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No Mercy No Malice

Divorce

May 14, 2021

When Bill and Melinda Gates announced their divorce last week, people expressed a surprising amount of shock and disappointment. Seattle’s second-wealthiest divorcing couple will be fine, as money is the modern world’s shock absorber.

Similar to its effect on so many other things, the pandemic has acted not as a change agent for marriage, but as an accelerant: Inquiries with divorce lawyers melted up a third during lockdown, while 58% of surveyed Americans say the pandemic strengthened their marriage. The strong unions got stronger, the fractured split wide open.

It’s not just couples that are reevaluating their bonds. Last week, Verizon parted ways with its media harem (Yahoo, AOL, TechCrunch, etc.). A divorce everyone saw coming — at the ceremony of this corporate marriage, the attendees smiled politely and wondered why it was even happening. In D.C., the Republican Party is renewing its vows with Donald Trump, ignoring Liz Cheney’s sober reminder that their abusive relationship is bad for everyone.

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

Ending a partnership — personal or corporate — is generally seen as an admission of failure, and one that sticks. Frequently on administrative forms, the options for marital status are single, married, and divorced. (How is “divorced” a status? Isn’t that just single?) Five years after my own divorce, telling people about it still inspired a depressing mix of pity and judgment from those whose (married) lives rested somewhere between denial and awful.

Companies, likewise, experience shame after a failed marriage. To avoid looking foolish, firms resist writing down the value of an acquisition or selling it outright (as Verizon did with Yahoo). After unwrapping the gifts and evangelizing the synergies to shareholders, they’re loath to admit they were wrong. The disarticulation of any union is expensive and painful, and most people and corporations would be better served to acknowledge the mistake … sooner.

As if stigma and pride weren’t enough, divorce was once legally impossible, or impossibly burdensome. Couples seeking divorce would do things like arrange for the husband to meet another woman at a hotel and take nude photographs to provide “evidence” of adultery. Henry VIII founded the Church of England so he could annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. I get it. I’d be willing to start a religious institution to avoid spending more time with several of my friends’ spouses. But I digress.

Trapping people in unhappy marriages can have profound, negative consequences. Loosened restrictions on divorce are correlated with an 8% to 16% decrease in female suicides, and a 30% decrease in domestic violence.

Today we’ve largely stopped trying to limit divorce through the legal system. California was the first state to enact no-fault divorce in 1969; New York was the last, in 2010. The divorce rate peaked around 1980 and has declined since. Before the pandemic, it had dropped below its 1970 level.

The Costs of Divorce

While divorce is legally available today, it remains expensive (the median U.S. divorce costs $7,500), and in the short run, it’s emotionally grueling. Women initiate most divorces (perhaps as many as 80%), but they also bear the brunt of the financial impact: Women typically see a decline in income for years afterward and have a more difficult time repartnering. It’s even harder for women with children. The data on long-term psychological well-being after divorce is mixed — as with most things, we tend to revert to the mean — but men may experience greater emotional harm.

The most profound costs of a split don’t fall on the couple. Divorce is hard on kids, and the consequences persist into adulthood. I remember, at the age of 10, registering that I was a liability in the eyes of the men who’d arrive at our door to take my mom on a date. Children of divorced parents are on average unhappier, more anxious, and more likely to be depressed. They’re also less likely to graduate from high school and college, typically make less money, and are more likely to ultimately get divorced themselves. But: The same is true of children whose parents stayed in a high-conflict marriage. Relationships that breed severe conflict can be as hard on children as breakups. Chaos is the culprit, not legal status.

Divorce has been at the center of the most disturbing periods in my life: when my mom picked me up from Little League and told me we weren’t going home; when I acknowledged my own immense shortcomings after telling my wife I wanted a divorce; and most recently, when I watched my father leave his wife of 25 years a year before she died. Just as Jane Goodall was profoundly disappointed when she realized that chimpanzees are like us, violent and selfish, divorce brings you face-to-face with your flaws and the collateral damage they levy.

Marriage Inequality and the Divorce Divide

Marriage is a powerful institution. It gives us a partner, economically, emotionally, and logistically. Two people form a more efficient household and a stronger foundation for children: Sustaining a two-parent household takes just two-thirds the income required to support two households for separated parents. Married people have better health insurance (as do their kids) and greater access to social networks (via their spouse). So, not surprisingly, they tend to live longer, experience fewer strokes and heart attacks, and have a lower incidence of depression.

Yet the U.S. marriage rate has steadily declined — it’s down 25% since 2000, and 50% since 1980.

