Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Divorce is a Polarizing Institution

The family sociology class is working through Marquardt's Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce, which I have written about before. This time I was struck by a point I had missed before.

Institutions are made up of sets of related roles. We make the institution real by enacting the roles.
Marriage is an institution in which men and women learn to be husbands and wives by doing it. The structural logic of marriage draws a couple closer, and works best if they act in a unified way. It is especially important for a married couple to present a united front to their children.

Divorce is also an institution. Ex-husband and ex-wife are roles, too, though they are less defined by law and custom than are their affirmative counterparts, husband and wife. The structural logic of divorce pushes a couple apart. The natural drift of people who no longer have to accommodate one another would produce a widening gap. More than that, though, the divorce will be easier for each of the exes to bear if the couple is demonstrably different from one another, too different to live together. The more different they get, the more the divorce seems justified, even inevitable.

Marquardt's point is that the more different the parents become, the harder it is for their kids to construct one coherent moral worldview.

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