As a child of divorced parents, Susan Pease Gadoua knows first-hand how disruptive an unhappy marriage and subsequent divorce can be. When her parents split in 1981, marriage counseling was unheard of and emotional divorce support virtually nonexistent.
That experience, combined with years of working with couples in distress — whether striving to save their marriage or transition out of it — led Susan, as a licensed therapist, to become passionate about offering support to people at perhaps one of the most crucial junctures in their lives.
What she found so striking was the amount of shame people felt if they did not fit the marital mold. Virtually everyone whose marriage ended said he or she felt like a failure or described the dissolution as a “failed marriage.” But admitting something isn’t working does not equal failure. In fact, it often takes more courage to go separate ways than it does to stay and pretend to the world that everything is fine.
Sadly, too many still think that way. If a marriage ends in divorce, people are all too eager to start pointing fingers at what went wrong — either the couple didn’t understand what commitment means, or they didn’t work hard enough on their marriage, or they were too focused on their own happiness, or they were too selfish or lazy.
It’s still all about blame, shame, and personal failure, instead of looking at the institution of marriage itself and asking, why isn’t it working well for about half of those who enter into it? Actually, it isn’t working well for more people than that; many couples remain married in name only because the wife or husband needs the health benefits, or they own a business and it would lead to financial ruin, or they can’t afford to sell the house, or they live separate lives but decide to stick it out, unhappily, “for the kids.”
While Vicki Larson’s parents may or may not have stayed married for that reason, they bickered so much that she often thought they would have been much happier if they divorced. But at one point, her mother moved not only out of the family home, but also out of state — for 10 years. That took great courage, too — a willingness to change what clearly wasn’t working. And there are many other people like Vicki’s mother; couples are tweaking the institution to make it work for them even if it looks pretty much like a “traditional” marriage from the outside. Serial monogamy, open marriages, covenant marriages, commuter marriages — these variations-on-a-theme arrangements are already happening. What hasn’t happened, however, is the end of the blaming, shaming, and sense of failure many feel, as well as the need to keep their marital choices in the closet lest they be judged.
Our book, The New I Do (Seal Press, fall 2014) hopes to change that. We hope to normalize what is already happening. And, just as important, we want to offer those who may want to marry one day — perhaps even you — or those who would like to transform their marriage new marital road maps that will set them up for success.
The New I Do will get you to think consciously about the kind of marriage you want, not the marriage your parents, relatives, friends and — heaven forbid — celebrities have. If you have seen marriages around you end in separation and divorce, or remain intact — unhappy, sexless and perhaps loveless — and you are questioning whether marriage is still worth it, then this book is for you.