The share of adults who’ve never married is at an all-time high: 35% of Americans between 25 and 50 have never tied the knot. The declining divorce rate we’ve seen since 1980 is in large part a function of fewer marriages.

Marriage and divorce rates reflect our widening economic inequality. Wealthy people are far more likely to get and stay married. Among the top third by income, 64% of people are in their first marriage, versus only 24% in the bottom third. Americans with a college degree are more likely to get married (38% vs. 30%) — before 2000, college-educated people were less likely to marry, but that’s flipped, and the gap is widening. College-educated Americans have seen their divorce rate drop by about 30% since the early 1980s, whereas Americans without college degrees have seen theirs increase by about 6%.

Employment is a major factor. Men without full-time employment are much less likely to marry than employed men. Among men 25-50 without full-time work, 55% have never married, compared to just 32% of employed men. Meanwhile, there’s evidence that the structure of our social safety net discourages marriage among low-income people.

This broadens the embrasures of our already fracturing commonwealth. At a minimum, the partnership of a marriage creates economic strength via shared expenses and consolidated income. The declining marriage rate among those already disadvantaged, combined with the increasing numbers of children raised in single-parent homes in that demographic, may only deepen our economic divide.

Conscientious Uncoupling

The liberalization of divorce laws initially freed many couples from unhappiness, literally saving the lives of women shackled to abusive men. But it remains exorbitantly expensive to end a marriage that should end, and our society struggles to provide a stable environment for kids that doesn’t rely on having two parents under the same roof.

My father has been married and divorced, to the best of our knowledge, four times. He divorced his last wife at the age of 89, just one year before she passed away from Parkinson’s. By 34, I was divorced.

What can we learn? Undoubtedly, we need better marriages. Do we want fewer divorces? Are the exit costs of shame discouraging people from forming partnerships in the first place? Does “divorce” need a rebranding? Or, do those exit costs encourage people to endure the obstacles that inevitably appear in a relationship, despite our naive expectation that a marriage can absorb all stressors? Is it wrong to be held accountable for life’s disappointments? It’s complex.

I’m searching for a takeaway, a lesson that will endure. Is marriage, or divorce, better? I think the answer is yes. Only one truth manifests: Twitter should absolutely leave Jack Dorsey.

Life is so rich,

P.S. You know how I feel: If you’re not innovating, you’re dying. Many firms (even entire industries) get complacent, and trust me, you don’t want to be the next BlackBerry/Sears/Kodak. We created a new sprint with Berkeley Haas Professor Sara Beckman to systematize innovation by putting the consumer at the center of your work. Check it out.

71 comments

  1. Joanne says:

    I’m divorced. The first and best thing I did for myself.

  2. Akshay Ramesh More says:

    Thank You for the article.

    Only regards from India, no variants.

  3. Dave says:

    Not sure why I feel it is necessary to say this or to have you read this but you literally are my hero Scott. I just truly worship your existence. You make me feel better reading your posts, a truly love watching your highlights on TV and I just think you are generally speaking one of the most genuine humans on this planet. I don’t think you are capable of not being self aware and I just wish I was more like you. One thing you always mention on your podcasts are your yodas. Well you are my yoda, obi-won, princess lea and every other good star wars character there is. Thank you for being you and so grateful people like you exist. You are the best.

  4. Duane Filey says:

    Prof G,
    I always enjoy your reading your perspective on business, your personal views on politics, economics, and valuations. This one surprised me. Great job breaking down the realities of divorce.

  5. Michael of OneKPI says:

    Just because this was in the news, doesn’t make it real…

    Firstly, these people should not remain on a pedestal decades after they’ve stolen an idea, slightly improved it and then made billions selling buggy software at criminally inflated prices.

    Even if it was real, and the Gates were really that smart, they could have done so much more for humanity than what the sheeple know them for.

    I for One, am not that impressed and let this one slide by… As individuals, if they are even alive, I wish them well…

  6. Mark says:

    You can’t marry American women -they don’t knw what they want – mother or powerchicks ; not their fault – damaged culture tells them they can have it all and u cant fight or change the system its a 4T industry – u wanna disrupt it? good luck

  7. Tony G says:

    I recall that many years ago there was a well-known adult education company that included the status as LWS(Living With Someone) to the enrolment form. Thought it was pretty cool!

  8. Anim says:

    Just today my dad gave divorce and its taking ny future nowhere im 20 and just completed highschool 4 years ago but couldn’t help my self

  9. Paula Keefe says:

    Who are you to determine that Republicans supporting Trump are in an abusive relationship? That’s your opinion and should not be stated as fact.

    • Tom says:

      Seriously? The same Trump who has bad mouthed and insulted EVERY Republican who ever had the temerity to criticize him? Whatever. I’m sure Fox “news” isn’t broadcasting opinions.

