Opinion: The Divorce Crisis | Meir Bergman

There’s always a lot of talk about the shidduch crisis – what is the cause of it, how to fix it, and so on, but little talk about the crisis that has been quietly escalating in our community over the last handful of years: the divorce crisis. 

While I couldn’t find hard numbers specific to the frum community, anyone even somewhat involved in shalom bayis issues can attest to the fact that the divorce rate has been slowly creeping up. Whereas two decades ago divorces were very rare, nowadays it is quite common to know several people who are divorced. I have a friend whose son had six friends divorced by the age of 24, a fact that stunned me.

There likely is more than one reason for this phenomenon; divorces happen for all sorts of reasons, and, unlike the shidduch crisis, probably doesn’t boil down to a single primary cause. That being said, there is a major problem that is being allowed to fester and isn’t being addressed which I think could be a major contributing factor: expectations.

Let me make a bold statement: A lot of young men and women going into marriage have no idea what they actually want out of it and have no idea what the commitment entails. And it is, in large part, the fault of the education system we have in place. We teach teen and young adult males that there is nothing more important than learning and that they should only strive to learn their entire lives. Our girls are taught, especially in seminary, a very idealized version of what a wife is, including undertaking practically every responsibility of running a household so that their husbands could sit and learn. I like idealism and I think we should strive for the idea, but we also have to teach reality.

Just last week, my wife received a call from an old friend who was at her wit’s end. She has three children and a fourth is on the way. For their entire marriage there has been the expectation that she runs the home – she cooks, cleans, takes care of the children, is the primary breadwinner, handles the finances, and pays the taxes. Sounds overwhelming? It is, and this girl was utterly overwhelmed. But instead of recognizing that changes have to be made so that she could function like a human being, her automatic reaction was that she “isn’t enough,” and that somehow the fact that she was struggling to do everything meant that she wasn’t the true eishes chayil that she was taught about in seminary. Ridiculous, right? Yes, but this isn’t a lone example. On a large group chat with friends, my wife gets similar messages every few weeks.

I don’t know the shalom bayis situations of these women, nor do I want to know. But I know that you have to be blind not to see how this relationship dynamic contributes to the breakdown of order in a home, and how it could so easily lead to resentment and estrangement from one’s spouse. And the problem lies in those expectations that we ingrain in the minds of our young children during their school years.

I am not suggesting that men shouldn’t strive to learn as much as they can or that women can’t be in charge of everything in the home if they choose to do so. What I am suggesting is that the concept of what a frum home looks like has to be taught differently. It has to be clearly explained that yes, wives are noble for doing what they can to help their husband’s learn, but that’s not all there is to it. Because for most couples, there comes a time in their life when it’s too much. There comes a time when the dynamics of the relationship have to change and the responsibilities split more evenly between husband and wife. All we are teaching nowadays to our children is what the idealized version of a frum marriage is, completely ignoring that reality often demands it be different – not fundamentally, but in many important ways.

The divorce crisis is here. We can choose to deal with it or we can choose to ignore it as the lives of couples with big hopes and dreams crumble and countless children are traumatized for life. But if we do choose to address it, it has to start with our children – teaching them what a marriage is, not what we want it to be.

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44 COMMENTS

  1. With all due respect to the writter.
    Most of the current escalated divorces are not happening to the full time learning couples but are happening with the more with-it (exposed) couples.
    Perhaps consult with daas Torah before advocating change with our Torah institutions.

  2. Thank you for being the “nachshon” to raise this important topic. While most women do stay married, that undercurrent of disillusionment is more common than anyone cares to admit. And it’s not just girls’ chinuch perpetuating this, it’s shiurim for women as well.
    However, what the article falls short of discussing is that the problem goes beyond the overwhelming burden carried by young mothers. The core of this issue is that reducing marriage to a list of tasks to be done completely ignores the rich emotional world that many women long to share with someone – whether their husbands, children, students, neighbors, or coworkers. The constant roller coaster of busyness and sleep deprivation can reduce people to going through life in robotic fashion, leaving no time or energy to feel and connect. If husbands, mentors, and rabbonim understood this need, it would go a long way towards helping women feel fulfilled with their lives.

  3. @Dovid From what I’ve seen (and I work for one of the major hotlines in town) most of the divorce’s are due to technology use and the confusion between couples that this struggle brings with it. We need to break the stigma and the confusion surrounding this issue and need a lot more education on this topic for both men and girls.

