There seems to be some interest at the moment in why marriages fail at the first hurdle or, as Channel 4 recently termed it, ‘The One Year Itch’. Of course marriages legally aren’t allowed to fail in the first 12 months as we have a 1 year bar on presenting a petition to the Court for divorce. However, I have noticed that I am dealing with more and more divorces when couples have decided to end the marriage within the first 12 months and it has literally been a case of waiting for the first anniversary to start proceedings.
Why is this? In many cases the couple have just made a big mistake and realise they are a mismatch. Often they knew it before they got married but the wedding juggernaut by then had become unstoppable. Weddings themselves play no small part. The increasing trend for a grandiose day of self celebration can mask the real reason for the ceremony itself, meaning couples are hopelessly unprepared for the (potential) trials that lie ahead. Sometimes the wedding is itself a band aid on a flawed relationship. Occasionally is a catastrophic and unforeseen event that proves insurmountable. Usually, however, couples are just naïve and have Great Expectations of married life that simply cannot be met. This leads to rapid disillusionment, resentment and in some cases divorce.
I personally think the bar on petitions for one year is a good thing. It is an odd concept to bind autonomous human beings in a contract that they consider no longer fits with their personal relationship but, if you believe in ‘for better and for worse’, this ‘holding period’ (while the romantic Great Expectations play out) can come into its own. I will try to explain.
I know someone whose husband, six months into a new marriage, was diagnosed with depression and burn out. In the run up to the wedding, a time of heightened anxieties and financial pressure in any event, he had been out of work so they had been relying on one income to pay the bills and prepare for a wedding. The month before the wedding she also was made redundant. Both had no option but to pack up their lives and move. Both were lucky and secured new jobs before too long and plans were made to purchase a home. But these things do not happen overnight and married life began in the spare bedroom of the in laws. Not an ideal start perhaps.
The wedding was beautiful and filled with love, light and laughter. By the honeymoon, already the spectre of Great Expectations was looming and that shiny new marriage was failing to measure up in at least one partner’s eyes. The pressure of a new job and business and the financial demands of a new home were building. “It is not supposed to be like this” they lamented as they worked hard, tried to balance the books and adjust to married life. Where was the Hollywood spangled Happily Ever After fairytale? Why did we just get the Ever After bit? And it feels like Ever and Ever and Ever….
His behaviour became more and more erratic as his unhappiness grew. She covered it up and made excuses because ‘It’s not supposed to be like this’ and felt unable and ashamed to face up to his growing difficulties. His situation became more desperate and his feelings failed to live up to the Great Expectations he had of the honeymoon period of his baby marriage. Imagine her guilt and his shame when it all came to a head during an alcohol fuelled rage and it became clear that everyone else knew he was depressed and the marriage was struggling except the people in it.
He was forced to confront demons. She spoke out her resentment. They both do not want to end their marriage although neither of them could really tell you why. Those loving feelings are still buried under six months of depression, neglect, frustration and, most worryingly, detachment. Possibly it is deep belief in their vows that hold them together. Had they not been married, would it have been easier for her to walk? Certainly. Has she wanted to? Several times. Ever the pragmatist, I think the acceptance that nothing can be done, whether they want to or not, until 1 year has elapsed has given them both a moratorium. He has 6 months to get well and happier. She has 6 months to deal with her hurt and disappointment. Hopefully, by then they will both be in a position to build a real marriage together. Not one based on Great Expectations. I desperately hope so.