Warren Farrell, Ph.D.
Make Any Divorce Better
by Edward Sherman
Nolo Press, 2007
The law is binary: win or lose. With men and women, when either sex wins, both sexes lose.
When a crime is committed, the law can dole out consequences that serve to warn others not to cross the line. For crimes, legal consequences can create security for all. But a marriage that has ended in divorce is no crime. And divorce is its own consequence.
The divorce is a moment in our life’s journey in which the appearance of marital security becomes the reality of insecurity in search of renewed security. When a law court makes either sex win, few families experience renewed security.
Divorce is the dream of being swept away being swept away. Lawyers and divorce courts are not in the business of dream recovery. Or repairing the wounds of anger. Or of helping couples understand the vulnerability lying beneath anger: that anger is vulnerability’s mask.
Why? A binary system cannot do justice to nuance. A marriage is a person with a complex family history of hopes and fears aspiring to create a union with another person with a complex family history of hopes and fears. From each person’s history and genes emanate securities and insecurities that result in feelings that are either expressed or repressed, then either heard, distorted or ignored, resulting in frustrations, body language and tones of voice which no court can track.
When we ask a court to track it all, we forfeit our privacy, empty our bank account, increase our pain, reinforce our mistrust, and therefore place our future in greater jeopardy. If we have children, we have spread our cancer to them.
I have never read a book that has a clearer understanding of why asking the legal system to resolve divorce is like asking a boxing coach to be our marriage counselor. To paraphrase Edward Sherman, the legal system is adversarial, and therefore lawyers argue to fight and win. As Sherman puts it, “More fighting and arguing is probably not what you need.”
There is a deeper problem with approaching the legal system at the time of divorce. To handle pain, humans build defenses. Each partner develops a mythologized version of the marriage that is designed to garner empathy from friends, thus building a support system when support is most needed. However, when we might otherwise be ready to move on, the more convincing this mythologized version of the marriage is to our friends, the less likely we are to question it ourselves. Yet questioning it ourselves is precisely what is needed if we are to become a better person looking for a partner appropriate to the new us. In this context, here is why the better our attorney serves us in the short run, the worse we are served in the long run…
The job of the legal system is to build our offense and defenses, and therefore the more successful it is, the more convincing this mythologized version of the marriage is to ourselves, and therefore the longer it takes to question it ourselves and become that better person looking for a partner appropriate to the new us. If the legal system does its job well, then, we pass on to our children an image of parents who know how to fight, but do not know how to heal. That’s why the better the job the legal system does to serve our short-term interest, the worse the job it does to serve our long-term interest.
When an animal in nature is dying, nature evolved vultures to clean up the mess. The vulture made good use of what would otherwise rot and stink. It was nature’s free-of-charge recycling system. But if we are bleeding from the wounds of divorce, it is time to heal. Failing to heal will leave the smell of our blood making us vulnerable to vultures other than the legal system (e.g., to potential partners whose only attraction is our money because we aren’t offering a renewed spirit). The vulture is a gift only when it is the end of our life–when we have no hope of ever recycling love ourselves; Edward Sherman’s Make Any Divorce Better is our gift when we wish to take responsibility for opening a new chapter to love.
Warren Farrell, Ph.D.
Author, Women Can’t Hear What Men Don’t Say