  4. I’m no expert on this topic nor am I a rov but I have seen ( and this has been confirmed by very reliable sources) that the uptick in divorce is due to today’s pervasive culture of self entitlement. When a boy or a girl enter a marriage with the mindset of “how much can I get out of it and please myself ” it leads to major problems. It has reached the point where there are isurim dioraisa that are the transgressed that cause the woman ( and sometimes the man) to file for divorce. Obviously this isn’t the forum to expound on this topic.

  5. I feel like it’s more that today’s days it’s considered “cool” to be divorced and a single mom…

    There is a whole world out there of divorcees of both genders that are living “the life” I’m the free world.

      • Its true that there are many divorcees who have developed a “cool divorce lifestyle”. It includes divorced singles weekends and “support groups”, whose activities cannot be described in a family oriented website.

        I find it doubtful that people purposefully divorce for the sake of joining this culture, though the fact that it is there does make the decision to divorce easier.

  6. A change in the chinuch system focused on aspirations is at most a band aid.

    Most of the divorces come from much more complicated issues….

    Personality disorders, hidden and untreated mental illnesses are just some on top of the list.

    Maybe there should be more focus on middos building, maybe as a whole communities can focus more on internals than externals ….. this will give everyone more emotional strength to be able to learn and grow and become ovdei hashem

  7. This is true. Very true.
    Sadly I know more than a handful of cases personally that went downhill due to exactly what is written in this article. None of those cases were ‘with it’ or ‘exposed’ by a long shot.
    There is a point where things crash. In the cases I know, the is a resentment that arises when all adult stresses and responsibilities are on wife while the husband is happily whistling to kollel and back. The wives want their husbands to continue in their happy routine and feel/felt guilty for the resentment and would not discuss it, but then things would end up not playing out well.
    To anyone naysaying this article, you are lucky not to know anyone this happened to.
    All systems have flaws, even the best of them. It is commendable to bring up a silent and perhaps not well known issue that is very relevant to the tzibbur . You never know who this article can touch and help.
    Yasher Koyach!

  8. I don’t think 24 yr olds are getting divorced over the burden of raising families and the financial obligations just yet.But I definitely know of such cases where this is the case later on. I think there is a lot more awareness of personality disorders and emotional abuse that a spouse would have to be very patient with and tolerant of in the hope of change if at all possible. Young people who are not as invested in their marriage and have never learnt tolerance in the face of our cookie cutter society or the lack of any adversary to ever overcome may find it insurmountable and are faced with choosing to hope for that change or to end the marriage in search of a better one. I also think that our society gets married too young, or atleast the young couples are very immature, never having dealt with being on their own, Or with any responsibility or maturity. Parents coddle their children , even their married children by doing everything for them and supporting them financially in some circles. So that when they are supposed to be on their own finally they can’t handle it and eventually parents do get involved and sides get taken..etc.. spouses loose the ability to work things out on their own
    Then there are intimacy issues both in “with it” and very yeshivaish circles. I think parents need to ascertain if their children are truly ready to be married with realistic expectations in all that marriage involves before shidduchim and before even getting to their chasan/kallah teachers when sometimes it is too late!

  9. Anecdotally (I find at least) that the people getting divorced are at least as often – if not more often, people who are out in the world and not those that you describe. The self centeredness with which our children (yup, I said children) are going into marriage – as evidenced by what they expect and often verbally request – is what is causing this problem. If one’s only objective in marriage is self gratification then when things aren’t exactly the way he or she thought they would be, why wouldn’t he or she drop the marriage? Unfortunately the chinuch system in many ways is encouraging this and is a part of the problem. My comments are only being made as a generality – of course there are other causes such as undisclosed mental illness (which is behind many divorces) where what I wrote would not apply.

  10. Thanks for your wonderful words of wisdom. I would just like to point out that as a someone with a family member who is going through a rough divorce, I can consider myself quite knowledgeable on the topic. From all the inside information I have heard throughout this lengthy process, most, yes MOST of the divorced couples in out community are from the less ‘yeshivish’, ‘frum’, call them what you like, couples. Baruch Ha-shem our Yeshivos and seminaries did a great job training those who want to follow in the ways that they were taught and brought up. Lets not try to place blame where it does not belong.