    • Jason says:

      Paula… just breathe. He’s writing a blog. Just about everything you read here is his opinion. But yes, in this case, he’s right…

  10. Jack D. says:

    Why not create a blockchain/Eth based marriage system that is accepted by governments?
    (Sorry for the clickbait name, had to get your attention)

  11. Various says:

    Excellent, thoughtful and yet heart-rending article. Many thanks for writing this!

  12. Duncan Swezey says:

    Scott – considering this piece I think you’ll find what we are building at HelloDivorce.com extremely compelling. Would love to chat.

  13. Rahul Iyer says:

    I am writing be as an American male in his late 40s.

    1) My parents were both good people, but they made mistakes. They had a bit of a love/hate relationship. They married and divorced each other twice. The 2nd time occurred when I was an adult, and married to a wonderful woman for about 4 years.

    I am am still happily married to my wonderful wife of 17 years, with no intention of ending anything. Both my wife and I have had our ups and downs, but we are stable, and love each other dearly.

    We “fought” to hard for us. We believe this is what proved to all we are perfect for each other. You see, my wife is from Vietnam, and came to the USA only after marrying me. The USA government has a screwed up system to get a foreign spouse cleared to immigrate to the USA. I was starting to wind things down in Illinois, preparing to “abandon” the USA for Vietnam, when on my wife’s 3rd attempt she got the visa. It was this that tested our marriage and love.

    We never forget this, and neither of us take our marriage for granted. Perhaps this is why my marriage has lasted longer then that of my parents.

    • Rahul Iyer says:

      You gotta fight for your marriage every day..both of you. We come first is the mindset you need.

  14. AMH says:

    I knew I shouldn’t have read this. The spouting of statistics to keep people in unhappy marriages. I live in Paris where the divorce rate is 66%. I’m divorced, my daughter’s friends parents are mostly divorced. The kids are doing remarkably well, some more than others. The difference? When BOTH parents are involved, active and supportive in their kid’s life the child sees that they are loved and a diffuse family situation is not only possible, but can be happy as well. We celebrate birthdays and holidays together, and there is no tug of war. Plus, we’re dating other divorced people with kids who are also making their diffuse families work. Spouting statistics about how kids of divorce are doomed fail is not only a depressing guilt trip to people dying to leave an unhappy marriage, it’s plain ol’ false.

    PS. Otherwise, love the show(s).

    • Tom says:

      your experience may be more difficult to replicate in areas that are less dense, both in terms of physical proximity and cultural opportunity, i.e. lots of interesting places to go and things to do, close by.

    • LNO says:

      Apparently, you missed this part… “Children of divorced parents are on average unhappier, more anxious, and more likely to be depressed. They’re also less likely to graduate from high school and college, typically make less money, and are more likely to ultimately get divorced themselves. But: The same is true of children whose parents stayed in a high-conflict marriage. Relationships that breed severe conflict can be as hard on children as breakups. Chaos is the culprit, not legal status.“ is what he said.

  15. Mary says:

    As a friend put it, personal and corporate marriages are as long as you both shall love. Despite the economic advantages of marriage, life is too short to be unhappy and living your best life. While my divorce was sad, I’ve had a life I probably never would have had if I’d stayed married.

  16. Matt Clark says:

    +1 for last sentence. Twitter needs a full-time CEO.

  17. Phil says:

    Are you calculating the total number of people married and divorced in a given year, or are you using that total of people that are married regardless of what year they were married? Each marriage is a chance for a divorce to happen – so shouldn’t we count all the marriages that have not divorced into the mix. Life is not a spectator sport, it is a full contact participatory – and the challenge is easier and fun when you have great mates and perhaps one special one.

    • Jeffrey Miner says:

      Yes — the “divorce rate” — is the denominator married couples or all people? Effectively, the divorce rate won’t decline because fewer people are getting married. The falling divorce rate may be cause by a survivability bias, but not the falling divorce rate itself. So if the cohort of married couples are more economically affluent or college educated and have better job security / economic means, that would drive the outcome (and I suspect it is). Nothing stresses marriages (and people!) more than money, so I’d expect amount of, consistency of and expectation of income are the biggest drivers of a) willingness to get married and b) ability to stay married. Ditto the choices around children and how many to have. Since marriage and fertility rates are all down so sharply everything points to once place: economic despair, made much worse by the pandemic, but a burning platform before the pandemic. Economic opportunity — whether in employment or in small business opportunities — are the root cause of ALL our nation’s woes. The rest — substance abuse, crime, domestic violence, divorce, gun purchase rates and mass shootings — all come down to too many lousy, dead-end, low paying jobs.

