In an article for Slate, freelance writer and stay-at-home mom Sarah Bregel claims that her marriage is over because she didn’t have enough money for “marital maintenance.” The key to a successful marriage, Bregel claims, is taking time for things like date nights, kid-free vacations, therapy, and me-time — things Bregel says she can’t afford. But surely there are plenty of intact couples out there whose finances don’t allow them these luxuries!
Bregel paints herself as a marital martyr. She describes how she spent “all day with kids, then worked after they went to bed, or on weekends, or with a kid on my lap to meet deadlines.” She explains that there was no time for “date nights” because “if my husband wasn’t working late, then I was. Or we were child rearing. Or making dinner. Or doing massive piles of laundry and dishes before collapsing.” She was “trying hard not to drown in debt” and “rarely paid her electric bill on time.” All this, she wants us to know, contributed to the demise of her marriage.
Now, I don’t know Bregel at all, and I have no opinion as to whether or not her marriage could have been saved, but I do take issue with her argument. Of course financial troubles are stressful and can lead to tension in a marriage, but it isn’t exactly her finances that Bregel claims broke up her marriage. It’s the fact that her lack of funds caused her to be unable to do things — like hire a babysitter, or take a vacation — that she believes most other couples can do without batting an eye.
She and her husband, Bregel implies, were at a disadvantage. But the idea that an inability to afford fun outings with your husband makes you a tragic victim, who would otherwise be blissfully married, is pretty offensive to all the other moms and dads out there to whom Bregel’s description of her life sounds pretty much like . . . life.
It’s as if Bregel blames all her wealthy friends for the breakup of her marriage. She cites the fact that they are able to go “swimming with the dolphins somewhere in the Caribbean,” or leave the kids with the grandparents so they could stay in their “pajamas and spoon-feed one another tiramisu,” as reasons why her marriage was destined for failure.
Would it be great to have all the money in the world and live exactly the life you want? Sure! But nothing is ever exactly the way you want it, and plenty of rich people get divorced too. You’re dealt the cards you’re dealt. It’s how you play them that matters.
There are plenty of loving, hardworking, committed couples out there who aren’t incredibly wealthy. When I read Bregel’s article, I felt the need to defend them. And to defend, also, the wealthier couples who don’t owe anything to their poorer counterparts for being able to afford a lifestyle the rest of us cannot.
Yes, our circumstances shape us, and hardships test our relationships, but the need to work hard to care for your family is not an excuse, nor is it a badge of honor. It’s just life.