Chapter 15 of Jim Geraghty and Cam Edwards’ book Heavy Lifting: Grow Up, Get a Job, Raise a Family, and Other Manly Advice is Marriage is for Keeps: How to Avoid Divorce. Geraghty’s portion of the chapter is a rambling jumble of modern conservative clichés, with most of the content not addressing the question of the chapter. For example, he provides the obligatory wacky anecdote about how he failed miserably as Mr. Mom that time his wife was ill, along with a sudden and perplexing apology that the book isn’t gayer:
You may have noticed this whole book is really, really “heteronormative,” as the social justice warriors say. Look, if you’re gay or lesbian, I hope you’re enjoying this book and I hope life treats you well. I don’t doubt gays and lesbians can be fine parents.
But please refrain from whining that a book about parenting and manhood written by two straight guys doesn’t spend enough time discussing the gay perspective…
This is from chapter 15, not the introduction of the book.
Geraghty offers statistics that most divorces are for reasons other than infidelity, abuse, or addiction. He then offers his personal theory on what is causing the lion’s share of divorce:
…my divorced friends say that fighting rarely resolved an issue. And maybe that was the problem. There are four ways couples respond to conflict: he concedes, she concedes, they compromise, or it gets swept under the rug. That last option might be the easiest, but it’s a short-term solution at best. Each time you sweep a difficult issue under the metaphorical rug of your day-to-day interaction in your marriage, that rug gets a little harder to walk on. Resentments build. Eventually, the issue you’re fighting about stops being the real issue; the real issue becomes your inability to resolve any other issue.
Geraghty explains that the problem of the risk of divorce can be resolved by threats of divorce. More specifically, he argues that a marriage can be improved by the wife threatening to nuke the husband out of the family if she doesn’t get her way (emphasis mine):
The D-word can actually help a marriage full of conflict. It can be a great clarifier. Using the D-word is the DEFCON Two of marriage. (DEFCON is short for defense readiness condition, the alert state for the U.S. armed forces. DEFCON Five is the calmest, DEFCON One is the most severe, basically meaning nuclear war is imminent.) When your spouse uses the D-word, it is a screaming alarm klaxon that asks you just how much you care about whatever it is you’re fighting about at the moment.
Is it worth divorcing your wife over?
Put that starkly, most of the day-to-day problems in a marriage don’t look that bad. If you can back down from that moment, you’ve endured your marital equivalent of the Cuban Missile Crisis. John F. Kennedy’s 1963 point about the basic common links with the Soviets applies to most warring spouses: “We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”
Note the weasellyness of the words he uses to blur what he is trying to say.
- He says “your spouse” threatens divorce when he means “your wife”, to make this seem gender neutral, when it clearly is not. He clarifies in the same chapter that he is writing specifically for heterosexual men.
- He says “Is it worth divorcing your wife over?” in reference to the wife threatening to divorce the husband if he doesn’t do as she says. She threatens divorce, and if he doesn’t comply he is implied to be divorcing his wife.
- He says “If you can back down from that moment” when he means “give her whatever she demands”. He already explained that merely stopping the argument is (in his opinion) the root cause of divorce, something threats of divorce will solve.
While Geraghty’s enthusiasm for the threatpoint isn’t surprising, his hypothesis that an ever present threat of divorce makes marriage better by forcing each issue to be resolved is the opposite of what this study found:
Many currently happily married spouses have had extended periods of marital unhappiness, often for quite serious reasons, including alcoholism, infidelity, verbal abuse, emotional neglect, depression, illness, and work reversals. Why did these marriages survive where other marriages did not? The marital endurance ethic appears to play a big role. Many spouses said that their marriages got happier, not because they and their partner resolved problems but because they stubbornly outlasted them. With time, they told us, many sources of conflict and distress eased. Spouses in this group also generally had a low opinion of the benefits of divorce, as well as friends and family members who supported the importance of staying married.
Moreover, one of the core claims of the book is that by following his advice men will become sexy. Geraghty’s wisdom from his own marriage is that as the husband he must always follow his wife’s lead, lest she divorce him. Follow Geraghty’s example, and you will become a stud, the sexiest man alive! Yet it is painfully obvious that he has absolutely no understanding of the mechanics of sexual attraction for women.
Cam Edwards has his own section in the same chapter, and he opens with a lengthy piece on how the negative impacts of divorce on children are overstated, contradicting Geraghty from earlier in the chapter:
Jim paints a pretty grim picture of the children of divorce: more likely to end up in prison, more likely to end up on a reboot of Teen Mom, and simply more likely to end up messed up than the product of a two parent family…
…I relate [my own] story because I’m not sure I buy the statistics that try to prove that divorce is going to cause irreparable harm to the kids involved. That’s not to say it doesn’t suck, but it’s also not an excuse to destroy your life if your parents end up splitting. Absolutely none of the parents I know who’ve gotten divorced say it was because they just had to get away from the kids, so try not to take it personally if it happens.
It is a very strange and uncompelling argument. First he explains that his own parents’ divorce didn’t negatively impact him, even though a string of counselors kept assuring him that it did. Then he says that after his mom moved him away from his father (from New Jersey to Oklahoma*) he resented his father so much for abandoning him that he refused to speak to him for years:
I actually didn’t talk to my dad for a couple of years after that. With the impeccable logic of a hormonal sixteen-year-old, I decided Dad’s belated gift must mean he didn’t care much about me. That being the case, I was bound and determined not to care much about him.
Next Edwards describes how his wife’s children were harmed by her own divorce and decision to move the children to a distant state*, with his wife’s ex husband as the villain:
Flash forward a few years and I was dealing with another father who was largely absent from the scene. Only this time it wasn’t my dad, it was the biological father of my oldest kids. When my wife and her kids moved from New Jersey to Oklahoma, it’s not like anyone had any expectations that he would be able to come visit on a regular basis. Still, regular phone calls or letters to the kids would have been nice. When a birthday or a holiday would go by with no contact, I would see the looks of disappointment on the faces of my kids. I’d get so angry that I’d write letters to him that I never sent (eventually we wouldn’t even know where to send them). The fact that child support was sporadic (to say the least) didn’t bother me. We could take care of our family without his money. What killed me was seeing my kids go from disappointment that they didn’t hear from their biological father to the resigned expectation that he was going to let them down again. Eventually, on one rare occasion when he called, my daughter declined to talk with him. The next time he called, my son followed his sister’s lead. Their dad never called back.
Edwards then finally gets around to the topic of the chapter, and offers some murky advice on avoiding divorce. Unlike Geraghty, Edwards suggests that an unwillingess to divorce is a key factor to remaining married. However, he then concludes by saying that we shouldn’t judge people who don’t follow his advice:
I understand that not all differences are reconcilable, and most of the friends I’ve had who’ve gone through a divorce tried very hard to make their marriages work. Both my parents married multiple times, and if it weren’t for my wife and her ex splitting up, I would never be the man I am today. I am not here to condemn divorce or people who’ve gotten a divorce (I generally try to tend to the beam in my own eye before worrying about someone else’s mote). All I know is that I’m glad we stuck with it through the hard times. I’m thankful our differences were (and are) not irreconcilable, even if they can still lead to… let’s say spirited debate on occasion. I am truly blessed to have my family, to love them and be loved by them, and I’m mindful of this fact every day.
As is evidently the pattern for the entire book, the chapter ends with What Would Ward Cleaver Do?
Ward had his priorities straight: he kept his focus on his relationship with June and the kids. Work paid for the mortgage, but a marriage and family is forever.
*What are the odds that Edwards would marry a woman who just like his own mother moved her children to Oklahoma, away from their father in New Jersey?