More (Bump &) Grind Required

Written betwixt Paddington and Templemeads last night…

I didn’t hear Sir Paul Coleridge on the Today programme this morning (yesterday), owing to my broken foot (I had to cadge a lift to work with my brother who is allergic to Radio 4. Sadly, I am allergic to Kiss FM but this cuts no ice).

I confess that of the “Marriage Foundation” I know only that which is available via headline – plus a short article in the Evening Standard read on the train en route back from the divorce capital. But such lack of in depth knowledge never stops anyone else from commenting on anything at all, so “What the hell”. And besides, its rude not to complain about the Standard at least once on every visit to the ol’ smoke.

Headline: “Judge: Hello! Approach is fuelling family breakdown”

Apparently, “He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “In terms of the impact that family breakdown is having on society, nobody has the experience that the family judiciary have”. Pause there. NOBODY. Not the mediators, counsellors, extended family, teachers or – god forbid – the parties to divorces. Carry on.

“He insisted he was not mounting a moral campaign but wanted to set-out the facts in a “non-preachy” way”. Hold. That. Thought.

“He said he wasn’t “knocking” the magazine, but added: “I normally find the people who are in there are in my court within about a year or two.””

Pause there. Rewind. “In terms of the impact family breakdown is having on society, nobody has the experience that the family judiciary have”. Apparently limited to the experience of that portion of society that is displayed in Hello! magazine. I wonder if the experience of the District Judges is quite the same. More Coronation Street than Hello! I suspect, and most of them managing to get in a sufficient pickle to end up falling upon the judiciary without ever having said “I do”.

“We all know, all of us who have been in relationships for a long time, that the only way they are made to work and the only way they become really qualitatively good is by absolutely grinding away at it”. Pause there. Remember that not-preachy thing? Er…I could ask the vexed question of just how far one should persevere with a “difficult” relationship and when it is ok to divorce (how much grinding does one have to tolerate?) – but it’s late, I’m ill informed, and it would be more amusing to snigger at the unfortunate choice of language. Juvenile I know: but a bit of mickey taking is just as key to any healthy adult relationship… Once the kids arrive you have to find something to replace the grinding, right?

Postscript: For those who want to find out about the Marriage Foundation their website is here. There is a useful link to their first newsletter in the centre of the home page. I have previously written about this topic here.

22 thoughts on “More (Bump &) Grind Required

  1. Stephen G Anderson

    I agree with most of what you say. On the other hand, discussing him (and posting this comment!) is only adding to the oxygen of free publicity which his cack-handed intervention seemed to create. His views on intimate partner separation are as relevant and important as the majority of those who practice as family lawyers. Not, then.

  2. Stephen G Anderson

    Sorry forgot to click “Notify me of follow up”

    • not sure if I have to approve this to get your follow up request to work so will do so out of an abundance of caution.

  3. Sarah phillimore

    I started off annoyed by this but now I just find it very sweet albeit v naive. He has had a lovely marriage of 30 plus years and is keen for us all to reap that loveliness. However I struggle to think of any period in history when marriage was the pancea for all human ills and the guarantor of human happiness. Maybe for a small portion of the educated and wealthy – his constituency. But for the rest?

  4. “….are in my court within about a year or two.”
    In a conference (not court) a few years ago I heard this – in my mind pompous – statement and saw my opportunity in the q and a session.
    “Don’t we all need to remember it’s the taxpayers court?”

  5. I suffer the twin handicaps of being sadly middle aged and religious, but without getting into the question of judicial knowledge (he may have meant cumulatively) it does seem to me that he raises an important question about how dissatisfied 2 people have to be with each other to affect the lives of third parties by divorcing.

    Most of the criticism has focussed on the proposition – which I certainly did not understand him to be advancing – that he wanted to make divorce harder. I don’t think that is the point at all: rather it is the question about how individuals behave when their immediate personal preferences are challenged. That is, surely, an appropriate topic for a society to debate.

    I would add that the number of those criminally charged who come from families where the parents (married or not) are no longer together is utterly disproportionate to the number of divorced couples. Of course, there may be no corollary and it may not be exact and all sort of other things. But, in fact, most of the people facing the charges do say it has an impact.

    That adds at least sufficient fuel to make me want to see a real debate. Too many of the current responses are so clearly playing the man not the ball that it raises doubts about whether there is a sensible response. Divorce is a decision made by 2 people which impacts on the life of third parties. We normally permit such third parties a say in such key decisions – through the courts and otherwise. it does not seem to me to be in the least unfair to suggest that such decisions need to be justified, and objectively justified.

