This is an interesting question and one I had never really pondered, until a Wall Street Journal reporter contacted me to ask for my thoughts on this. And his question, and the article he wrote (find it by clicking here), sparked some thoughts. When Quentin Fottrell (@quantanamo), WSJ reporter and the Personal Finance Reporter for MarketWatch (part of the Wall Street Journal I believe) called me about this issue, I had really not thought much about it. But then it all seemed to make sense. We discussed why those who went to college may stay married longer (they may have had more relationships since they were surrounded by thousands of others their age, been exposed to more options, may have been more likely to meet someone with similar interests, etc.?).
But the issue for me was not so much that people who were educated stayed married longer, but rather that people who were more educated or more successful than their spouse, might have more tension in their marriages. My belief after practicing divorce and family law for over twenty-five years is that resentment is a huge problem in many marriages. Many people may harbor resentment and not discuss it. They may be upset that their spouse has “done more with their life” or they may just be upset that their spouse “thinks they have done more with their life”. Either way it reduces, minimizes, trivializes or eliminates respect and value by the more educated or successful spouse for the efforts of the other spouse. And the “other” spouse may actually be contributing much more to the relationship. In fact, that is often the case (raising children, taking care of the home, the finances, the bills, the medical needs of the family, etc.). The “successful” spouse’s achievements are often more obvious or visible (job title, initials such as Ph.D., M.D., etc.) while the other spouse’s efforts may be hidden or concealed.
So when the relationship sours, or when an argument erupts, the underlying resentment can create or give rise to much more anger and animus than is warranted by the basis for the disagreement of the moment. And sometimes the resentment remains subconscious and the person who resents the other may not even realize why he or she is so angry. But certainly a disparity in education, or success or income can and often does create tension in marriages. And I often hear about it only after the die has been cast (after the decision to divorce has been made). That is unfortunate. I wish I had the answer and could help people recognize this issue and address it before they end up in my office seeking a divorce. Perhaps counseling, perhaps meditation, but I guess most important would be to simply examine your feelings, your relationship and the source of frustration in your life. Is it with yourself? Do you (fairly or unfairly) compare yourself to your spouse? Does your spouse recognize and appreciate what you do for the relationship? Could you do more for the relationship (not just for your own success, or as many people tell me they are doing it “to support the family financially”)? Whatever it is, as a divorce lawyer who has witnessed much agony about the ending of relationships, my suggestion is to explore your feelings thoroughly. Through friends, through therapists and with your spouse. And if things cannot be changed (whether it is you or your spouse, or both, who need to change), then a divorce may still be what happens. But wouldn’t it be and feel much better to try to understand and address these issues before the relationship comes to an end? I think so and I have heard from many clients that they wish they had “tried harder” or “listened more” or “worked on their issues” before the divorce happened. And they have been there and speak from their own experiences. I’d be interested in others’ opinions as it will expand my understanding of these issues and I hope make me a better lawyer and counselor.