      • LNO says:

        Yes, the divorce rate IS declining because fewer people are getting married. Those who are getting married are making a more thoughtful decision, rather than giving in to societal, familial, or personal pressure to marry simply because that’s what people are expected to do. As a result, these fewer marriages are more successful leading to fewer divorces.

  18. SRS says:

    According to the Hindu scriptures, the sage Shwetaketu (sh-way-thuh-kay-two) codified marriage into law to replace the previously existing practice of temporary indiscriminate union after seeing his mother being led away by a man while his father watched helplessly.

    He probably did the right thing, but should have written into marriage a 10-yr term followed by a forced 2-yr cooling off, at the end of which the couple could resume or go their separate ways. 10 yrs is plenty of time to get to know someone and to start to get tired of them. If society structured itself around the idea that marital unions don’t need to be life sentences, we would have so much more social peace.

  19. Anthony Toms says:

    American marriages mostly fail- it’s higher than 50%- divorce is a cultural epidemic- long before Covid.
    The system of family courts, lawyers and judges is broken and corrupt. It extorts money from fathers and alienates them from their kids.
    Lawyers are all in with the judges; they just fuel the flames and extort more fees. Law schools should prohibit law students from practicing family law without required years of training and experience because most are unfit and unethical. I know I’m a former not rich not famous lawyer. I was traumatized by an experience from hell.

    And no- despite the bogus claims of marriage therapists ”that kids are resilient”- they are irrevocably damaged – for life. They need to be resilient – they are innocent victims in a broken system- It’s a no-win situation for them. Therapists make their living on broken relationships and divorces.
    The blame game is on the fathers most of the time.
    More often than not, these kids of divorcees repeat the same pattern in their own lives. Broken again.
    .

    Celebrity divorce is a misnomer- it’s just another transaction; an exchange of money for freedom. They arent in unions, in marriages of minds or souls- more like riskless temporary partnerships.
    There are no lessons to be learned about so-called loss from listening to a Pitt. The rich move in and out of marriages because the men can- risk n therapy free. A lot of celebrities are self-absorbed narcissists, idols in their own world-they need to be because the public emulates that. That dreaded anonymity sucks.

    There is no accountability in the system. If one partner is unfaithful in a no-fault system it’s ignored and vice versa. Infidelity, physical abuse, substance abuse, abandonment by one partner, incarceration, inter alia, the divorce should have negative consequences for the culpable one. There should be mandatory mediation because the women know the system is rigged in their favor. W. Scott was murdered because of a civil debt because he didn’t want to go back to jail-appareently under a support warrant issued by overly punitive judges
    I was in jail for a 300 mistaken support debt; I/m white educated and was treated like a criminal more like a dog- over a mistake on a debt. If I wasn’t ROR by the judge they strip search your every aperture.

    Relationship advice is useless- since divorce is usually a less risky option for a woman IMO most middle-class men s/n get married- white and black mothers need to tell their sons don’t marry because invariably you will lose everything. And if you don’t marry, be very careful who you have kids with-it’s the biggest risk to your financial and mental well-being. Fuk bad investment advice or job loss. It’s homelessness if you get divorced.
    So is divorce better than marriage? as the lawyers say- It depends. If u got bank oh yeah; if penurious stay the 15.
    Divorce? Aka Peril.

  20. Jana says:

    Excellent piece. I recently divorced after 23 years and we are successfully co-parenting and we manage to still be a family. It might be a tad confusing for the kids (18 and 15) to wonder why we can’t just be married if we get along so well, but we all seem content and we try to talk to them as much as we can without over burdening them with info. I’d love to see you partner with Laura Wasser’s It’s Over Easy business….divorce is ripe for disruption. So easy to get married, so hard to get divorced.

  21. Cherie says:

    My parents divorced when I was 11–and I was relieved. Alcoholism, domestic violence, constant stress and a lot of sleepless nights. When it was over we could all relax and begin to heal. It would NOT have been better for my parents to stay together, as I truly believe one or the other would have wound up dead.

    I was married for 24 years. And I’ve said many times the first four were okay, and the last 20 were pretty awful. I married the wrong person because I was afraid no one else would want me. He spent decades being angry that I was who I was and not his “idea” or “wish” of who I was. He had a horrible temper, was insanely jealous, and was verbally abusive and physically threatening.

    We had kids, but for the most part they didn’t see the worst of it. They were still stunned when we divorced, and they were incredibly angry with me (I left). My relationship with my kids almost 5 years later is good, and I am incredibly happy being single, though I have a long-term significant other. We’re talking about living together, but I honestly don’t know if I’d ever get married again.

