Friday, 24 January 2014

Marriage Licences and Driving Licences

In response to the rumour that it is now easier to obtain a divorce than a driving licence (not true, unless both parties are prepared to be 100% civilised and amicable, in which case the question might well be asked; why are they divorcing?), a family law judge has decided to found a charity known as The Marriage Foundation to defend the ever-crumbling institution.

It freely admits there can be no legislation to inure against the vicissitudes of the human heart, let alone to prevent couples evolving in differing directions as they grow older or one or both stumbling and falling at life's hurdles or temptations.

And as a friend recently commented, so many couples don't see too far beyond looks and sexual chemistry when they first meet. Making a supreme effort to be on our best behaviour and impress the other in the early days, leaving our oddities, anger management issues and screwed-up bits to emerge or be discovered at a later date doesn't help in relationship mistake prevention either. Or 'heart and safety' as I like to call it!

That said, it would take a naive individual to regard the past through rose-tinted spectacles and assume that just because more marriages lasted, they were happy and successful. Many a tale could probably be told behind the local newspaper photographs of smiling golden anniversary couples cutting their celebration cakes..

Until relatively recently, aside from the social stigma and shame of divorce, there were prohibitive socio-economic reasons why unhappy couples couldn't part, particularly for women, if they did not have their own bank accounts or resources.  The  law did not make it possible for most ordinary people to access or afford divorce until after WWII, and even then the grounds were severely limited, and often involved a private detective being hired to track illicit couples down to seaside resorts to provide grounds. People also tended to have shorter lifespans so lengthy marriages were not such a scary prospect for the majority, and for some, freedom was likely to present itself by the pre-deceasement of at least one spouse.

The populace also tended to have far lower expectations of what happiness was (take Jane Eyre - beautifully written - but are she and Mr Rochester really the great romance the reader is lead to believe?), though some would argue that expectations have become unrealistically high. Women's Liberation has been no mean influence in this and the relationship power balance has had to shift significantly from former times in order to accommodate the relatively recent notion of equality between the sexes. To this day, not all individuals find themselves emotionally and intellectually equipped to conduct a relationship on equal footing and therein will always lie tensions, sometimes in the form of a timebomb for the future of that marriage or relationship.

Just as society adapts to gender equality and all that that entails, it emerges that many modern youngsters are seeing hardcore pornography years before their first kiss with a real girl or boy, risking serious psychological and behavioural consequences as a result, not least the ability to form loving and meaningful real-life relationships with partners who don't resemble porn stars in looks or behavioural extremes when the time comes.

Once successfully formed however, relationships face financial pressures like never before. An unintended consequence of Woman's Liberation was that two incomes coming into a household quickly equated to house price rises commensurate with two incomes coming into the household. Couples may have hoped for a surfeit of cash to spoil themselves with when both were working, but that's not what happened. And part-time working or being a full-time housewife/mother was quickly taken away as a choice for many married women, adding to the pressures on a marriage, if that was not what they wanted. Now even two full-time average incomes are no longer enough to get on the property ladder for most young couples and 50 year or even lifetime mortgages are being devised. This on top of enhanced University fee loans which will take as long as 25 years to pay off and parental help to pay the large deposit required. Is it any wonder that the age at which couples marry is getting later and later, ditto the childbearing age for women? Debt has become the uninvited third party in the marital bed for many, as capable of rending a couple asunder as any other risk.
Another modern relationship risk is the societal shift towards child-centredness, particularly amongst women, so that you hear many men complain that their wives seem to have lost interest in them and stopped making an effort since the children came along, and much though they also love their children, they mourn the relationship that they used to enjoy with their wife and the effort she used to make for them, though of course raising children is genuinely exhausting, not least when the woman is often required to hold down a full-time job as well to pay the bills. In the 1950s however, it was customary for the (house) wife to prioritise the father in the knowledge that the strength of the family depended on the parents having a good relationship. They also viewed themselves as guardians to their children rather than possessors of their children and never lost sight of the fact that one day their offspring would fly the nest to lead their own lives, leaving the parents alone again.
Notwithstanding some Irish friends did adopt the healthy stance of 'There was a *John and *Sophie before *Carmen and there'll be a John and Sophie after Carmen' when their daughter was born, and from an early age resumed their romantic weekends in Paris whilst Carmen stayed with her grandparents, and their child-free 'date nights' once a week, despite both having full-time jobs. Twenty four years on, John and Sophie are still together, the only couple still married of the three couples that married in the same church 27 years previously. Meanwhile their bright and lively daughter Carmen remains close to them and visits regularly but leads her own life, her mother only twitching nervously when she decides to go backpacking solo in a far flung country.

To get back to the posting, one effect of recession is that greater numbers of miserable couples remain together because they cannot afford to part. But while divorce may have become a more democratically accessible option, it is by no means free of ruinous cost in its own right, not to mention emotional trauma, if one or both parties are determined to make it so.

