True Partnership

By Gaylen Curtis, CPS Partnership Community

As a divorce attorney, I have a front row view into broken marriages. And unlike our own relationships, being inside of someone else’s relationship lends itself toward an objective perspective. From this perspective, for me, it is clear what brings marriages to an end and informs about what works in marriage and what doesn’t.

It would seem obvious that before a person creates a business, or before a city becomes a city or a state becomes a state, some organizing agreement or principle would be put into place. The reality for people embarking on perhaps the most important union of their lives however, is that we tend to “dive in” to marriage. Even for those who engage in earnest discussions about what religion to raise the children in, or where to live, or whether both parties will work, most ignore what the politics of the marriage will be. Will it be a dictatorship or a democracy? And for anyone who thinks that this would be unnecessary, or silly, I would suggest to think again. What brings down marriage most of the time, in my experience, is that the relationship models a domination system where one person’s needs are more important than anyone else’s in the family.

I think what I have found most surprising is how long people will tolerate an authoritarian marriage. Some marriages are so blatantly and unapologetically inequitable that I find it hard to understand how anyone could navigate through for so many years. But people do. Although I have not researched the issue, it seems only logical that the reason for this is simply that people become accustomed to inequality in childhood. Family dynamics that are patriarchal simply get continued. And both spouses step into their role. It can work; let’s face it, dictatorship can be efficient, but only for so long. Eventually the absence of freedom and justice, not to mention empathy, will bring these marriages to an end. For the dominator, it is quite often just as dissatisfying over time as the lack of mutual respect slowly will destroy love and passion.

Divorce is so disruptive and yet it is hard for me to say that people in a toxic relationship should stay together. And children many times do much better out of a volatile environment. But the process of divorce is very destructive — emotionally, financially and spiritually. While I believe there are ways to make this process less expensive and less adversarial, I also think that it would be better if individuals could more readily spot an authoritarian relationship before becoming fully committed. This isn’t likely to happen so long as we continue to raise our children in top down power structures where control, not care, is the greatest concern of a parent. Indeed, all too often what is done to us will be done by us.

The first step to solving these problems is recognizing that relationships have a dynamic to them. The structure of the marriage will happen by design or not, but it does happen. Marriages are either healthy and democratic or authoritarian and dysfunctional. The latter are the ones that keep me in business. When people come together, even only two people, there is a structure to the relationship that will either protect the marriage or it will destroy the family slowly over time like the demise of dictatorships. We need to begin to ask the right questions before saying I do in order to lay the foundation of a true partnership.

Gaylen Curtis is a divorce attorney who graduated from the University of Michigan in 1980, and from Wayne State University Law school with her license to practice law in 1983. After a few years working at a small firm, she left to open her own firm.  She has been in solo practice since then with a focus on family law. Gaylen lives in Sylvan Lake, Michigan, practices in Oakland County. Contact:

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This Post Has One Comment

  1. Sheryl Morris Reply

    “Family dynamics that are patriarchal simply get continued.” Yes, for sure-what is done to you, you usually do, too. But what is it about some of us that drives us to be different? I’m still trying to figure this out.
    Thank you for writing!

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