Why Marriages Fail by Roiphe Pre-reading



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Why Marriages Fail

  • by Roiphe

Pre-reading

  • What experiences or assumption do you bring to an essay about failed marriage? Do you know of marriages that have failed? If so, what were the causes?

In-reading

  • 1. The topic sentence of par. 3—”We all select with unconscious accuracy a mate who will recreate with us the emotional patterns of our first homes”—is repeated in par. 4—”The human way is to compulsively repeat and recreate the patterns of the past.” Do you recognize this assertion as a reality in their own lives? In the lives of their parents or relatives or friends? What does Roiphe mean by “unconscious accuracy”?

In-reading

  • 2. Roiphe begins par. 5 with “of course.” But can we move that easily, that swiftly from the definitive, deterministic views she attributes to Freud and psychiatry to behavior that “overcomes” childhood? Similarly, when Roiphe concludes par. 9 by saying that the key to a good marriage is “to set up new patterns of communication and intimacy,” is she being any less delusional than when partners vow romantic love forever?

Building Vocabulary

  • 2. Among the many such items there are:
  • A. loneliness, regret, loss of self-confidence
  • B. despair, crisis points, intimacy
  • C. unconscious, emotional patterns, addictions
  • D. conscious and unconscious memories, compulsively repeat, unmet needs

Building Vocabulary

  • 2.
  • E. angry feelings, frustrations
  • F. tension
  • G. unfulfilled expectations
  • H. communication patterns
  • i. intimacy, identities

Understanding the writer’s ideas

  • 1. Sacred vows” are the promises—religious and secular—that are made during the marriage ceremony. Among these are “to love and honor till death do us part,” so presumably the couple will live happily ever after, as in a fairy tale. These are time-honored expressions, almost cliches; they may become obsolete if the divorce rate rises even more and proves that these phrases are invlaid.

Understanding the writer’s ideas

  • 2. A home in which the child or children live with only one parent—mother or father—because of divorce or death.

Understanding the writer’s ideas

  • 3. As “the capacity for both intimacy and change.” In par 2 outside pressures are those problems that do not derive from the relationship between husband and wife directly, but may affect them greatly. Roiphe mentions job loss, illness, infertility, trouble with children, care of aging parents; she feels that while they indeed make marriage difficult, the primary causes for failure are more internalized.

Understanding the writer’s ideas

  • 4. We choose based on the emotional patterns of the home in which we lived as infants and young children—our parents’ home (“first home”). This method may cause problems because in addition to bringing the positive aspects of early childhood to a marriage, we also bring unmet needs, angers, frustrations, and so on. Marriage may then become a battlefield where we try to resolve these negative aspects of our lives.

Understanding the writer’s ideas

  • 5. The basic myth is that getting married will solve all our past problems, that it will automatically change our lives for the better. This attitude can create a bad marriage by putting too much pressure and expectation into it.

Understanding the writer’s ideas

  • 6. They have changed and expanded sexual expectations, gender roles, and responsibilities. Some couples are unable to cope with these changes.

Understanding the writer’s ideas

  • 6. They have changed and expanded sexual expectations, gender roles, and responsibilities. Some couples are unable to cope with these changes.

Understanding the writer’s ideas

  • 7. In other words, not just all the wonderful things, but the day-to-day realities of a partner as well. A good marriage must be able to incorporate both the blissful and the mundane.

Understanding the writer’s ideas

  • 8. Communication is essential although often difficult to achieve. Poor communication “prevents a healthy exchange of thoughts and feelings.” This can be overcome by setting up new patterns of communications and intimacy—a process which in itself requires good communication, however.

Understanding the writer’s ideas

  • 9. Growth as a couple and as individuals. They are composite, representative character examples of husbands and wives who have been unable to grow together.

Understanding the writer’s techniques

  • 3. The questions serve multiple purposes: They pinpoint various aspects of the overall condition; they provide statistical information; they involve the reader in the discussion. Obviously, the questions dictate casual answers. One method of involvement is for Roiphe to use first-person plural pronouns—us, we, and our.

Understanding the writer’s ideas

  • 10. The hope that a new partner will solve old problems. The results of “dishonesty, hiding, and cheating” are often divorce.
  • 11. The fact that “people today are unwilling to exercise the self-discipline that marriage required” (14). Sacrifice and compromise.

Understanding the writer’s ideas

  • 12. Roiphe views divorce as something favorable if there is no other recourse. She presents both positive and negative effects to balance her conclusion realistically. Divorce can produce initial devastation, but it can also be a healthy step toward new health and ending mutual unhappiness.

Understanding the writer’s techniques

  • 1. Paragraph 2, sentence 1.
  • 2. The why promises a causal answer to the condition Marriage fail.

Understanding the writer’s techniques

  • 12. She is ultimately an optimist. A great part of her purpose in analyzing divorce has been to instruct in and praise the possibilities for successful marriage.

Understanding the writer’s techniques

  • 4. In par. 2, she maintains the high level of reader involvement by beginning with familiar responses to the opening questions.
  • 5. In par. 3, “We all select…our first homes.” in par. 4, “A man and a woman…together.” In par. 6, “The altering of roles…” Par. 3 and 4 deal with psychological causes; par. 6 deals with societal ones.

Understanding the writer’s techniques

  • 6. Problems of lack of communication, form anger to loss of identity to infidelity and to divorce.
  • 7. She is beginning her conclusion, acknowledging to her readers the validity of all that she has just written while at the same time preparing for her final account. As such, it maintains the familiar, yet serious tone of the opening.

Understanding the writer’s techniques

  • 8. She cites “Dr. Carl A. Whitaker, a martial therapist and emeritus professor of psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin” (3, 15) and “Dr. Stuart Bartle, a psychiatrist at NYU Medical Center”(10). These identifications may lead us to believe that they are well versed in the subject, but she may have used other experts with more noted credentials as well.

Understanding the writer’s techniques

  • 11.
  • A. marriage and divorce compared to climate and storms (2)
  • B. life’s realities seen as agents (7)
  • C. anger as volcano (8)
  • D. infidelity as the “last straw” (13)
  • E. expectations of easy joy as superficial entertainment and pleasure (14)
  • F. marital bonds as chains and shackles (15)
  • g. cathedrals of the world; marriages that improve as wondrous shelters (16)

Understanding the writer’s techniques

  • 9. She uses them in the opening paragraph both for their shock value and to set up the importance of her discussion.

Understanding the writer’s techniques

  • 10. Introduction, pars. 1-2; conclusion, pars. 14-16. This structure allows her a fuller development at both ends, and, as discussed earlier, it allows her to develop more personal identification with the readers.

Mixing Patterns

  • A. Work: “observing your part in a rotten pattern, bringing difficulties out into the open”
  • B. A Good Marriage: “growing as a couple but also growing as individuals”
  • C. Divorce: “no an evil act”; “like the first cut of the surgeon’s knife”
  • D. Marriage that do not fail but improve: “offer a wondrous shelter in which the face of our mutual humanity can safely show itself


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