In a sense, it is too late to try and reverse the trends of the last few decades without starting in schools. It is finally being realised that trays of condoms passed around are never going to teach youngsters how to navigate the choppy waters of inter-personal relationships or about the benefits of stable relationships to themselves and wider society. Financial responsibility tuition is also being introduced at long last, which in itself forms a major factor in the success or failure of relationships.
As for the Nanny state contribution, not a whisper of reinstating the married couple's tax allowance in terms of incentives to restore family life. Rather they continue to reward the young woman who falls pregnant with a flat and generous benefits and financially penalise her the moment she forms a relationship which might in due course help lift her out of the benefits trap.

But if divorces are being compared to driving licences easewise, perhaps a marriage licence should be more akin to a driving licence. Perhaps a marriage licence should be renewable every ten years so that couples are obliged to work at their marriage if they both want it renewed for another ten years!


Steve said...

I really think that kids these days need to be taught about relationships and emotions rather than just left to "discover" them for themselves and make their own conclusions. Or rather not to make conclusions that are erroneous or just based on the misconceptions of their peers.

Nota Bene said...

I think if people understood the emotional trauma of divorce they would think again, but making a life-long commitment is becoming quite alien in our modern throwaway culture. I think educating people at a young age about relationships is one thing that could and should be done...society as a whole would benefit immensely. It's a shame..although it was pointed out to me that in times past people didn't actually stay married longer, because one or other of them tended to die...

Wisewebwoman said...

I view marriage as a completely outmoded institution. So that being said, I've nothing more to add. :)


Debra said...

A little jaunt over to your place from Steerforth's place... like hopping on a French tramway, and getting off at the next stop, right ?
I'm not sure that "education" will really help people learn anything about how to get along, since that is what we're talking about.
I think that education as an absolute... value has been highly overrated, and that human beings are much less educable than we seem to believe these days...Moreover, book learning in schools for marketable diplomas, stuck on a pedestal, has some definite disadvantages that we just don't want to see at this time...
On women's lib and equality (and this is a woman speaking), you are mistaken about how long this issue has been around.
Because, contrary to much popular belief, the not so hidden origin of women's equality for our civilization is stuck right smack dab in the middle of the Gospels, where you can see Jesus busy teaching rabbinic fine points to women... "disciples" in their home, moreover. (incident of Mary and Martha where Martha gets chewed out for chopping onions in the kitchen instead of being prettily seated at Jesus's feet, dreamily drinking in every spiritual word coming out of his mouth in the Jewish (and Greek...) ideal of education.)
This weekend I spent some time in the ducal palace of the dukes of Burgundy, and got to ogle several panels of the multitude of early Christian WOMEN martyrs sacrificed for their beliefs, women whose stories were broadcasted all over the medieval world in some excellent propaganda for... women's liberation way before the 1960's.
I agree that (unrealistic, Disneylandesque) high expectations attached to a long term relationship between man and woman in a society hell bent on non engagement, and limitless freedom for the individual has made the institution of marriage suffer.
And when the pendulum swings back, as it inevitably will, women will be the first to suffer, as... always. WE... are so dumb...

Marginalia said...

I like being married. I'm sure there's loads of instances where marriage has made a woman's and man's life hell. But you don't have to be married for that to happen.

I think society has judged, in the past at least, that on balance the benefits society gains outweighs the did disbenefits.

Not sure divorce should be easy or difficult. It should not be entered into lightly, which can be said of marriage.

I wouldn't blame marriage for the male/female imbalance of power, influence and status. In fact in marriage female status etc can be validated and recognised.

I do think marriage can reinforce family and that in turn place more emphasis on responsibility and less selfishness.

The Poet Laura-eate said...

Steve, I believe schools are finally getting round to this and realising that just as kids can't read without being taught to, it is highly improbable they will know how to conduct a successful relationship without being taught some rudimentary principles.

Notabene, You definitely have a point about the throwaway society extending to marriage in some cases - and in an age where we are supposed to be 'sustainable'!

WWW, I can see how you would feel that way, but personally I'm not going to knock it until I've tried it! : - )

Debra, many things for stopping by with your interesting thoughts. I am afraid I know very little of ancient times, being a scholar of Georgian times onwards, so cannot really comment on this, except to say thanks for the food for thought. It is most definitely unfair that women seem to bear the brunt of most societal changes. Except that is for child access and custody in a divorce, where it is often the man who finds himself prejudiced against, not just by his ex, but by the court systems who favour the woman and value motherhood but not fatherhood, except for the maintenance payments.

Marginalia I am glad you are enjoying marriage. Nice to hear a happy ever after! I cannot disagree with any of your thoughtful comments. Thank you.