    • All the people I know that are divorced are from the most Yeshivish Families so just because you are anti the less Yeshivsh doesnt mean you can make things up.

  11. I was working full time while my husband in kollel: his schedule revolved around mine so that i can support the family. He was not able to have a normal night seder or second seder. He was not happy. He was able to get a low paying job in the hope to work his way up. Right now, I am the breadwinner and run the house while my husband works very hard with a meager salary. The system is broke! I never knew how hard it was going to be.

  12. Someone had to bring this up. Thank you. I agree completely and would just add that what you mentioned is a big issue as well as the mental illnesses and technology. Also is the education of the men which you forgot. A lot of men stay in kollel a lot longer than they would be interested to because of the stigma and the moment he goes to work or wants to , his wife who received the chimichanga you spoke of, is embarrassed of him and so the education issue goes both ways.

  13. This article is very well-written and states very clearly what needs to be stated. As a shalom bayis mentor, I have to say that the above is true, but I would add that, as some comments have already mentioned, that the underlying issue is not inherent to the ‘learning system’, but that overall in our extended community (and the exact manifestation of the same underlying problem will have different ‘symptoms’ in different ‘groups’) -parents are not teaching children what marriage is all about – about what one can contribute, not what one can ‘get’, that Jewish marriage is about creating an emotional bond that translates to our connection with Hashem as well ,and that v’ahavta l’reacha kamocha applies equally to your spouse and children as to your neighbor etc etc. In my experience, the reason why parents are not giving over this message is because they don’t know it very well themselves…yes, there needs to be greater education in our community about what a Jewish marriage is all about – in ALL segments of our community.

  14. I am trying to obtain a divorce. No one chooses to be divorced. It’s embarrassing, a stigma. Many times there is no choice. I was married to a man with a significant personality disorder. I lasted for many years. When they reach middle age, they get worst. It was either staying in the marriage and having a nervous breakdown or leaving the marriage. It got to the point that I was getting injured. I did join a network of people in similar situations. everyone is aware that divorce is not easy, but staying married and not being safe is not either an option. In my case my ex husband refused to go for help as he has done nothing worng.

  15. The mentality nowadays is to breathe in selfishness and ego as much as possible. That being said marriage is no different. Couples are getting married today sadly for “what can I get out of this marriage” and not “what can I bring to the table”. This has nothing to do with learning boys or not it is all across the board. Unfortunately, even boys who plan on learning for a long time all what they have in mind is how long will I ( the big I)be able to learn. We are all thinking about ourselves. The girls are the same, they are just thinking about their own olam habba and forget that’s not what marriage is about. ( I’m not trying to take away from their mesiras nefesh they do for their husbands) It’s about the very subtle difference between motives of it’s about me or you that make or break marriages. Learning some basic social skills of how to be selfless would go a long way.

  16. Wow so out of touch with reality..but that has nothing to do with why people are getting divorced please look around more so you get a better look before publishing this letter

  17. To the first commentator-
    Not quite sure as to why you are getting so worked up. This writer happens to be 100% right. If you want to suggest that there are other contributing factors as to why the divorce rate is climbing in our community, go ahead!! but to suggest that this writer is advocating for changes in our Torah institutions for merely pointing out something that is clear to most as a growing trend – if you will, in our community which may be the root cause of this problem, to me seems quite a charge. And… if I might add, it’s the very people that have your mindset and crooked way of thinking that this writer took the trouble to write this letter, so perhaps read it again..
    .

  18. Every divorce is unique, but top causes (especially when there are children involved) are mental illness, abuse and addiction. That being said, there does exist a sense of entitlement that makes daily life all the more difficult to navigate.
    People do not get divorced to be cool, free, single moms. Not much can negate the anguish, pain, embarrassment, loneliness and stigma of living and raising kids in the frum community all alone – and with an ex to contend with.

  19. To the first comment,

    The statement that divorces are higher in the “with it” crowd than in the learning crowd is not backed up by any statistics. We just know that divorce is unfortunately on the rise in NOT YOUR OR MY KEHILLA, BUT OUR KEHILLA.

    Many in the non Kollel crowd are boys/girls from our system who became disollusioned when the reality of life struck hard.

    Furthermore, even if we went with the assumption that there are less divorces among our kollel families, who says things aren’t rotting from the inside out. Just speak to therapists in town, what looks right on the outside does not reflect what’s going on inside. Sadly, the children in these situations are the ones who will reflect this religious hollowness in the future.

