According to Statistics South Africa, one in every four marriages ends in divorce, before couples get to celebrate their ten-year anniversaries. 

This figure reveals some themes that run deep in our society - impermanence, the proliferation of choice we have and the ever-changing landscape of traditional institutions that were once seen as the holy grail.

Divorce was not really an option for our grandparents or great grandparents, who belonged to the generation of traditionalists. For the most part, people stuck to their marriage vows, steadfast to their commitment and to the ties of tradition.

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Fast forward to the twenty first century where the ‘self’ has found a voice, and people are not afraid to find meaning and purpose as individuals and to pursue happiness. Divorce is now seen by many as a compassionate way out of something that doesn’t work yet the trauma around such a separation is still very real for many people.

There are many reasons why marriages don’t survive. Clinical psychologist, Dorianne Weill (Dr D), talks about some of the fundamental deal breakers.

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She explains that in the beginning of a relationship there is a fit that is often based on good timing and a romantic ideal. She likens this fit to two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle coming together. However, as people grow and change, this initial fit is often not sustained. 

This was the case for Becky*, who got divorced after two years of marriage after having dated her partner for 5 years. She and her partner shared the same vision for romantic love initially, but as time passed, she discovered that there was not enough common ground to sustain a healthy relationship. She found herself growing and changing, and slowly the pieces that once fitted so well no longer lined up. 

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The relationship was tempestuous for many years before the marriage, but she second guessed herself throughout, turning a blind eye to her doubts and concerns. She hoped that marriage would resolve some of the problems. But it exacerbated them. 

She says, “I wish I had known that marriage cannot solve the core problems in a relationship. I wish I had listened to myself and to my friends who saw how unhappy I was. I wish I had been brave enough to walk away sooner”.  

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Mbali*, who was married for seven years, echoes this sentiment. She came out of her marriage with the conviction that you need to “trust your gut”. 

In Mbali’s case, her marriage failed due to irreconcilable differences. She and her husband came from very different backgrounds and they couldn’t find a happy balance. 

Dr D sees this as another fundamental reason why marriages fail. People come into the relationship with different views and belief systems that were instilled in their families of origin. Without open dialogue and negotiation around different ways of being, the relationship suffers. 

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Equally important are common goals, which were lacking in Mbali’s marriage. 

In a similar vein, it is essential that both partners’ fundamental needs are met. If basic core values such as respect, kindness and consideration are not met, the foundations of a marriage will crumble. 

Bronwyn*, who was married for twenty years, realizes retrospectively that her husband lacked some of the qualities that were most important to her. 

When I ask her what she wishes she had known before getting married, she says, “I would have liked to know my then husband-to-be's relationship with his family, if it was warm and loving, and if he respected his parents. I would have wanted to know that he is generous, patient and kind with children and animals.”

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Dr D emphasises the importance of coming out of a marriage with a new level of self- awareness so that your suffering does not go to waste and the same mistakes are not repeated. As painful as divorce is, there is beauty to be found in the evolution of self and the growth that can occur.

Some of the core learnings Dr D identifies are:

1.    The importance of boundaries- how I will and will not be treated in future

2.    Learning about personal entitlement

3.    How to listen more profoundly to my own inner drumbeat

4.    Discovering the confidence to have my needs met

Are you divorced or happily married? Share your lessons in love with us here.

* Not their real names.

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