  22. pmelrita says:

    I think another important group of people to consider are they couples that live together. They will be considered in data sets as single but do have the benefit of shared household expenses. I consider my partner my “husband” but we will probably just forever be engaged. I feel like the pros outweigh the cons in our arrangements. And I think there a lot of people out there like us.

  23. MilesP says:

    Thanks for the thought provoking article on marriage and inequality. Marriage education saved and has sustained our marriage. I’ve learned i have to keep investing. It doesn’t stop abuse or fundamental mismatch but can help two willing partners come closer. It’s not a middle class thing because many working class couples where we used to live in London participated in marriage courses with us. But it takes a middle class institution like a church to drive it.

  24. Michael says:

    Who does your illustrations and charts? They are superb.

  25. Committed says:

    I’m also not usually a commenter, but this triggered something in me too. 🙂 Thank you for sharing! I don’t always agree with you (forgive me, I’m a rebel), but having more data points has always felt like food for my thinking, without contrasting views, I can’t grow–sincerely, thank you!

    My wife and I are working on 30 years together. We married in our early 20s… and while I continue to age, she’s been 29 now for some time–it’s one of her superpowers!

    We’ve both had divorces and long-term marriages in our families and have seen the full range of what you described, in our own families (both the positive and negative columns.)

    Speaking for myself, my commitment to my wife seems to at least involve being hopelessly (naively) in love with her not just as a husband but as a friend and an adopted-through-friendship-time-and-shared-experiences family member. The thought of a split (losing her through death or divorce) puts a lump in my throat. When our kids were younger the thought of leaving them (via accident or indiscretion) depriving them of my own contribution to the partnership maybe helped power my internal compass–maybe.

    I’ve always made fun of the institutionalization of commitments that I’ve felt should come from inside of ourselves, but it does seem like an unintentional unleveling of the playing field through the involvement of legislators and the machinery that accumulates in their wake gives perverse sticks and carrots. It just doesn’t seem to solve underlying problems–only changes the face exposed to the cameras and moves means-distribution outside of the dissolving union.

    Despite maybe making a morality-style argument here, I’m not a moralist in the conventional sense. It does seem that a shared sense of what is helpful and unhelpful behavior on the part of ourselves is a factor. I also don’t think there is a binary answer, some unions serve their constituencies better by ending (amiably is a plus.)

    For me, my union has changed me. As a child I hated eating fish, disgusting! My wife through patience and skill caused me to come to the realization that sushi is one of the pinnacle culinary experiences of my life so far and a religious experience in my estimation. To which I can never repay her, though I’ll continue trying.

    Thanks again, life… IS, SO, RICH!

  26. Evan says:

    Great piece, Scott. I feel like you ended on a false binary – a very common one that I see all the time as a dating coach: the choice between being unhappily married or divorced. There’s a third option: choose wisely and be happily married. It may only be 1/3 of couples who are actually happy but it’s important to remember that dating and relationships, like everything else, are a skill set, not just dumb luck. It may be too late to help your Dad but if you’re ever inclined to shoot for a happy marriage again, I’d be thrilled to help nudge you in the right direction. Keep up the wonderful, thought-provoking work.

    • KEVIN DILLON says:

      Just as an aside , He is married again and speaks of his wife infrequently, they have 2 kids

  27. Vinnie says:

    My parents divorced at when I turned 16, and I was not surprised. I don’t think they were ever in love and for years the shouting was constant, even though it done in their room and never in front of us. As an adult I know it has affected me. I didn’t think so as a child.
    Too many people today take marriage and building a family too casually. People are marrying the wrong people for the wrong reasons, at least from my observations.
    When I observe my parents in old age, I sense a sincere regret from both of them as they split grand parenting time and navigate the final chapter of their lives alone.

  28. marcus says:

    you forgot the s word. you know, what was once desirable is now not so much, familiarity breeds boredom, been there done that, etc, etc. and i would guess you can relate it to organizations and how so many screw their employees, purely so the big boys can feel good while the employees are just tired of being screwed in the same old ways but often have no choice but to take it UTA due to financial dependency.
    there are really only two things that provide continuous joy and you would never want to divorce yourself from – a porsche and a dog.
    just saying, scott. but i’m sure you can say it more eloquently than I.

  29. rick fluegel says:

    I don’t know where you get your data, but they always provide food for thought. It looks like the birthrate will continue to decline, reducing the number of workers supporting us oldsters.

  30. Alice says:

    I got divorced after 8 years of an abusive relationship with my husband. My children don’t fit in any of the sad categories of the children of divorce because, my ex actually tried to co-parent with me.

