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In a world where we women are finally able to provide for ourselves and our children, have a voice in our governance, and choose our purpose and direction in life, California (one of the most progressive states in the country) has reached 60 percent divorce rate. In the last decade, overall marriage rates have been dropping consistently across the country.

New surveys indicate that younger generations no longer strive for marriage as their end goal in life. Some argue that this is an indication of the social fabric’s disintegration; some say it is an example of an emotionally-disconnected society in the digital era; some say it’s the end of romance. Pragmatic minds point out that the dwindling economic need for marriage renders it socially redundant. From a psychosociological perspective, however, it is also interesting to review the post-feminist age of the female condition in modern society and an emergence of a new cultural narrative that is flipping the paternal script for the female life path in our society.

No marriage begins with divorce plans, and no divorce is a walk in the park. While personal tragedy is involved in love lost, dreams unfulfilled, disappointments, and betrayals weathered, divorce is becoming not only a likely outcome of matrimony but a reality for many families across the board. So then, perhaps, divorce in the modern world is not a failure of a family to stay together but a necessary developmental stage in the growth and development of an open family system that is in direct relationship with its environment. 

Is it possible then that families that do not end in a divorce are, in fact, more likely to be closed boundary systems that fail to fully integrate the outer world and therefore maintain their institutions at the expense of individuals within that system? In other words, keeping a family together more often than not requires major sacrifices on behalf of each partner, sacrifices which the society at large no longer demands from the individual. The current culture celebrates individualism, self-actualization, self-promotion, the pursuit of individual happiness, and taking charge of one’s destiny. We are presented with endless opportunities, career choices, ideas, and ways of living and expanding our consciousness, so the reality of a partnership withstanding such a dynamic and ever-evolving culture with matching speed is almost inconceivable. Marriage in the modern context becomes inevitably thwarting.

It is undeniable that we need a stable support system to start building a family; it does take a village to raise a child. Certainly, our own families of origin and extended families we adopt through our marriages can serve as that village. Yet currently, very few families live close to their extended relatives. In reality, families rely more on relationships they forge with friends in their immediate communities to support this process. 

With neutralizing gender roles, we are seeing a rise in stay-at-home fathers and working moms. We no longer raise children in tight-knit family systems; children are being raised in the community exposed to multiple family systems configurations. There is no social necessity or economic need to remain indefinitely bound to, let’s say, the father of your children. Could we perceive uncoupling as a step toward female liberation from the patriarchal doctrine that states it is somehow “romantic” for us to “belong” to someone? 

Women don’t need to “belong” to their partners any more than men do. When we are emotionally individuated, when we feel competent, when we are openly engaged with the world on our own terms, we enjoy a very diverse variety of relational needs with each other. Not all men we come in contact with need to be our lovers or a potential husband, for that matter. We enjoy intellectual banter, we enjoy friendship, we enjoy romance, we enjoy raw sexual encounters, and not one of these is absolute for our emotional health or life purpose. In other words, relationships with our partners are as important, but not more important, than relationships we have with our friends, colleagues, and the community at large. 

The most important relationship for a modern woman is the relationship she has with herself. Hence, divorcing a partner that no longer serves this relationship is simply a necessity. Modern-day divorce, for many, is a renewal of vows to one’s self, and the reality of contemporary marriage is that, in most cases, it has a life cycle of its own. 

So perhaps it is time we stop asking the question of why so many people are divorcing and start asking the question of why so many people remain married to the other instead of the self? spt

Sophie Schoenfeld, MFT

Sophie Schoenfeld, MFT is a local marriage and family therapist. For more info, visit sophiemft.com.