Susan Barth
Advocate for Marriage Education in Israel

The divorce epidemic spreads in Israel

Timing is everything in life. Just when elementary school children are making lovely cards for Family Day this coming Sunday, the Rabbinical Courts Administration released a shocking report that close to 11,000 couples divorced in 2012, up five percent from the previous year. This is unprecedented in Israel.

At the same time, although Tel Aviv still has the highest divorce rate, the Ultra-Orthodox city of B’nai Brak now has more divorces than the largely secular cities of Givatayim and Ramat Hasharon. And according to an article in Haaretz, “data indicates that for every Jewish divorce in Israel, there are fewer than four Jewish marriages.”

As an American-Israeli who continues to be in awe of what the tiny country of Israel has achieved, I feel that this report is a devastating reminder that the foundations of our society, home and family, are being shaken to the core. I believe that it is time to wake up and take a hard look at what is causing these divorces, what impact they have on our society and what can be done to improve marital relationships.

Diane Sollee, a marriage education pioneer whose efforts ignited an international marriage education movement, frequently writes, “The number one predictor of divorce is (surprisingly) the habitual avoidance of conflict.” It’s like the cartoon where the couple explains to the marriage counselor, “We never talk anymore. We figured out that this is when we do all our fighting.”

On the other hand, research conducted by University of Denver Professor Howard Markman and his colleagues Scott Stanley and Susan Blumberg showed that couples whose marriages were in distress consistently displayed specific patterns of interaction, including escalation, invalidation, withdrawal and avoidance and negative interpretations. Take for example the following exchange from Markman, Stanley and Blumberg’s book:

Chaim (sarcastically): I cannot believe that you forgot to bring the wine to the Sterns’ for Shabbat.

Miriam (equally sarcastically): Oh, like you never forget to do anything.

Chaim: I don’t forget to do the important things.

Miriam: Oh, I forgot just how compulsive you are. You’re right, of course!

Chaim: Your hostility is too much. Why don’t you go into therapy and work on it?

Miriam (hurt and angry): Yeah, Dr. Perfect. Maybe marrying me was the only mistake you ever made. At least it’s not too late to correct that one.

As the example shows, negative words can easily snowball and spiral into the direction of divorce. And from what I have observed, every sector feels the financial impact of divorce.

When couples take their problems to work, productivity decreases. And with the family juggling that accompanies divorce, women, whose incomes are statistically lower, are even more financially stressed. In the US, studies show that there is a 70 percent reduction in income following divorce.

On the health front, long-term studies have shown a rise in high blood pressure, high cholesterol and susceptibility to heart disease, especially among women after divorce.

As to the economic impact, it is devastating. The Institute for American Values cited a $112 billion annual price tag for divorce (called family fragmentation) to US taxpayers. These costs arise from increased taxpayer expenditures for antipoverty, criminal justice and education programs, and lower taxes from reduced employment opportunities. As Israel generally tends to follow trends from the States, these numbers are indeed a wake-up call.

However, the biggest losers of divorce are our children. Studies show that not only does divorce affect the school performance of children, it hits at the core of their self-esteem. In many cases the children feel responsible for the divorce, as arguments tend to center on child-related issues. And later on children can be the pawns in bitter custody battles.

The time has come to change the direction of the statistics and make 2013 the year of massive decrease in divorce. Couples need to communicate more, listen more, and invest more in learning how to build healthy marriages.

I strongly feel that with the constant threat from our external enemies, we need to treat the internal enemy which is tearing at the fabric of our society, so that Family Day is a joyful celebration for all.

About the Author
Susan Barth is founder and director of Israeli non profit Together in Happiness/B'Yachad B'Osher, promoting stronger, healthier marriages impacting Israeli society. A Project Management Professional (PMP) and businesswoman from the US, Susan sponsored and chaired the First International Conference on Marriage Education in Israel (attended by over 360 professionals) in Jerusalem in memory of her parents and launched I-PREP, an innovative marriage education curriculum. On November 8, 2017, Together in Happiness co-hosted with MK Yehudah Glick a historic Knesset seminar promoting government support for pre-marriage education