independent

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Are people waiting for an economic recovery before they file for divorce?

Irish Independent columnist Mary Kenny.Picture: Eamonn Keogh
Irish Independent columnist Mary Kenny.Picture: Eamonn Keogh

It was reported recently in Helen Cahill's 'Measuring Ireland's Progress' that Ireland has the second-lowest divorce rate in the European Union (Latvia and Lithuania have the most divorces, Malta the least). Some musings on the causes of our low statistics in the divorce stakes ...

1 Divorce became available from 1995. Perhaps we aren't yet into the swing of the dissolution of marriage (sometimes known as trading in an old model).

2 There is probably a hangover from church disapproval of divorce, although the Anglican Church has been historically more hostile than the RC. In 1923, Archbishop Gregg, Protestant Archbishop of Dublin, gave his full approval to the Free State's prohibition on divorce, and so did the majority of readers of the 'Church of Ireland Gazette'.

3 There is also probably a bit of the canny Irish peasant in our collective consciousness, and the peasant never divides up land or property for the mere whim of seeking happiness ('The Field').

4 The economic downturn probably brought out the shrewd calculation that with the recession, divorce was an unaffordable luxury.

5 Especially considering the alarming reports of huge sums of alimony that can now be allocated even to a cheating spouse.

6 Divorce is usually instigated by women: men will put up with a bad marriage so long as there is food on the table and the odd serving of conjugality. Maybe Irish women are too instilled with guilt by their mammies to divorce.

7 Maybe some sensible Irish women agree that "A good man is hard to find" and a half-decent man may be more acceptable than none at all.

8 As in, "Better the devil you know ... "

9 Maybe some people adhere to the old Irish adage (heard by my sister on a New Jersey bus): "Ah, sure, 'tis better be fightin' than lonely."

10 Since the Irish have more children – hooray! – there may be a prevailing view that if parents can bear to stick together, maybe they should.

11 Some people may have grown accustomed to the "divorce Irish-style" pre-1995 compromise, whereby couples split their home, lead separate lives and be civilised with one another. I have known several couples who resolved a turbulent relationship in this way and ended up good mates.

12 Perhaps some embrace the old Sicilian approach to the difficulties of married life: "Divorce? Never! Murder? Maybe!"

13 There is a long history of taking a prudent attitude to wedlock – so prudent that in the 1950s, one quarter of the Irish couldn't be persuaded to marry. Perhaps this careful approach has spilled over into a similarly careful view of dissolving the contract.

14 After all, if a wedding costs upwards of €20,000, why throw all that money away if it's not going to last?

15 As marriage is now middle-class – it is a rarity in working-class life – there may be a bourgeois attempt to maintain appearances.

16 I rish people may be strongly influenced to maintain the status quo by siblings and wider kin. The more siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins one has, the less likely one is to go through the divorce courts (with the exception of certain multi-married aristocrats for whom high fertility plus several brace of spouses are status symbols: eg, Lady Mary Gaye Curzon, Prince Harry's putative mother-in-law, who has four divorces and five stunning children by three husbands).

17 Divorce is often associated with mobility. High-mobility societies like the US have always had more divorce because people move around a lot. Maybe the adherence to county loyalty shows we don't move around within the country – only outside of it.

18 Maybe some individuals are born optimists. Even if their marriage is rocky, they're always thinking: "Tomorrow is another day."

19 Maybe some have been taught by the nuns that "You can walk the way of Calvary by being married just as much as by being a consecrated virgin". So they're taking up their cross and carrying it, earning time off Purgatory with every blistering marital row.

20 "Ah, sure, it'll do" might be a national reaction to a mediocre relationship.

21 Maybe some have been taught by their grannies that, "As you make your bed, so shall you lie on it". Studies have linked sticking in a marriage with the kind of stubborn person who doesn't like quitting – anything.

22 Maybe there is less space in Irish society for divorced individuals, and divorcees feel more stigmatised than in other countries.

23 Maybe some people cope with an unsatisfactory marriage by having the odd fling, and they'd prefer to keep it that way than have to move the kids' schools or live in a bedsit.

24 Maybe some are only waiting for the economy to recover before they call the lawyer.

25 And yet humans go in for pair-bonding more consistently than any other mammal (swans don't count). It's possible that more couples are actually contentedly married in Ireland than in other EU countries. They have ups and downs, but are happy as they are.

Irish Independent

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