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The Real Causes of Divorce -- America Has to Stop Blaming It on Women

Stereotypes about women's behavior totally obscure the driving forces that can split a marriage.

A recent poll revealed a clear tendency to blame women for not keeping their husbands happy and a habit of viewing divorced women as unwanted and pitiable.

That was in the United Arab Emirates. But what about the United States of America? You’d think a more enlightened view of women and marriage might prevail.

Think again. The Huffington Post ran a front-page piece just this week with a headline that would make any old-school patriarch proud: “Women: Five Reasons Your Divorce Is Your Fault.” The author, self-appointed intimacy expert Laura Doyle, spent several paragraphs hectoring women for sins including “Taking the same approach at home as you do at work” and “Rejecting his efforts to make you happy.” She reserves special scorn for present-day Lysistratas who are cruelly “withholding sex” from their partners, as if they were using sex as a punishment rather than simply too tired or not aroused enough to want it. Doyle’s “remedy” for this transgression? Consider making yourself available for sex at least once a week in support of your mutual goal of connecting.” Problem solved!

Yes, it appears that right here in 2013, somebody is paying Ms. Doyle to expound on the following fantastically stupid credo: “I teach intimacy skills, but not to couples and not to men. I only teach them to women because we are the ones who have the power to make our relationships intimate.”

Those who can, teach. Those who can’t, teach intimacy, evidently.

In Doyle’s binary universe, wives are tasked with creating intimacy in the home and men are emotionally deficient beings who require their guidance. This is a 21st-century redo of the famous “Angel in the House” motif common in Victorian culture, in which women were meant to radiate moral purity and emotional balance for men who were off dealing with the slings and arrow of the outside world. By criticizing women for bringing work skills and attitudes into the home, Doyle reveals her nostalgia for the days when women were financial dependents in marriage. “If all we've ever been taught is how to get ahead in school and career,” she moans, “but not how to foster intimacy, it's pretty hard to change hats when the work day is done and we want a loving, supportive home.” Apparently keeping a roof over that loving, supportive home is an afterthought.

Finger-wagging at women usually comes along with the oft-cited statistic that women file for divorce twice as often as men. What we hear less often is straight talk about the social and economic factors that drive the engine of divorce. The fact is that college-educated people are more likely to stay together, and there’s a higher risk of divorce for people with lower incomes and less education. When people are struggling to pay the rent and keep a roof over their heads, the marriage problem isn’t likely to be some kind of deficiency in managing intimacy. Given the fact that divorce is expensive and often leaves women financially insecure, the stressors would have to be pretty severe to lead women of few resources to divorce.

A recent study found little difference in the way low-income and high-income people think about marriage – they have similar romantic standards and experienced the usual range of problems, with this major difference: low-income respondents in the study were more likely to be affected by economic and social issues like financial struggles, alcohol and drug abuse.

So instead of playing the blame-and-shame game, perhaps Doyle’s time would be better spent thinking about how to make the lives of lower-income people better and more financially secure.