    Sorry to be so old-fashioned and off-trend.

    • Simon, I agree there is an important debate to be had – about how we make relationships work and last – I just don’t like the way it’s framed much at the moment. I think it’s a debate about relationships and the consequences of relationship breakdown – not a debate about marriage per se. You say divorce is a decision made by 2 people which impacts on the life of third parties. That is equally true of decisions by co-habitees to separate. There are too many people (in all sorts of relationships – marriages, civil partnerships or cohabiting relationships) who are too ready to jump ship and look for the next “the one”. And there are also too many people (again, in all sorts of relationships) who are either not prepared or not equipped to be functional, respectful partners that their spouse or partner deserves. Perhaps many are ill-equipped to be good husbands, wives or partners because they have suffered the ill effects of growing up in what used to be called a “broken home” themselves, or perhaps society gives them the wrong messages – whatever the reasons we all agree that we need to try to find ways to help people make relationships work and where they cannot work to leave them safely and with minimum upset and acrimony. Where does “objective justification” fit into that?

  6. Perhaps we should be taking the myth out of marriage. Rather than encouraging ’the wedding-dress romance’, we should counsel a realistic view of marriage from the start. Better to discourage than to espouse. Healthier to emphasise the discipline, restraint and sacrifice that marriage may require, than to emblazon it as ‘the Gold Standard’.

    • Stephen, I agree. Cut the meringues and the hoo-hah of the Wedding and focus on the marriage.

  7. I agree with most of the comments made here – just want to mention that The D Mail front page yesterday (unavoidable as I was on a long crowded train journey) was ‘At last, the judge who will make divorce harder’ so he may have been misquoted/misunderstood. Nothing wrong with supporting enduring relationships but as many collapse under weight of debt, unemployment, illness etc. bit of a structural issue there.

  8. I will ‘fess up that I’m genuinely conflicted over this. It is very easy (and quite tempting) to simply dismiss Sir Paul’s views as opposing divorce qua divorce on the basis that it offends his personal moral, religious or social proclivities. In some instances, such a dismissal would be valid. The purely subjective considerations need no more than a robust “I disagree” and a quick show-of-hands to see if there are more people whose personal preferences favour divorce or oppose it.

    But there are interesting points that flow from the question. I’m sceptical of anecdotal claims that the children of divorced parents do worse than those of parents who stay together solely for the sake of the children. Some of the studies that get dragged out to support such claims seem, on their face, to adopt methodologies that are so uncontrolled as to be meaningless.

    For example, Simon’s point above regarding appearances in the criminal courts. It would be interesting to know if the children of divorced couples are more or less likely to crop up than those raised by lone parents and the nature of the relationship breakdown. My—albeit unsupported—view is that the cause and effect are probably the other way around and couples who will provide a better upbringing for their children are also more likely to marry and stay together.

    As Stephen says, taking the myth out of marriage would be a start. For those not constrained by religious and social considerations, cohabitation before marriage seems sensible. The infuriating part is that frequently those who are most vocal in their disapproval of divorce for others often seem to be most vocal of their disapproval of cohabitation for others—and there’s usually one or more 2000 year old books floating around in the background.

    But who knows, maybe this time around the national debate might actually get the chance to look at the serious social issues surrounding people’s attitudes towards relationships that, in my view, merit discussion. I rather doubt it though.

  9. Thanks for the debate, folks. It really is the best I’ve read yet. The original post likewise. I blogged about this too, but I don’t mind admitting that this is rather more profound.

    You can apply for a licence to drive and you get rigorously tested to see if you are fit to be allowed to. The consequences for others of unsuitable drivers are simply too awful to permit. However, to obtain a licence to marry, you just apply and wait. Just as much damage, if not more, can be done to others though. And no, I don’t advocate a marriage test, just a great deal more seriousness about the commitment involved and the seriousness of ending one.

    “there are also too many people (again, in all sorts of relationships) who are either not prepared or not equipped to be functional, respectful partners that their spouse or partner deserves.” Too right – and that’s what keeps some of us in business, sadly.

  10. My understanding is that the ‘best’ evidence in psychology now indicates it is the way children interpret and make meaning of inter-parental conflict that is the factor predicting outcomes (for the children).

  11. Jim, I entirely agree with your point and the point you make about research. The issue really is about cause and effect and it needs doing. Whilst the government is taking money out of all our pockets I suppose it’s unlikely to be publicly funded but it really could be justified as part of the budget.

