Dr. Bad News

By Cathy Young


Salon Staff
October 5, 2000 11:13PM (UTC)

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The looniest people I know are people who swear that their parents had a perfect marriage. They have learned to live a life in total denial and are often pathological liars in all aspects of their life. Marriage, as far as I am concerned, is a highly unnatural state of affairs; two people stuck together in what, at its worst, is often just a babysitting arrangement. Yikes!

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My suggestion on how to make marriages work: Let every wife have a gay male best friend who loves to watch Jane Austen movies with her and every male a giant blond blow up doll who lives only to please him.

-- Dorothy Nixon

I've been hearing a lot about Judith Wallerstein's book recently, and as a child of divorce, my emotions are mixed. "Hooray!" part of me thinks. "A book that reaffirms that no matter how friendly the circumstances or how often the occurrence, divorce is devastating, period."

But when I remember my childhood, it isn't the divorce that makes me cringe. It's the marriage! Had my parents stayed together and remained miserable, had my father never happily remarried a woman who's great for him, had my mother never been allowed to find out just how damn GOOD she is at what she does for a living -- would my model of marriage been any better?

I may have a deafening silence where the lessons of matrimony should be, but I prefer silence to crashing dishes and hysteria. And do parents really need any more guilt?

-- Haley Kish

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In an effort defend divorce and parental choice, Cathy Young misses what I believe to be the central point of Judith Wallerstein's book: What's good for parents is not necessarily good for kids. This is one of the most cherished myths of the late 20th century and it bears examining.

There is no empirical evidence that children can only be happy if their parents are happy. In fact, there is no reason to believe that any one person's happiness is contingent on that of another. It is just as pernicious to suggest that wives could not be happy unless their husbands were, or workers could not be happy unless the CEOs were.

Yet the idea that children's happiness depends on parents' happiness has received great currency. Why? Simply put, it serves the self-interest of those who have adopted the view. They perceive Judith Wallerstein's work as threatening their prerogative. The justification for putting their needs ahead of their children's needs has been thoroughly undermined.

-- Amy B. Tuteur, M.D.

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The conclusion to draw from Dr. Wallerstein's study is not that unhappy couples should stay together, continuing to be unhappy, for the sake of the children.

It's that married couples with children need to remember that they have children, that their children are a part of their marriage, and that long before the word "lawyer" enters the discussion, couples should be disciplining their behavior and their emotions for the sake of the children and themselves. Happy couples need to take pains not to slide into unhappiness. Unhappy couples can decide not to be unhappy.

Successful marriages are not the result of luck. Americans seem to have forgotten that people are capable of controlling and directing their emotions. There will be many marriages that cannot survive, despite the best efforts of the people involved. But too many marriages dissolve because the people in them insist on acting like children instead of taking into account the needs of their children.

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-- David Reilly


Salon Staff

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