Want a divorce? You’re probably mentally ill!

// 25 June 2012

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This is a guest post by Elin Weiss and Hennie Weiss. Elin has a Master’s degree in Women’s Studies. Hennie has recently earned her Master’s degree in Sociology. Their interests include feminism, gender, the sexualisation of women and the portrayal of women in media.

divorce ring.jpgAn article in the Daily Mail tells of a London man who wants courts to reform divorce laws so as to reinstate a “cooling off period”, meaning spouses would not be able to end their marriage until one year after the divorce was initiated. The thinking behind this reinstatement is that it would prevent rushed decisions. The reason for wanting this law reinstated is that his wife of 34 years wants a divorce.

According to the man, current divorce laws are not doing enough to prevent marriage breakdowns. He stated that: “If that clause had not been removed… a lot of angry women would reconsider the future of their family and children before going on to consult solicitors” and that: “Whilst my wife was angry and unhappy she issued divorce papers straight away… Once the process of divorce starts it is very difficult to stop. It is a shame that the system will destroy a marriage for a silly reason”.

Interestingly enough, the man does not seem to even consider that his wife probably gave her decision plenty of thought. After all, she had 34 years to make up her mind. By diverting the attention onto his wife, the legal system and “a lot of angry women”, the man takes no responsibility for his involvement in the marriage and perhaps what he could have done to try to make it work.

However, it is not only his wife’s “hasty” decision that is upsetting him. It is also (according to him) her mental state. Because she is seeking a divorce, he feels that she must be confused and “mentally unstable” since he sees no other reason for it. The man stated that: “My wife has suffered a breakdown… she must be ill otherwise she wouldn’t have said these things… she’s confused”. He also wants his wife to undergo a psychological evaluation and stated that: “I consider that my wife lacks proper mental capacity to give instructions to her solicitors”.

The underlying disablism behind his assumption is deeply problematic. The man is attempting to limit his wife’s choices by stating that she is mentally ill, confused and suffering a breakdown, suggesting that these go hand in hand. By assuming that mental illness constitutes an inability to make decisions, the man is labeling individuals with mental illnesses incapable. In short, he is using a flawed notion of mental illness in order to force his wife to stay with him.

We are against any sort of law that makes individual choices concerning the attainment of divorce more difficult. The suggested forced evaluation in this case is scary because it is so reminiscent of past procedures that allowed men to have their wives admitted to wards and asylums by claiming mental illness whenever the woman did or said something that the man disapproved of.

Due to the persistent view of women as irrational and confused, countless women ended up being seen as mentally ill and spending many years, or even most of their lives, in wards and asylums, often because they did not follow societal expectations of what women should be like or how they should behave. These assumptions and beliefs, however, do not date as far back in time as one might think. In Ireland, for example, such wards and asylums were referred to as Magdalene laundries, and the last one closed in 1996!

The idea that a woman should undergo psychological evaluation because she is requesting a divorce makes us shudder. The underlying assumptions behind such a belief are that women are not fit to make their own decisions. Women who do not wish to be married are considered silly, angry, unreasonable, incapable and in need of forced evaluations and control. These assumptions draw neatly on past beliefs that women are irrational and hysterical and are, without male control and guidance, morally lost.

The photo at the top of the post shows a simple gold wedding ring placed over the “divorce” entry in a dictionary.

Comments From You

Veronica // Posted 25 June 2012 at 4:33 pm

That is an astounding display of “blame the woman”. Just from this she should divorce him, add the reasons she wanted to in the first place. Good call!

feministplus // Posted 26 June 2012 at 12:31 pm

I have never seen a more obvious example of gaslighting (manipulating and abusing a person by making them think they’re ‘crazy’). I wish her luck in getting away from this abuser.

This also really shows the interdependence of gaslighting on an individual level (my wife wants a divorce; she must be crazy) and gaslighting on a systematic, identity-based level (women who want divorces are crazy; we should legislate accordingly).

Emily // Posted 26 June 2012 at 3:30 pm

I am, sadly, not surprised by this though I am strangely glad to know it isn’t just me this has happened to!

When I split up with my husband last year, both he and my father immediately explained away my behaviour as being a result of mental health problems. My dad recommended I go and get some medication which really hurt me, as did comments from my husband saying he had never believed I was completely mentally well anyway. The idea that I simply wanted to end my marriage? Inconceivable.

It’s only now, several months later, that people seem able to recognise my decision for what it was: My decision.

Clodia // Posted 26 June 2012 at 4:07 pm

This is appalling and typical of the way some men behave; the woman is “the problem” because she will not behave as the man wants her to, or according to societal stereotype. This “mental cruelty” represents further abuse which is clear grounds for divorce.

Yes the Magdalene laundries are a shameful reminder of very recent attempts by a supposedly “Civilised” country to control girls and women for acting outside patriarchal norms. It did prove triggering for me, as it reminded me of the time the obstetrician dealing with my pregnancy threatened to “section” me because I refused to behave as he felt a woman should. (Mainly because I wanted a home birth and I was nearly 40!) He left my medical records strewn with references to my “mental state”. Fortunately it was just before medical records were computerised; I stole them during my post natal check up and destroyed them. these days they’d be on a faceless IT system and any hope of fair medical treatment for the rest of my life would be finished!

rose411 // Posted 27 June 2012 at 12:10 am

My mum had a similar sort of thing happen to her. My dad told her that she must ‘obey’ him and respect him in order for the marriage to work, disregarding that it was actually him and his parents that were abusing her in the first place!

My dad also called me crazy when I phoned the police to report a crime. It hurt me alot too. There is obviously something wrong with him if he thinks reporting crimes to police is preposterous. It’s what they’re there for.

Vicky // Posted 27 June 2012 at 4:06 pm

Am I the only one who read this and thought immediately of Charlotte Perkins Gliman’s ‘Yellow Wallpaper’?

Vicky Brewster // Posted 28 June 2012 at 12:37 pm

The thing that really puts a chill through me with this is that it’s already pretty difficult and expensive to get a divorce if the other party is non-compliant. I’ve been separated from my husband for three years. We live in different countries, I live with another man, and I carry out most of my life under my maiden name. I haven’t even spoken to my ex-husband in about two and a half years. But I can’t get divorced because he won’t acknowledge receipt of the divorce papers. So I’m stuck, unable to re-marry, unable to change my bank account back to my maiden name without going through depole, and unable to completely close the book on that rather unpleasant episode of my life.

The mental health/gaslighting thing is horrible. Initially after our separation we went through relationship counselling, and as a part of that I wrote him some freewriting about how our relationship had made me feel. The response I got was that I couldn’t possibly actually feel that way, that I was either lying or had an ‘unreliable memory’. Why he thought I would lie in a private document, what any lie would achieve, I just don’t know. But I didn’t appreciate being made to feel mentally unstable.

So enough men do this to make it worth bringing in a legislation? Surely, in order to do this, they have to make it equal? Say that neither party can instigate divorce until after a year of separation, or something? I can believe one idiot thinking that only women don’t deserve the right to say when a relationship has ended, but surely the legal system is required to be a little less misogynistic.

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