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16 Jul. 2012

Book Review: Why Men and Woman Approach Divorce Differently

Posted By The Buncher Law Corporation

I just finished reading a book For Better or Worse: Divorce Reconsidered by Mavis Hetherington and John Kelly. One conclusion, which isn't much of a surprise, men and women approach divorce in very different ways.

The book itself is quite a refreshing study. Hetherington (a psychology professor at the University of Virginia) collated data from more than 1,400 families and 2,500 children over three decades. An analogy that worked well for me was how they see divorce as a series of “interconnected transitions” rather than a one-time destructive event. They also found that while traumatic in the short-term, divorce can also a positive experience that generates new opportunities for personal growth.

Rather than portray participants in a divorce as "parties" in a legal process, the authors see them as characters bound by the marital relationship. One construct of theirs that certainly seems truthful is how the ins and outs of any relationship is much like a bank account: each character making his or her “deposit” that strengthens the relationship (e.g., mutual support, intimacy) and “withdrawals” (lack of intimacy, marginalization, infidelity) that harm the relationship. And very much like a bank account, if the “deposits” are outweighed by “withdrawals” for too long, the emotional base of the marriage erodes resulting in divorce.

But here's a part that I think deserves even greater scrutiny by all the characters in the process: the differences in how men and women perceive the relationship, thus how they deal with any process that changes it.

First, consider that men are taught to be tough in a world that expects them to do what is necessary to build their 'empire." Meanwhile, woman approach their world with less materialism and tend to be more emotional, more compassionate and in greater need of validation. Taking into consideration the author's bank account model, is there any surprise then that this creates a multitude of differences in how the two approach divorce? Statistically more woman than men initiate divorce proceedings. Moreover, by the time the decision has been made to divorce by a woman, there is no going back. Men, on the other hand, appear to push off the advent of divorce and do not feel the emotional impact until well after divorce proceedings have already begun.

It's always helpful to gain insights and perspective on relationships. This book is one of many that I think help round out our perceptions and help arm us with what to expect.

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