    I return, with trepidation obviously, to my original point. I agree that when relationships break up, other people suffer. But I am afraid that I regard non-married straight relationships as already suffering from an unwillingness to commit. Of course I appreciate that in individual cases there may be a reason not to marry which is based entirely on something else. But not many. For the same reason I am all in favour of gay marriage. If couples want to sanctify a relationship and use that occasion to express commitment and loyalty, then why would we wish to prevent it?

    I take a religious stance on this and it is, of course, terribly fashionable to sneer at God (not that she cares ;)). But the point is not about making people believe – that is a uniquely personal choice. It is that I think that acknowledging a factor outside and above you makes any relationship more likely to work, and sanctifying that relationship can provide something to stand by when things are difficult. Religion provides it and – notwithstanding the regular contributions of the jihadist atheists – I have yet to hear anything similarly positive from the non-religious camp. I don’t mean that the words aren’t uttered – they are. But words are cheap and I don’t see a sustained non-theistic effort to create a society or a view that suggests that self-gratification might actually be a bad thing.

    As most people in this country still vaguely believe, I do wonder whether an emphasis on non self-interest might be a place to start and marriage as a sanctified relationship would be a part of that. Rather than not suggesting anything.

    I apologise if this is hijacking the debate. I do understand the argument that religion killed millions and is inherently evil. But, actually, that’s human beings and – as Hitler demonstrated – any excuse to be a bastard will do if it suits. It is precisely that attitude which religion is capable of influencing people to avoid.

    Right – going to roll the bottom of my trousers.

    • Simon, Please don’t feel you aren’t welcome to express views about your religious convictions here. I may be an atheist and may disagree with some of your views, but the religious aspect is a legitimate part of the debate. I agree with what you say about the need to move away from an idea of life as about self-gratification and entitlement. But I don’t think that the religious have the monopoly on altruism or selflessness any more than they have a monopoly on genocide (perhaps monopoly is not the right word, but you know what I mean).

  12. My ill-considered views – I suspect that assessing whether marriage and divorce works from the viewpoint of those cases which are bitter and acrimonious enough to end up in the High Court might give you a slightly skewed sample from which to draw conclusions.

    The Daily Mail really shouldn’t amaze me any more, but that one still did. Why should any paper be triumphant at the prospect of making divorce any harder? If you find yourself wanting a divorce, you want it not to be hard, and if you’re not personally affected by it, why should you give a damn how easy or hard it is for other people to do it?

    [Unless you have deep-seated religious convictions about the general sanctity of marriage, but I suspect the Mail is not all that pro the ‘judge not lest ye be judged’, ‘turn the other cheek’, ‘love thy neighbour’ ‘let he who is without sin’ stuff that goes along with those religious convictions]

    I think it is hard to have a system that lets people who are genuinely unhappy and would be truly miserable during their lifetime if they had to remain in a marriage, escape, without at the same time letting out those people who just feel dissatisfied and that they could do better. (And who is to say that that sense of dissatisfaction in 2012 doesn’t turn into true misery by 2016?]

    It’s like a criminal justice system, in a way. I’d rather my divorce (and criminal justice) system let a few people get their freedom even though they don’t deserve it, to ensure that those who truly do have their best chance of getting it.

    While we’re reforming divorce, can we make it a criminal offence for newspapers to write about celebrities getting a ‘quickie divorce’ as though there were some magic special law that only celebs can get? – they get the same unreasonable behaviour divorce that anyone with an ounce of creativity in drafting a petition would be entitled to seek.

  13. ‘But I am afraid that I regard non-married straight relationships as already suffering from an unwillingness to commit.’

    really??? i’m happily unmarried now for errm (not quite sure) at least 15 years with two kids. one of my reasons for not marrying is that nothing i said or did could make me more committed to my partner. another is that marriage seems restricted to going into a church and saying you love this person in front of the sky fairy; and the other is doing the same in a nasty 1960s civic building in front of the queen or i just don’t know who. it is no business of anyone but us on what footing we have our relationship. we don’t define it, why should anyone else. and we have stuck at it with more dedication and love than many a marriage. it may just be good fortune that i have chanced on someone without whom life would be unimaginable, but whatever it is, it need not be limited by what to me is no more than a word.

    and simon – don’t do yourself down as being hampered by your religion; i have always thought judaism so nice and reasonable it barely qualifies as a religion! or maybe it isn’t judaism, just its adherents. you are a bit old-fashioned, tho, i think. in a nice way.

  14. Simon,

    I certainly hope you didn’t construe my remarks as ‘sneering at God’. While I would fall somewhere in the atheistic–agnostic camp, I don’t have any better alternatives up my sleeve. For the purposes of discussion though, I think it is useful to hive off the social guidance parts of religion from the faith parts of religion.

