties.
Now, I see marriage as something much different than a contract. Entering a marriage is potentially if not commonly a profoundly transforming experience that changes the personality from being a single person to being a married person. Other contracts don’t involve that kind of personality change. Even if the couple don’t personally acknowledge this change, its general observation could be what is behind the older traditions and customs about making marriage hard to terminate. Over time, our collective experience may have recognized that the partners can’t really go back to the way they were before the marriage started.
I recognize a good argument to that is that this usually will not matter if the divorce is followed shortly afterwards by another marriage. I’m not convinced it is the same thing but it does avoid the problem facing the world alone again. In any case, that reinforces my idea that a marriage fundamentally transforms personalities in both being more comfortable facing the rest of the world and being less comfortable with idea of doing so alone.
It occurs to me that the transformation may involve more than the two aspects listed above. One of the observations is that married people often complain that their spouse is not the same as who they thought they were. This sometimes becomes a seed for an eventual divorce. I recall hearing this described as somehow one or the other or both had lied to each other prior to getting married, in essence hiding their true selves. A possible alternative explanation is that they weren’t lying or hiding, but instead that marriage really did turn them into a different person.
For example, if a marriage results in a previously shy person to be more outgoing (or the other way around) and the love was based on that earlier temperament, then this alone can cause a strain on a relationship.
Looking from the outside as a person who never married, I always marveled at the need for counseling for married couples (happily married). Perhaps one motivation is to come to better understand who the spouse has turned into as a result of the marriage.
People do change as they grow older. Again using a guide only my personal experience as a person who never entered a committed relationship, it seems that I have changed more slowly than I noticed changes in others who have entered committed relationships (marriages). I readily admit that in many ways I remain somewhat immature. Certainly, I am quick to notice a difference in maturity when I meet women who have previously had relationships or who was divorced. I can’t explain exactly what it is but it is enough to feel uncomfortable, like some foreigner who is trying to blend into a unfamiliar culture: shyness of an alien.
If marriage (or its counterparts) can have such a large change on a personality, then I can see that it can put pressure on the relationship to the point where it could end with divorce. Ironically the change in personality may leave the person less well equipped to live outside of the marriage. Divorced people may recall their times before being married, but they often complain that the divorced experience is different than the recalled experience as a single. Usually they blame the difference on being older and this is with good justification. I suggest that there may be more than just age. The person one remembers themselves being prior to being married really doesn’t exist any more.
As a reminder, this post is only to build on my own private thoughts of what I think happens when people get married. By considering divorce (and the ill effects that sometimes come with divorce), I expanded my definition of that presumed change to include both a positive and a negative development. The prior post explored the positive of being more comfortable with oneself when relating to the rest of the world. This post adds the negative of losing that power (though handicapped) of independence that one had before being married. During marriage, the positive strengthening change usually outweighs the negative weakening change. Divorce exposes the negative weakening. Taken together, I suggest that marriage is involves a broad transformation of the entire personality and this could result in the strain that could lead to a later divorce.
That strain may be a fact of the human condition that became recognized to the point of influencing the older traditions and customers that made divorce much more difficult than it is today. The marriage vows of committing through better or through worse may be an explicit statement that what the couple is entering into is going to surprise them and they agree to remain committed in spite of those surprises.
Marriage is fundamentally different from any other kind of contract. Marriage transforms the individuals who become partners. Clearly breaking the marriage is a survivable experience and perhaps for many it is not a major transition. Even if the divorce brings happiness, the person is not the same person who entered the marriage in the first place. They are in some ways both stronger and weaker as a result of their marriage.