Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Love, Marriage … and Divorce

by Jessica Lippman, PhD

Noël Coward’ s Private Lives focuses on a couple who have divorced after a volatile three-year-long marriage, and, five years later, discover that they are sharing a terrace while on their honeymoons with their new and spouses. Despite the stormy marriage, which was filled with screeching egos and obsessions, they realize that they still have feelings for one another.

“Love is no use unless it's wise, and kind, and undramatic,” Elyot insists to his new wife Sybil. “Something steady and sweet, to smooth out your nerves when you're tired.”

Amanda and Elyot fight, shriek, scream and yet love each other all the way through the play. Yet, they have an unbreakable bond and cannot live without each other, although they also appear to have difficulty living with each other. By the end of play they are older and wiser and aware that what unites them is more powerful than what divides them. The audience witnesses that there is something like love or at least the romantic fascination cloaked in bruised hostility. Marriage and romance are difficult but the poignant point is that they are an essential aspect of the human condition.

Friedrich Nietzsche, the German philosopher, is the author of the often quoted adage, “What does not destroy me, makes me stronger.” This appears to be the axiom that Elyot and Amanda follow.

Elyot and Amanda had an explosive partnership while married to each other. After their divorce they operated on the principle that opposites attract and apparently that is what they sought in their new relationships. This proved to be unfulfilling and uninspired, and, at the end of the play, they are reunited.

Although the play lampoons the social conventions of the early 20th century, today two million couples marry each year. One million couples file for divorce every year, and over seventy percent of second marriages end in divorce. In the United States alone, 2.2 million people under the age of thirty-five get divorced. The people who seek therapy may change but over time the problems remain the same, relationships and communication.

I tell my patients there are 8 C’s that are important and required for every relationship if the connection is to work:

1. Commitment to the relationship and to each other –spend time with one another and do not be prone to run out of a relationship when things go wrong.
2. Connection - people often marry because they want to be married not because they want to be married to that particular person. You should feel a real deep connection
3. Chemistry
4. Communication
5. Concern and empathic involvement
6. Caution – words and actions have consequences on another person.
7. Clarity – do not have unrealistic expectation of the other person. Know and accept the other person. Do not marry thinking you will change your partner. Probably, one of the major reasons for divorce.
8. Changing someone –I want to say, expect the unexpected- Untoward (inconvenient) things happen - example losing your job, people getting ill.

Divorce and its aftermath is a lifelong force that follows an individual and helps to guide their decision making throughout their life.

Many people who are contemplating divorce feel lonely and alone and overwhelmed by what lies ahead of them. How do they handle their own emotional upheaval let alone be available and helpful to their children who have to handle the residual “fall out?” While the decisions of the couples in “Private Lives” affect only one another, in reality any discussion of divorce must encompass the impact on children, if any.

Some important considerations for people with children who are thinking of a divorce, in the middle of a divorce or are divorced:

1. It is important for meaningful relationships to remain undisturbed.

A. School, sitters, daycare, contact with family, grandparents, neighbors.
B. Sometimes the extended family will feel it is disloyal to their daughter or son if civil relationships are continued. Maintain these important relationships. A couple divorces one another they do not divorce the children or meaningful family or community relationships

2. If it is possible stay in the same home. Sometimes this is not possible because of finances, or job issues.

3. Degree of support that the home parent offers is of primary importance.

4. It is important not to devalue the other parent because if this is done it can be another loss for the child. It is important to value and not denigrate the other parent, because the child may identify with that parent. The identification is an aspect of the child’s self.

5. IF HOSTILITIES can be contained THE FAMILY support network can remain intact.

6. Parents when under stress often accuse a child of being “just like” the absent parent in a derogatory way. This is not helpful.

7. It is found that having community and social networks in place is important for helping people to deal with the consequences of adverse events, like divorce.

Buffalo Theatre Ensemble's production of PRIVATE LIVES runs from May 5 to 29.

Jessica Lippman, PhD, is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Chicago, Illinois for more than 30 years. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor at Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago, IL and is the co-author of two books, "Divorcing With Children: Expert Answers to Tough Questions from Parents and Children" and “Helping Children Cope with the Death of a Parent: A Guide for the First Year” . She regularly treats children, adolescents and adults who have experienced divorce themselves or have experienced the divorce of their parents. Dr. Lippman regularly appears in media and has been interviewed and featured in the Wall Street Journal, London Times, Chicago Tribune, Sirius Satellite Radio’s Judith Regan and Out Q.