When Andrew Dice Clay announced that he was divorcing his third wife, Valerie Silverstein, recently, I had to do a double-take on his reason:
“The word ‘marriage’ was putting a pressure on our relationship and since we filed, we’ve been more in love and have had more respect for each other than ever before.”
OK, maybe that’s the kind of thing that we should expect from “America’s most controversial and outrageous comic of all time,” which is how Clay describes himself. It certainly is confusing and perhaps controversial.
But it also speaks to bigger issues that fall under the umbrella of the word “marriage” and that couples may not be fully aware of when they say, “I do.”
Let’s start with the idea of being a wife or a husband. As I’ve written about before, how marriage is experienced depends a lot on whether you’re the wife or the husband. Even though there are more ways to be a married couple than ever before, including blended families and families in which the dad stays at home and mom’s the breadwinner, we still tend to fall into gendered expectations when we heard the word “wife” — she’s responsible for the home and kids, even if she works outside the home full time — and “husband” — isn’t he the provider?
Since women tend to do more of the emotional care-taking in a relationship — which rarely gets acknowledged let alone appreciated — women often feel overwhelmed.
And the men? According to Helen Smith, author of Men On Strike: Why Men Are Boycotting Marriage, Fatherhood, and the American Dream — And Why It Matters, husbands don’t fare much better — when men marry they lose respect, they lose out on sex, they lose freedom (well, women do, too), and they could lose it all if they end up divorced.
Speaking about sex (because I like to), we assume when a couple gets together that they will be monogamous. As Susan Pease Gadoua and I write in The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebel, there are few healthy models of non-monogamous relationships — you’re either cheating or you’re promiscuous, so few couples that tie the knot are openly, honestly and consciously choosing to be monogamous. Monogamy is a societal expectation, one we internalize., but it really should be seen for what it is — a choice. Some people just don’t do well with monogamy, try as they might. But try to tell a potential romantic partner that, and …
Then there is the whole taking each other for granted thing that often comes from living under the same roof. You don’t have to be married to experience that, either, as Susan Sarandon mentioned when she split from longtime partner Tim Robbins:
“I thought that if you didn’t get married you wouldn’t take each other for granted as easily. I don’t know if after twenty-something years that was still true.”
Yet when you are around someone, even someone you love deeply, little annoyances can build into bigger ones and before you know it, one or the other of you is angry and resentful.
Finally, there is the happily-ever-after fairy-tale version of marriage that’s sold to us, of finding The One — someone who will fulfill all our needs and desires, while also being an equal partner, etc., etc.
There’s no way to know if any of this applies to Clay and his wife (and since she’s wife No. 3, Clay at least should be well aware that marriage is not a fairy-tale!) They split, they say they love each other and they plan to be together forever. Will removing the weight of being married really change that?
As therapist and author Jane Greer brings up:
“(M)arriage in and of itself can carry weighty assumptions about what each partner expects from the other person, and that can sometimes create resentment and disappointment if one or the other partner is not living up to them. What starts out as a choice with you wanting to please your partner can turn into a demand with you feeling like you have to, and it can feel like an obligation which can add extra stress. … While marriage remains the traditional path, it is not the only one. What matters most is how devoted and bonded you are to your partner and that you continue to choose to be with him or her.”
I agree with Greer — what matters, ultimately, is whether you feel “devoted and bonded” to your partner and that “you continue to choose to be with him or her.” You don’t have to be married to experience that. In that light, getting a divorce to remove the expectations that the institution and society place on it makes sense, despite how convoluted that sounds. But what we propose in The New I Do sounds better to me — if you are unhappy with the marital contract you have, change it. Each of us has the power to create the romantic relationships we want. Rather than divorce or “work” on your marriage — which is expecting something different to suddenly occur by having a date night or having more sex, etc., despite being stuck in the same marital model — why not reinvent it?
If your marriage isn’t working, do something different. Andrew Dice Clay did, although divorce alone won’t make a relationship better.