Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
That is, of course, the opening to Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. He wrote it in 1878, long before the divorce rate soared and family therapy became an industry.
What got me pondering this was an article by Jim Cunningham, reviewing the essay of a prominent family psychologist William Pinsof. Pinsof first points out that, from 1400 to 1800, the average marriage lasted about 20 years, most frequently ending with the death of a spouse. From 1900 to 2000, the average life span increased more than 25 years. But while mortality declined and life spans grew, the average duration of marriages did not increase proportionately. Divorce replaced death as the terminating event.
The author suggests, if half of marriages now end in divorce, isn’t it time to conclude that ‘statistically if not culturally, divorce is normal’?” No longer a failure, divorce is a realistic, frequently positive family option.
It’s time, Pinsof argues, for researchers and therapists to stop comparing children of divorce to children of marriages. ‘Children of divorce, if they are to be compared to anyone, should be compared to children in families with unhappy or deeply troubled marriages.’ Mental health professionals should help couples divorce, as well as help them try to hold on to their marriages. “It is the rare social scientist who would assert that deeply troubled families are better for child rearing than a two-home couple that can co-parent collaboratively and effectively.”
That’s the key: Whether in one home or two, can the parents work together to parent? Tolstoy would probably say the family who can is the happy family.
Note: A Michigan fellow of the AAML, Jim’s complete article, Marriage in the 21st Century, is at http://www.aaml-mich.org/files/AAML%20Website%20-%20Article.pdf .
A former family court associate judge in Houston, Texas, Patricia Lasher has specialized in family law for more than twenty years. She has written for numerous consumer magazines, and published a collection of profiles, Texas Women, Interviews and Images.
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