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Learning from divorces of others | David Frenkel

Friday, August 28, 2020 @ 2:13 PM | By David Frenkel

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David Frenkel
A study by a team of researchers suggests that the divorce of a friend or close relative dramatically increases the chances that you too will divorce. The team from Brown University, Harvard University and the University of California found that “you’re 75 percent more likely to become divorced if a friend has divorced, and if a friend of a friend is divorced your odds of getting a divorce increase 33 percent,” reports an article from the Pew Research Center.

If that is the case, then should we consider limiting the contact from our divorced brothers and sisters more than simply using masks and social distancing? Should we minimize the chances of exposure from their negative influences as much as possible? 

I say not. Rather, the divorces of others provide a fertile soil of useful information for all of us to learn from. It is just a matter of how you look at it.

Divorce happens for many reasons that may change depending on the individuals and the circumstances. For example, if you want to leave your husband due to his anger issues, have you considered whether he is unusually stressed due to financial pressures due to COVID and whether he may be committed to change if the right opportunity presented itself? If so, then that one factor may possibly be reduced significantly over time and may result in an improvement of your marriage.

On the other hand, if your husband has historic narcissistic tendencies, even pre-pandemic times, his personality issues may be more entrenched than he thinks and he may be incapable of recognizing their effects on the family.

Therefore, when a neighbour or a friend gets divorced, it is important to consider the question: what were some of the personality issues of both spouses that contributed to the breakup? The real answers may be enlightening.

A review of recent case law can also provide information regarding how personality traits may have been detrimental to a relationship.

For example, Justice R. Sonya Jain in MB v. DB 2020 ONSC 790 presided over a 14-day trial regarding a number of issues including custody and access. She commented on the father’s personality traits and wrote that “the father’s actions speak louder than words and show his true intentions.” The court found that the father’s actions lacked empathy, self-control or insight.

In G.C. v. A.V.S. 2019 BCSC 2242 Justice Christopher J. Giaschi pointed out that in response to a husband’s demand for his wife to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital, the husband himself had an inability to recognize the extent of the wife’s emotional turmoil, which was indicative of the husband being “self-centred and narcissistic and lacking empathy.”

Also, in Kelly v. Benoit 2017 NSSC 212, a mother was ordered custody of a child arising from an abusive relationship with a father with addiction and mental health issues. Justice Beryl A. MacDonald described the father as follows: “The Father’s aggressive tendencies have not disappeared. The evidence indicates he becomes very frustrated when his expectations are not met. His visible agitation leads to concerns that he may escalate into anger and violently erupt. While this eruption is verbal, ‘Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate, and to humble.’ (Yehuda Berg-author). The Father used words to hinder, to hurt, to humiliate and to humble.

“The Father is very much focused on himself. … He criticized the Mother about her poor housekeeping standards and her tiredness without acknowledging she had little time to attend to everyday tasks because she was working and attempting to upgrade her education. At the end of the day her energy levels were depleted.”

The above cases and many others provide a glimpse of problematic traits in relationships that if unchecked culminate in the relationship’s eventual breakdown. It also shows that certain personality traits do not necessarily go away after a separation.  

Therefore, to avoid a similar outcome, it would be wise for couples to assess the real contributors to a rocky marriage, notice any warning signs early on and see if something can be done before it is too late. Staying superficial is not an option.

Also, if you are still worried that your spouse may be negatively influenced into a divorce by talking to a divorced friend, I would suggest fighting through your anxiety and take the opportunity to listen and learn instead.

Listen to that friend’s story but also learn about the reasons that may have contributed to his or her divorce. Are those reasons found in your own relationship as well? Do not assume that just because there are similarities that inevitably you will have the same outcome. Understand how the factors found in that broken relationship may have specifically contributed to that breakdown.

Finally, apply the information from various sources to improve your own relationship. If that is not possible, then learn from their mistakes and make a decision that is best for you and your family sooner rather than later. But at least try to first see how your relationship may be stronger than its shaky parts. See if you can first build on existing positive qualities and make your relationship even better with the newfound knowledge. 

There is so much to learn from the divorces of others that can actually help your marriage rather than hinder it. With COVID-19 not going away anytime soon, that knowledge may now be more important than ever.

David Frenkel is a lawyer at Frenkel Tobin LLP who has practiced exclusively in family law for the last 10 years. He can be reached at

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