Dr George Blair-West – TEDxBrisbane TRANSCRIPT
Almost 50 years ago, psychiatrists Richard Rahe and Thomas Holmes developed an inventory of the most distressing human experiences that we could have.
The reason why that inventory is still with us today is because of the unique line in which they ranked those items. You see, they ranked them on how much physical illness they would cause over the next six months.
Number one on the list? Death of a spouse. Number two, divorce. Three, marital separation.
Now, generally, but not always, for those three to occur, we need what comes in number seven on the list, which is marriage.
Fourth on the list is imprisonment in an institution. Now, some say number seven has been counted twice. I don’t believe that.
When the life stress inventory was built, back then, a long-term relationship pretty much equated to a marriage. Not so now.
So for the purposes of this talk, I’m going to be including de facto relationships, common-law marriages and same-sex marriages, or same-sex relationships soon hopefully to become marriages.
And I can say from my work with same-sex couples, the principles I’m about to talk about are no different. They’re the same across all relationships.
So in a modern society, we know that prevention is better than cure. We vaccinate against polio, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, measles. We have awareness campaigns for melanoma, stroke, diabetes — all important campaigns. But none of those conditions come close to affecting 45% of us. Forty-five percent: that’s our current divorce rate.
And we’re talking about 45% of people experiencing the pain of divorce. Those other experiences sit at the – and the children of course that sit at the very top of life’s stress inventory.
Why no prevention campaign for divorce?
Well, I think it’s because our policymakers don’t believe that things like attraction and the way relationships are built is changeable or educable.
Why? Well, our policymakers currently are Generation X. They’re in their 30s to 50s. And when I’m talking to these guys about these issues, I see their eyes glaze over, and I can see them thinking, “Doesn’t this crazy psychiatrist get it? You can’t control the way in which people attract other people and build relationships.”
Why? I know I said a bit like a four-year old. Why? Well, it’s because there is a thing that sits behind this, which I call romantic destiny.
Romantic destiny is the idea that for all of us out there is the one, and destiny will take us along the path, we will meet the one and live happily ever after.
Now romantic destiny is fine and dandy while divorce was rare. But the rarity of divorce was not because people were finding the one magically and living happily ever after. Divorce was rare because it wasn’t socially acceptable.
There is another reason which actually came up in my relationship therapy group yesterday morning. One of the female members said, “Yeah, but it’s hard work dating, I’d much rather leave it to romantic destiny and that way I wouldn’t have to kiss as many frauds.”
And what she’s arguing is this idea that yes, letting go of that responsibility appears to have its advantages, but this whole idea of the love marriage and the romantic destiny that sits behind it has only been around for a couple of hundred years.
As late as the 18th century, the French philosopher Montesquieu said “Any man who loves his woman is probably too dull to be attractive to another woman.” Only the French!
But it wasn’t until the 19th century with the Industrial Revolution, the rise of the middle class that men could afford to get married without the support or approval of their parents.
Now fast forward to 1967, Ronald Reagan, then governor of California, signs into law the first no-fault divorce bill. This is the beginning of divorce being available to the masses.
In the ‘50s, 11% of children experienced divorce. By the 1970s, 45% of the children born with those marriages were going to go on to experience the pain and turmoil of divorce. That was Generation X. The first generation to experience large scale divorce. So it’s understandable they are reluctant to give up the romantic destiny idea.
Not so, our dear millennials. This is the most information-connected, analytical and skeptical generation, making the most informed decisions of any generation before them. And when I talk to millennials, I get a very different reaction. They actually want to hear about this. They want to know about how do we have relationships that last?