    The expectations of the girls and their parents for that matter, are absolutely unrealistic and harmful.

  20. People today do not have the emotional strength or motivation to bear the pain of living with a dysfunctional spouse. Years ago, people were stronger & the stigma was greater which kept people together for a lifetime even though they had miserable lives together. In the free society we live in, no one feels obligated to endure this non ending abuse or emotional neglect. It’s actually a pelleh how low the divorce rate is relative to the Umos ha’olom. If not for the stigma & concern for the children, the divorce rate would be triple what it is.

  21. By far the most idiotic and “tone-deaf” letter I have seen on TLS. If you look at the numbers of divorce rate in the learning circles; while it is certainly on the rise, it is a greater and sharper rise among the working/less Yeshivishe crowd. So basically, you were looking to bash the Yeshiva system. You are a coward!

  22. 1. I am not understanding the connection between idealism and divorces. If there is a connection, it’s a pretty weak one.
    2. Our education system has been this way for 25 years. Why the sudden spike in divorce now?
    3. There is no data provided demonstrating the higher level of divorces by Yeshiva system couples. From what I’m seeing, the increase is occurring by less yeshivish couples.

  23. This article explains why people suffer who are regular emotionally healthy people due to our system and this issue is probably closer related to dysfunctional parenting and kids struggling and going off at young ages……… it has little to do with divorce….. maybe the next generation will have a larger divorce rate because of their parents exchanged roles and Cooped up resentment

  24. Not sure if its the cause of divorce but the pressures on woman in our society is bordering on the impossible. The only message to girls seems to be – have a big family, while looking perfect, with your children looking perfect, house perfectly clean, perfect food ALL WHILE WORKING… its surprising more woman are not suffering from mental illness! At a certain point something has to drop

  25. Yes. Expectations. Life is supposed to be perfect. She is supposed to be perfect. He is supposed to be perfect. If not, let’s end it. Then life will be perfect. In a general sense, you are right.
    But then you took a turn and started blaming learning Hashem’s Torah.
    We need more dedication to learning Torah, not less.
    The torah is the source of all happiness and success in life, and every Jewish soul knows this.

  26. This writer has totally no clue what he is talking about. While the situation he describes is a problem, and every learning family should consult with daas torah (who also has feet on the ground) about how to balance wife’s responsibility vis a vis husband’s learning, this has NOTHING to do with the divorce crisis. I am directly related to two renowned Gitten dayanim and both have told me that the real b’nei torah make up a disproportionally minute percentage of all divorces. A high percentage of divorces have to do with at least one party ensnared in technology or other form of yetzer hara.

  27. In my humble opinion being in Shidduchim for over 10 years, I think the problem lies in a bad, pressured shidduch system with false values from both sides (money, support, size) being the goal of marriage and not allowing more time to date to find out who the person really is (and capable of in terms of facing adversity and relationships). Many times it’s pressure by Shadchanim to finish up the shidduch and get married to “avoid the shidduch crisis”. I have had many Shidduchim terminated for myself because I didn’t feel ready after three dates (and I’m not Chassidish). Because I’m a level headed person who likes to think things through, this has been used against me in Shidduchim. So here I am, still (happy and) single while helping out my friends who are struggling, suffering, separated or divorced scratching my head where things went wrong. Thank you for bringing up this important but sad topic. Getting boys married at 21 is not the only solution…

  28. I can say from personal experience that this is a very important issue that needs to be addressed, however I would be surprised if this is a significant contributor to the divorce crisis.
    It is the natural way of the world for the husband to be a provider for the family. When the reverse is the case, it completely skews the natural dynamic in the marriage and family, and causes all sorts of issues. In some cases the Torah wants us to overcome our nature, but I believe that here it is not the case.

  29. hope my comment gets through.
    the issue is lacking one critical point. i have spoken to professionaly trained frum marriage coaches/teachers and they say that it is a lack of training of the new couples that is the major issues. i know one whonhas a 99% shalom bias success rate. there is alot more to teach a chsson/kallah than just taharas hamishpacha and to be sucsessfull it needs to be done by someone who is trained vs some hocker in the bais medrash

  30. To quote a giant of a man (Shlomo Chaim Aryeh Leib ben Shmuel Nachamoo Hakohen) its all about midos. He said midos isn’t everything, it’s the ONLY thing.
    And im ein kemach ein Toirah.

