Photo: Universal Pictures
Recently, when visiting a family attorney's office, I noticed a framed cartoon hanging in the waiting room. It showed a father in his tycoon businessman's suit, arm proudly draped around his young son's shoulder, the two of them looking out of the corner office window. Together they gazed at warehouses and smokestacks, enjoying the sight of the father's success. The caption read, "Yes, someday son, this will all be…your ex-wife's.
Divorce has become an expected part of the life cycle, even though we concern ourselves with avoiding it. The question of what went wrong in the relationship is a question most exes will consider at some quiet moment. Commonly, that thought will pass and every ex settles into a general explanation that stays comfortably away from serious personal responsibility. After all, ask anyone why they're divorced and the top two answers you'll hear are: We were young and stupid when we married or he/she was crazy and impossible. Both of these are safe bets; they avoid having to look internally and face any music. And off we go. We find other relationships and throw our emotional baggage around, sideswiping a whole new set of characters: stepkids, in-laws and possibly exes of the new partner.
Do you ever think about what it would be like to get back with the ex? "Ugh, not again," or "Maybe it wasn't as bad as I remember. Maybe if I were a little more mature, things could be different." We can't say this is a new trend because court systems do not commonly keep statistics on people who remarry their exes. But it's a concept that has caught our attention with the new movie, It's Complicated , starring Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin. It might even be one of those things that make you go, "Huh?" Is it possible that after the excruciating pain of divorce, people really can return to one another and find happiness? When it does happen, like in the movie, it seems to come at a later point, well after the sting of attorneys and "Who gets the kids when?" is in the past and a smoother rhythm has returned to the divorced family?
Sadly, just when a couple is in the throes of dysfunction and chooses to divorce, things often go from awful to incredibly awful immediately. Strangers are introduced to help each spouse get what they "want" instead of trying to understand what is now best for this family in its new system (this is not to say that there aren't excellent attorneys who help their clients see what is best for their children). If they couldn't communicate before, now they have a host of new issues to fight and be angry about. When the dust settles, the thought of returning to each other is usually out of the question. But there are those that don't have the knock-down, drag-out fighting through divorce and even those that do but years later have found that had they been a better spouse, things might have been significantly different.
The facts are that second marriages have a higher divorce rate than do first marriages (61 percent) and just when you thought it was safe to date, third marriages have a whopping 72 percent chance of divorce. Why? First of all, imagine that starting a second marriages often involves much more than two lovebirds. Typically, there are a mixture of children who did not fall in love with your new spouse, plus each new spouse usually has commitments the size of Kansas with an ex-spouse and schedules that hardly ever match up with the the ones you have with your kids and ex. I'm tired just writing about it let alone someone living it.
Secondly, we move into that second marriage without really understanding what happened in the first one. This means we're taking our same issues into a new relationship, expecting a different outcome. The statistics remind us that trading in for a newer model doesn't mean that what's under the hood is any different.
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