(photo credit PA)
Embarrassing details of the marriage between Hugh and Tini Owens have now been splashed all over our papers and news.
After many years of marriage, Mrs Owens wants a divorce, citing the unreasonable behaviour of Mr Owens as the required ‘fact’. However three levels of courts, including most recently the Supreme Court, have decreed that her evidence does not demonstrate unreasonable behaviour and so she must wait the required five years for a contested but no-fault divorce.
It seems absurd to me, and always has done, that one person in a marriage can pin 100 per cent of the fault on the other. Alas nobody but the couple themselves sees what really goes on behind the curtain. Yet the law requires one spouse to take all of the blame if they want their marriage to end within two years if uncontested and five years if contested.
There are two people in a marriage. And nobody is perfect. So I simply don’t believe that one spouse can ever be wholly 100 per cent guilty or innocent. I can buy 95:5. But never 100:0.
Nonetheless the harsh reality here is that if you’re going to have a law that requires ‘unreasonable behaviour’, then some behaviours must necessarily fall short of that bar. That’s what seems to have happened in this case.
Yes, it doesn’t look good and yes, I support the case for divorce reform, in particular the removal of need for fault or blame and a sensible speeding up of the process.
However forget the legal stuff. What’s really interesting here is the detail supplied by the newspapers that does give us a rare look behind the curtain of this particular marriage.
There’s a good deal of research that shows how these four behaviours are good indicators, warning signs, that something is going wrong.
According to the press, Mrs Owens kept a diary of the 27 times she claimed her husband behaved unreasonably to her. They are riddled with STOP signs. For example:
However, there is pretty decent evidence that Mrs Owens – like every other imperfect person I’ve ever come across – also uses her own STOP signs:
In the end, this marriage sounds doomed. Even if he seems determined not to end it, she has hardened her heart too far to make the marriage work. So I sympathise with her plight.
Where do STOP signs come from?
As my wife Kate and I wrote about in our book ‘What mums want and Dads need to know‘, there’s a wealth of evidence that our bad habits become established in the early years of parenthood.
What distinguishes men and women is that women have nine months of pregnancy during which their focus, automatically and inevitably, switches from spouse to child. In response, it’s all too easy for a new dad to submit to the new mum’s apparent expertise and take a backseat in decision making. This is a subtle process that is in no way malevolent. It just happens.
Very gradually, as mum focuses on the child and dad focuses on work, nobody looks after their relationship which becomes less about fun and intimacy and more about the function of parenting.
As they grow apart, the neglected wife then micromanages. Do this please. Do that please. Eventually it begins to grate on both parents. This is such a big clue that all men need to notice and act upon.
The solution, as Kate and I found in our own back-from-the-brink experience as new parents, is for the husband to take responsibility for the relationship.
Happy wife means happy life. And as we discovered in our survey of 300 mums, what mums really want above all else is friendship, interest and kindness.
That’s what Mrs Owens didn’t get from Mr Owens. My guess is that this had been brewing for years. If we husbands don’t treat our wives with kindness and interest, then we lose our friendship and all we will see are these little STOP signs.
Is that you? Don’t blame. Talk about it. Talk to wise friends. And husbands, love your wives. When you do that, they will love you right back! Why ever would they not?!