  31. Esskay says:

    “Children of divorced parents are on average unhappier, more anxious, and more likely to be depressed. They’re also less likely to graduate from high school and college, typically make less money, and are more likely to ultimately get divorced themselves. But: The same is true of children whose parents stayed in a high-conflict marriage. Relationships that breed severe conflict can be as hard on children as breakups. Chaos is the culprit, not legal status.”

    I think it is a bit more complex than that. There are two types of unhappy marriages with children – those where the parents do a good job of hiding their unhappiness from their children, and those where it is on vivid display through screaming matches, violence, etc. Children of the later kind of marriages often experience parental divorce as a relief, and derive benefits from it. Children of the former kind of marriages generally experience parental divorce as an unexplained and unexpected disruption, a shattering of their normality – their parents may have been unhappy, but that was never clear to them – and it tends to cause them psychological harm, and times significant.

    Let me ask the question – what would divorce law look like if the interests of the children was its number one priority? I suspect it would look rather different than it does now. A child-centric divorce law would make divorce harder in the “hidden-parental-unhappiness” case (where divorce does the most harm to children) and easier in the “manifest-parental-unhappiness” case (where it gives children the most benefit). Most current systems of divorce law don’t have that feature.

  32. Nancy London says:

    Rather than marrying, we may want to try what Esther Abraham Hicks recommends. Saying to the one you want to spend your life with “I like you pretty well let’s commit to one another (without sanctity of marriage) and let’s see how it goes”.

    • Jim Bulla says:

      Couples in successfully marriages hope their children marry individuals whose parents are married and have never been divorced. Hope, no doubt includes sending indirect messages. I guess my point here is kids that live through divorces may see divorce as normal and kids who grow up in a more stable family may be more inclined to work a little harder to stay married.

  33. Lisa Paradis says:

    This was a great piece. Invoking Occams Razor. Thank you for writing it.

  34. Nancy Spears says:

    I found your Divorce blog compelling, sad and honest. I especially appreciated your authentic toggling between corporate split ups and you own personal experiences with divorce. As you personalized the breakup experience it provided us with raw and relatable takeaways. Juxtaposing the consequences of broken relationships between companies and couples humanizes the obvious – that companies are run by people – with emotions. The ROI for both is happiness (= prosperity.)

    Here is the thing – when the institution of marriage was first formed people on average died when they were 50 or before. It was in many ways a means to survival.

    Fast forward a hundred years or so, hierarchical companies like those you mention (Kodak, Sears) thought they were timeless. High Potential Start ups and Unicorns were inconceivable, laughable concepts. Enter speed dating and everything changed…at home and at work. Along the way concepts like integrity, loyalty, empathy and compassion took a back seat to social profiles, personal influence and financial scalability.

    Perhaps it is “marriage” that needs a rebranding. Whether it be a couple or a company, partnership requires unabashed honesty, empathy and peripheral POV which I would call awareness. It’s not easy. I think this time during the pandemic has provoked a wake up call with couples, families and companies. It would be exciting and perhaps helpful to dig deeper into what awakened partnerships look like at work and at home.

    In the case of Jack Dorsey – sleeping with both Twitter and Square feels a lot like polygamy. One or both come up short in the end. But he has finessed it so far.

  35. Matt Serwin says:

    If you’ve never watched the documentary Divorce Corp, you definitely should. It focuses on the industry built around this in the US and why it keeps people trapped in unhappy marriages or totally ruined as a result of going through divorce, where that isn’t the case in (as usual) Nordic countries.

  36. Brandon Galbraith says:

    Arguably, the problem is not better marriages or divorces, but that we need better societal support systems so that people’s lives don’t unravel when their partnership ends. That way, couples who choose to co-habitat but not marry can do so, those who decide to take the plunge and marry can, and those that decide to divorce can do so without it causing catastrophic harm to the remainder of their lives.

    Setting aside “marriage” and “divorce” for a moment, we need more thoughtful, intentional relationships and the understanding that much work needs to go into a relationship for it to thrive, of course, but when people change, they should be free to continue their life in a new direction. Success is the happiness and joy during the time that was spent together.

