[Paleopsych] NYTBR: 'A Man's Guide to a Civilized Divorce': Your Marriage Was a Total Disaster. Now What?

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'A Man's Guide to a Civilized Divorce': Your Marriage Was a
Total Disaster. Now What?
New York Times Book Review, 4.8.22

How to Divorce With Grace, a Little Class, and a Lot of Common Sense.
By Sam Margulies.
Illustrated. 338 pp. Rodale. $24.95.

WHATEVER happened to the ''I'm O.K. -- You're O.K.''
brevity of the self-help title? Today's guides make one
feel virtuous just for finishing off the cover. For readers
of divorce how-to's, reeling from collapsed marriages, such
a swift palliative would be welcome.

But ''A Man's Guide to a Civilized Divorce: How to Divorce
With Grace, a Little Class, and a Lot of Common Sense''
offers 338 pages more than that. While some his-and-hers
divorce books make no pretense of neutrality (''Divorce
War! 50 Strategies Every Woman Needs to Know to Win,''
''The Father's Emergency Guide to Divorce-Custody Battle: A
Tour Through the Predatory World of Judges, Lawyers,
Psychologists and Social Workers, in the Subculture of
Divorce'' and the like), Sam Margulies, a lawyer and
practicing mediator, says the divorce process need not be
combative. Fighting to ''win'' is costly and personally
damaging at best, counterproductive to alimony and custody
aims at worst. Neatly skirting the probability that a
harmonious split may not follow an antagonistic marriage,
Margulies argues that nearly all divorcing couples can
choose to have a good divorce -- even if they have to grit
their teeth through ''counterintuitive'' behaviors in the
process. (What, no name-calling?)

Despite all this well-intentioned equanimity, Margulies
infuses his book with indignation. It opens with the
statistic that most divorces are initiated by women, and
this change, the author postulates, is not because men are
more adulterous or less amorous but because women are
unhappier with their marriages. Wives' unhappiness, in
turn, arises from gauzy expectations of unfettered
intimacy, which, not surprisingly, most red-blooded males
don't know how to provide. ''Traditional expectations of
men are clearly under assault,'' Margulies writes. ''Men
are expected to be aggressive yet gentle, to be good
providers but also be nurturing at home, and to be manly
but temper it with visible displays of emotional
sensitivity.'' With his shrug at female demands, Margulies
sometimes comes across as the man's man's mediator; other
times, he sounds condescending: ''Going to a self-service
laundry and seeking advice from an attractive woman on how
to use fabric softener may get you more than clean
clothes,'' he advises the divorce on the prowl.

Men need a new divorce guide, it appears, because marriage
and manhood have changed. And it seems men and women
dislike the new ''equality'' equally. Men fear their
inability to serve up a sufficient marriage of peers; women
are galled when such marriages fall apart -- and they find
out they might have to pay alimony. Men resent a system
that demands equal marriage but doles out divorce
unequally, with women typically keeping both house and
kids. Women are appalled that though they berated their
husbands for not changing their fair share of diapers,
they, mothers superior, could end up with less than full
custody. Peer divorce, alas, can leave both camps feeling

Most of the book's advice in navigating these new rules is
sound. According to Margulies, the legal system exacerbates
the acrimony. Best for the dividing couple to compromise
outside the courthouse, and the author gives ample
information to that end. Using case studies to illustrate
his points, Margulies outlines a chronological and
emotional blueprint for the good divorce, with chapters
devoted to divorce law and lawyers, mediation and divorced
fatherhood. The book addresses many practical
considerations: if and when to move out of the marital
home, how to negotiate custody arrangements and alimony and
ways to budget for post-divorce life, with workbook-style
charts to assist. Still, were it not leavened with cartoons
and occasionally, if inadvertently, amusing anecdotes
(e.g., the woman who begins an adulterous affair with the
childhood love she bumps into at a square-dance retreat),
the book, despite its useful and practical advice, would be
rather disheartening.

Even so, there is something moving about a man diligently
poring over the steps to a friendly divorce, penciling in
figures to separate his financial assets from his wife's
and preparing himself emotionally for singlehood. Most
readers, one suspects, will be slipped a copy by a worried
mother or a soon-to-be ex-wife. Those who read it on their
own are probably not those who need it.

Pamela Paul is the author of ''The Starter Marriage and the
Future of Matrimony.''


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