Dr. Helen

Why should Men be Stuck in Marriage because of Fear of Divorce and Unfair Family Laws?

Shawn Smith, author of The User’s Guide to the Human Mind: Why Our Brains Make Us Unhappy, Anxious, and Neurotic and What We Can Do about It emails me with some thoughts after reading Men on Strike:

The bias against men in divorce and family law causes direct damage in some relationships. I’ve known dozens of men who choose to tolerate awful treatment from their wives because their only alternative is a divorce that promises financial ruin and part-time fatherhood.

There is a reduced incentive for a woman of immature or low character to monitor her behavior if she stands to profit from divorce. It’s like having a job in which she will win the lottery if she gets fired. The courts have established a moral hazard for which men pay the price.

The behavior I’ve seen from these handful of women would be considered plainly abusive if roles were reversed: mental torment, double-binds, denial of affection, drunken rages, cruel and abusive language, physical abuse, and isolating the man from his friends and family. That last one seems to be particularly common in these relationships. When a man isolates a women, it is rightly considered to be one of the telltale signs of an abusive relationship. It should be considered no less abusive when a woman does it to a man.

If the burden of divorce were more equitably shared, these men would have standing to push for changes in behavior, and the women in their lives would have an incentive to raise their maturity level, improve their communication, and beef up their coping skills. Not so ironically, the possibility of a painful divorce can lead to better behavior, which leads to healthier relationships. But as it stands, men who choose their wives poorly might pay the price for decades (along with any children who are involved) because the courts not only allow for bad behavior from abusive women, they indirectly encourage it.

Now men are stuck in bad marriages and no one cares–not even other men who often tell the guy they picked poorly and its his fault. No man should be stuck in a marriage because he “picked poorly.” This is ludicrous, and sometimes or often during a marriage, people change. What used to look cute becomes abuse. Women used to stay in marriages because they could not afford to go elsewhere. Now men are going through the same, or often worse as they lose their children or are charged with abuse or anything the women and courts decide is fair game. Divorce laws must be changed to become more equitable so that marriage isn’t literally a ball and chain for a man. Until then, many men will avoid taking the risk and with good reason.