  37. Jane says:

    The problem with marriage is patriarchy. Women don’t want to incur physical abuse (to your point) but they also want to be respected, their labor valued, and if they outearn a spouse, not to retaliated against for hurting his manhood. Until and unless men are interested in an egalitarian marriage, women are going to continue to leave marriages. Yes some marriages end because of infidelity, but a lot of marriages end because women don’t want to be treated like property, they want credit for the labor they spend on domestic work and/or childcare. Many women recognize their value at work, and then find their devaluation at home demoralizing. Especially professional women. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/18/parenting/marriage-invisible-labor-coach.html

    • Tom says:

      Maybe. But it seems the biggest driver of divorce is money problems. Maybe there are men tired be being treated like a pack mule so their spouse can spend an hour or two puttering in the house, then spend the rest of the day at lunch or watching TV/whatever, only to be greeted with complaints about not having this, that or the other thing. I’m fortunate to be married to a woman who works hard, enjoys it, and doesn’t expect me to figure out what’s going to make her happy, all the time.

  38. Alun says:

    How about a thorough declaration of financial position being mandatory on the way into a marriage that by law will automatically annul after 5 or 10 years. Equal division of wealth created during the union and a minimum full time minimum wage paid to a non working partner on top of any governmental minimum wage payment (if suchvexists) at the time of annulment. People might work harder to maintain interest if they knew the marriage had to be renewed. Also day one equal custody of children unless determined objectively unfit by state.

  39. Michael K. Warren says:

    Why exactly does one involve “the state” into their private life?

  40. Jeff says:

    Continued cycles of marriage/divorce, marriage/coping, warring nations, widespread and increasing disregard to maintain personal health, continued financial irresponsibility on all fronts, adherence to (mythological) organized religions, technological advancements that will likely risk civilization. etc.

    All evidence that humans are not truly advancing but rather in retrograde.

  41. FM says:

    A topic crying out for your verbal precision is the Republican’s listing toward autocracy. Your help is needed, the stakes are terribly high.

  42. RM says:

    Being single is hard, but so is being married. It comes down to choosing your hard. A lot of people get married thinking it will take care of itself, but love is a verb. It means each partner showing up every day and putting in the effort to maintain a harmonious partnership

  43. Laura Peck McLoughlin says:

    May I suggest that you do a podcast with Laura Wasserman. She is a California divorce lawyer.

  44. Nata says:

    Statistically speaking, marriage does not work for most people. What if instead of “till death do us part” we became proponents of 10 year life partnerships, with an option to renew? I know it doesn’t sound romantic, but neither does divorce! I think divorce is painful in part bc we grieve something we expected to last forever. Is forever even realistic? A 5,10 or 15 year partnership can be considered a success if we allow ourselves to let go of relationships that were not meant to be forever. A couple that “renews” their commitment to each other every 10 years for 50 years is a beautiful thing. And so can a partnership of 20 years. We can define success and meet it where it works for each of us.

  45. Nonopa Vanda says:

    As a Mediator, i keep saying the exact same thing. The adversarial nature of divorce is wrong. When a bond is formed, a family created and kids brought into this world – a lifelong commitment is made.

    Now this cant just “go away” through seperation. Parents still need to get along for coparenting purposes, finances, etc.

    There has to be a better way to “divorce” and for me its constant healing..If you break each other, you can heal each other. If divorcing is made easy then post-divorce talks/meetings/therapy should be a thing. Both parties need to heal or else all post-divorce marriages will end up in divorce. Dont even get me started on the kids.

    Divorce is too abrupt. It cannot just “end” unfortunately. You will forvever be apart of each other’s lives because u are parents. Thats a fact. This obviously does not apply to abusive spouses, yes those women need to get out of there FAST.

    Marriage institutions were created by old people with a very old patriarchal system that is outdated and does not fit the modern world. There are women who out-earn men, there are women who dont wanna be domesticated animals, men are being forced to FEEL, manhood is being challenged daily, views vastly differ – you name it. An old institution of marriage does not account for the now. Now we need a new one that speaks to our lives NOW.

    All in all, great post today Prof 👌👌

    PS: My friend Thabo is obsessed with your writings. So I’m here for it 🙂

  46. Jeff Hall says:

    My parents first split when I was in second grade. They didn’t divorce till I was in eighth grade, and there was a lot of “on-again/off-again” in the years in between. When they finally split, it was no surprise — but it left a life-long scar on my two siblings and me. I swore to heaven I would never get divorced, as I think it’s the worst thing you can do to kids. My wife left me after 25 years of marriage, we had two daughters, teenagers at the time. I begged her not to leave, but she was done with me. I can see the impact today, years later. Divorce is awful, there’s no getting around it. I got lucky in that my second marriage — almost 14 years now — is much happier — exquisitely happy, really. One daughter now seems really happy in her marriage that produced two beautiful kids; the other is married but has suffered the ups and downs of depression for a very long time. She and her husband never wanted kids and they never did. I have no answer to any of this other than to say divorce hurts — often for generations — and we all need to be kind and understanding with one another. We are humans. Humans fail. Humans can bounce back, too. Some bounce back better than others. This a very difficult topic. Thank you, Scott, for getting this conversation started. Here’s to healing for all of us.

