Arlene and Ed were married 28 years before they divorced. The lived together before they got married, and she was 27, he was 26 when they said “I do.” “In hindsight, both would have done things very differently,” The New York Times reports. Their reflections can provide some good lessons for those of us who want to avoid divorce.
Nine years in, faced with financial problems, they moved from California to her hometown of Milwaukee. He started a business with her brother and traveled for work, sometimes two weeks a month, which strained the relationship.
Arlene: Felt he worked too much, on the road and also at home. Wanted him to connect more with the children, to know details of their lives. She gave up working to be a stay-at-home mother and felt jealous of his “freedom” to have a career and everything handled at home.
“This division of labor was the best we could come up with, and yet I felt somewhat trapped inside these roles and sometimes resented it.”
Ed: Admits to being more focused on work and on social change than on their children. “I’m not a natural workaholic, but we were always in a financial struggle. Working for myself meant more than working 9 to 5. There was never enough time to get our romance on.”
Takeaway lesson: Make sure you spend time with each other–make it a priority. Talk about and really listen to the other person when they talk about their days–the good parts and the bad parts, what has each of you excited and what has each of you nervous. And make time to remember why you fell in love–it keeps the romance alive.
In retrospect, was their downfall about expectations?
Arlene: Yes. “I’m one of those feminists who is hard to satisfy: I wanted romance, a partner, a provider and a man to do half the domestic work. I looked to Ed for happiness rather than finding it myself.” She thinks this attitude was in part a byproduct of the confusing times when women were told they could have it all.
Ed: “I didn’t live up to my own expectations: I was too concerned with finances, and allowed myself to get beaten down.”
Takeaway lesson: Remember you are a team. The housework has to get done and the bills have to be paid. All of it is important, but it does not all need to be done by one person. Communicate with each other–when the finances are down one month, don’t jump straight to blame but work together to see how you both can get them back up. Don’t make it a priority to divide housework evenly, make it a priority that if something around the house needs to be done, whoever is available will do it.
Arlene: Both people need to take responsibility for why the marriage went wrong. “You think getting away from the other person is going to change things, but you have to deal with yourself eventually.”
Ed: Be respectful for the sake of the kids; don’t involve them in your issues.
The biggest thing each learned?
Arlene: Avoid gender roles that can spawn resentment. Don’t focus narrowly on romantic love: the lightning bolt of passion isn’t the be all and end all. There are benefits to staying through the hard times.
Ed: Loyalty and love should be stronger than the desire to “find yourself.” Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.