    I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with your remarks about the influence of an ‘outside factor’, and the role that religion can play in this by sanctifying the partnership. The problem, for me at least, is that such faith is (as you say) uniquely subjective.

    The point where I start to get off-board, is when you start pulling the social-control factors of religion in. Some, of course, are inherently logical and capable of objective justification. But I have never seen an objectively reasonable basis for the saddening level of homophobia that some (but certainly not all) people of faith are display. The fear, in my mind, is that if the moral judgments of religion start to influence policy, where exactly does that stop? I’m OK with the no-adultery part, but I step off the boat when we start saying that domestic violence isn’t grounds for divorce.

    But more fundamentally, if you assemble six Christians/Jews/Muslims/etc in any one room and ask them what their faith says about gay marriage/divorce/ contraception in marriage/etc you’re likely to get eight opinions back. Public policy cannot cater for the vagaries of doctrinal discussion. And if it did, it would disenfranchise everyone outside the prevailing majority.

    I realise that in my dystopia has gone considerably further than you suggest. There are some valid points that religion can bring to the debate that, in my view, are capable of being made and defended without reference to faith at all.

    Regarding cohabitation, I would accept that cohabitation involves less commitment than marriage. But if people wish to cohabit for a number of years before marriage and starting a family, should we really be insisting that marriage is the ‘gold standard’? I would encourage them to live together and see how things work before suggesting marriage. Ironically, a spell of cohabitation might help reduce the number of “I’m bored with him/her” divorces that Sir Paul’s implies in his rhetoric—and I suspect it might also reduce the number of couples who begin families and then realise they don’t work well as a team. So it seems odd to me to denigrate cohabitation. (Although I suspect the reason often boils down to little more than subjective moral views about sex before marriage…)

    The last point (honestly!) I want to raise is the issue of Sir Paul’s slightly odd approach towards the “silver splitters”. I agree with his point about self-sacrifice for a couple’s children. But once the children have left home, I’m honestly baffled as to what the point is of insisting they remain married. Call me new-fangled, but a marriage is about more than a piece of paper—and if the relationship part of the marriage has died and the kids have flown the nest, I don’t see the point in encouraging them to stay together for the piece of paper. It’s this sort of thing that makes me suspect that Sir Paul’s objection may be more to do with his objections against the morals of divorce as opposed to the effects.

    And with that we have returned neatly to the subjective… 🙂

  15. I wonder if I just missed the whole point of the Marriage Foundation.

    And I worry that I also disagree with something Simon said, which has me questioning myself even more!

    Simon said ‘Divorce is a decision made by 2 people…. ‘

    Often the decision is made by just one person. The other has no choice.

    I thought the concept of the Marriage Foundation was to try to get people to work at their marriage rather than turn their backs on it at the first sign of something not going right? Better to work at fixing the problem than take the ‘easy’ route to a divorce.

    Personally, I don’t see a problem with that, but I will question myself once again at why on earth I disagree with something Simon said.

    I think marriage is fine if thats what people want, and cohabitation is fine too, and gay marriage doesnt bother me either. I can see the point of the marriage Foundation is that it is too easy to walk away from a marriage and that people should be encouraged to put some effort into it. No different to people being encouraged to pick up litter, show courtesy and be good citizens.

    And children are usually affected by divorce, and how could they not be affected by it. I don’t know if it means all criminals had divorced parents, but emotionally they must be affected by it, and carry that through to their own adult relationships?

    One other point on the divorce part. Many couples that separate dont actually go through with the divorce process at all. It isnt the divorce per se which is the issue, it is not jumping ship too quickly. By all means jump if things warrant it, but dont copy the celebrities who seem to be on a publicity mission most of the time.

    I see Jordan is planning to wed again. What joy.

    Swiss

  16. Jim – absolutely not. You didn’t do anything to suggest sneering at anyone.

    Simply: I’m delighted. I stated what seemed to me to be a general rule. Not everyone needs to comply with it 😉

    I agree that there are different views and I certainly don’t say that religion is the only way to make people take pause. BUt I think it is the most accessible way for most people. Humanism, in its many guises, always seems to me to talk a good game but, honestly, I don’t see many humanist books on how to live a life which is not self-regarding (lots on how evil religion is mind). Maybe if religion had to take an active role, its more foolish and prescriptive adherents would shut up.

    I’ll take old-fashioned. Compared to what my children say, it’s a generous tribute.

  17. […] For those of you who want a bit of background, I have written about the Marriage Foundation before here and […]

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