  47. Johnny says:

    Marriage is hard because people change so much over time. The person you marry isn’t the person you’re married to in even five years.Women especially go through at lot of changes after child birth and menopause. It’s really a bit of a roll of a dice frankly. No one should be ashamed, when people are simply no longer compatible. It happens.

  48. Liz says:

    To have a good marriage you have to be around a good marriage so you know what to look for. Most of my siblings and I have been married three times. It’s similar to the Goldilocks story: too hot, too cold, and just right. First marriage is someone familiar and then you slap yourself on the forehead as you realize you meant to get away from our dysfunctional family. Second is so far away it’s like you married an alien. Third is what you should have had the first time around if you knew anything but you’ve learned. Relaxed divorce laws meant we weren’t stuck with bad choices.

  49. William Blamey says:

    As a veteran of two divorces, three mothers of my four daughters, proximity to my daughters has helped us all establish great relationships. We all lived on the same street within five minutes walk and I think this helps greatly. Also the mothers have great working friendships and my four daughters know each other well. I mention this because divorce can lead to “bonus” family life and this is rarely mention in the US discourse. Europeans are more open to extending family life for the love of the children. Divorce can be filled with compassion and love.

  50. Jen says:

    The notion that divorce means you’re a failure because you’ve failed at something most fail at is mad. Feeling failure constantly is part of the human condition, I think. People change, life changes.
    Maybe it’s marriage that failed you.

  51. Michael diCanio says:

    A good read and meditation, thank you. I couldn’t help thinking the inverse of a “rebranding for divorce”, namely, a rebranding of marriage. In the reality of divorce rates and the external pressures of money, child rearing, the definition and redefinition of spousal roles and responsibilities, we should lose the bourgeois expectations of storybook portrayals from our parents’ and grandparents’ eras, at least as a culture residue, and enter the decision skeptically. I’m speaking from within a functional marriage that was saved by a 5 year separation.

    • Brent says:

      Less people may be getting married, but what about couples who just prefer not to make it official? Sure divorce is expensive, but having a wedding is a huge expense. I suspect a lot of people are choosing to forego the tradition of marriage in favor of simply being together and cohabitating. Millennials especially don’t follow traditions like the generations before. They may be choosing to skip the procedure of marriage, save the money, and focus instead on their relationship instead of formalities.

  52. Tom says:

    Sobering information, and a strong rebuttal against the statements of far lefties that single parent households do nothing to diminish a child’s odds of leading a productive and happy life. Never mind households where a father has never been present, and provides no support and resources to the family.

  53. Adam Froman says:

    Hey Scott. I don’t usually comment on posts, but your post today triggered something in me to respond. Having managed my company if 100 people remotely through the last 14 months, watching the burnout due to the fact that the pandemic accelerated the value proposition our ResearchTech, I have seen the impact and both the incredible demonstration of and lack of resilience that the pandemic has uncovered for many. Coupling that with the fact that I’m celebrating my 25th anniversary this year, and while any married has its ups and downs, believing that the grass isn’t always greener outside and that marriage, like any relationship, business or personal, takes work, I really hope that people look at this pandemic as an opportunity to reflect on themselves, their relationships and their resilience. While there are merits to being able to get out of unhealthily marriages through divorce, working at a relationship where the sum can be better than its parts is very rewarding – just like managing through the pandemic. I read your piece with empathy and hope that people can learn from your perspective but also take away a message that divorce may be the easy way to out, but being resilient, vulnerable and willing to work to achieve a common goal may be more rewarding. That’s why I will be celebrating 25 years of working on my life with my wife, 22 years building my company, and Looking at both as a one way journey of constant self reflection and personal growth.

    Thanks for sharing your perspective, it was a nice thoughtful read during these difficult times.

    Btw – I’m wiring this from Toronto where we have been in Lockdown since April and will continue until June. Combined with our borders closed, and golf courses closed, we are all losing our minds.

    All the best,

    Adam Froman
    CEO
    Delvinia

  54. Monica Vila says:

    I think another important consideration is the different stages a relationship. Some people choose divorce when things get tough – it’s important to evaluate whether you can do the hard things together better than you can do them on your own. And in my opinion, it’s better together.
    Agreed on Jack Dorsey. Twitter can marry up and should!

  55. mark a ouellette says:

    Thoughtful and important commentary Scott. Complex for sure, but the collateral damage is real as you point out. No simple solution here, lifetime dancing lessons take lots of hard work!