Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Irretrievably Broken: The Long Road to Divorce

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Irretrievably Broken: The Long Road to Divorce

Article excerpt

FOR ONE WOMAN, it was the day she called her husband from the pediatrician's office and told him that their 6-year-old son was going to need emergency surgery. She was leaving for the hospital, and would he meet her there?

"My husband said, `Call me when you have something really important to tell me' and hung up on me," says the 49-year-old Long Island woman. "And there I was looking at the pediatrician with this dial tone in my ear, and I pretended I was talking to (my husband) and the pediatrician said, `He's going to meet you there, right?' and I said, `Right.' "

Although it would be three years before they divorced, she says this incident was "something that showed me his character, and then I told myself, `This is not going to last.' "

The moment of truth in a failing marriage is rarely as dramatic as this example. But for many women, it's not that the event spells the end of the marriage but that it comes to symbolize its long, slow erosion. And finally deciding to divorce is usually a complex process filled with fits and starts.

"What I've discovered is that it is a very gradual process, and the moment of truth is very arbitrary," says John Gottman, professor of psychology at the University of Washington in Seattle and author of "Why Marriages Succeed or Fail" (Simon & Schuster, $21). "When it happens, it's almost an anticlimax. What we find is that this emotional divorcing is going on way before the actual divorce."

"If there was someone who could say it was March 3 at 3 in the afternoon, I'd like to meet them," says a woman in her mid-40s who has been separated for two years. "There are things that build up. I kept a list, a mental list. It became cumulative."

A 58-year-old New York City woman who divorced after 20 years of marriage put it this way: "I think there's the straw that breaks the camel's back, but the camel's back is already broken."

In studying couples and why some marriages work and others don't, Gottman says he has struck on a simple mathematical formula: A couple must have five times as many positive experiences as negative moments together if the marriage is to be stable. …

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