  31. Kol shofar, I can’t speak for the divorce rate (bh), but I CAN speak for the disillusioned married women, as I mentioned above. You are missing the boat. It’s NOT about learning Hashem’s Torah. It’s the ridiculous pressures women are subjected to in the process. Since the last generation, the societal pressures on Kollel wives have increased exponentially. First of all, in the previous generation, most women worked shorter/less pressured jobs
    Now, the work hours have increased, and bosses often have expectations that make family life very difficult, such as working right up until Pesach. Then there’s the traffic getting to and from said job; need I say more? But most of all, it’s no longer physically possible or socially acceptable to function as a low income family. Kids need to be dressed like their friends (add shopping pressure, which can give you a headache for a month in Lakewood, especially for women of childbearing stages-have you seen the letters in the Voice recently?). Kids need service providers (tutor, OT, speech, orthodontist…), or you fear you are ruining the kid’s life. I could go on. The house must always look presentable, and cleaning help is increasingly difficult to come by. Even going to the pediatrician has changed: instead of trusting your friendly family doctor who knows your kids well, you now face a daunting task scheduling any appointment and advocating for your kids at a large, faceless practice. All of this constant running greatly compounds the exhaustion that come both before and after each new baby.
    Also, many women now work in emotionally draining and unfulfilling jobs that make leaving their babies all the more difficult, and with our bigger and less connected community, there is less friendship and support.
    So the issue here isn’t learning per se. It’s working within the new pressures that realistically make this lifestyle much more challenging. Our husbands and mentors need to acknowledge these realities. Not necessarily to stop learning, but to give us, both physically and emotionally, the support we need.

  32. I will add, these pressures certainly apply, at least equally, to dual-working families, especially when the husband is working from entry level in his 30s. This is a Lakewood lifestyle issue, not a Kollel issue.

  33. There are many things which contribute to a bad marriage; but one of the main things is Parnassah or money. Our current system of which a young man must learn for years after marriage is sick, and not everyone is cut out for it , and is thus the main contributor to the high divorce rate.
    My older brothers were cut out for learning ,they only learned in Kollel for a few years and than got jobs as rabbeim (they are rabonim today, with many great grandchildren ); I was not cut out for learning & I refused to fake it; at age age 17 I took the train to college and registered, at age 18 I got a part time job , at age 19 I did very well in both thus left yeshiva totally. When I got married my bank account was over $300,000 in those days. We just had our 35th wedding anniversary and in all the years my wife never worked a day after marriage (she now watches the youngest grandchildren) and we are very Frum, I have my Seder and go to my shiurim etc. and all of my sons and son in laws work or have businesses and go to night Kollel.

  34. SELF Entitlement…. So a boy wants to get married many boys and parents just care about how much support is he going to get?? He wants to learn ‘x’ amount of years…The girl is an afterthought, the $$ for learning is utmost important. I know a wonderful , amazing girl but its how ,much can the parents give so the boy can learn… Self entitlement of boys is not healthy. The girls work so hard in school and work, boys roll out of bed 9:00 scmooz at night and yet I want to learn for 5 years.. I want to finish shas… There is a disconnect from reality with many boys….Do they know what it means to give in a marriage?

  35. Instead of just focusing on marriages that ended in divorce, ask the question: how happy/wholesome is your marriage? And see if different circles respond they are happier. I would guess the more “yeshivish/learning” crowd prob fares better than the ballebatish crowd.
    The stresses today are just unparalleled- financial, pressure, being on phones a lot, hard to raise kids in today’s environment…

  36. Thank you for being brave to raise a very real problem. Many women are suffering in silence and as a result of an education that brainwashed them don’t know that life doesn’t have to be this way. Women are more than Atm machines and at a certain point it is too much to solely bear the burden of parnassa and childbirth. Additionally the lack of education prevalent in yeshivas means that the wife many times is forced to deal with bills mortgage payments and taxes. All of this stress can lead to a pervasive disconnect and real breakdown of a marriage. We have to evaluate what is more important to us as a society. Is it learning at all costs or is it a happy wife that leads to a happy home and a fulfilling marriage.

  37. As someone who is learning in Kollel for a few years and is now currently looking to enter the workplace, I can’t agree more with this letter writer. The system is gotta change. we can’t have a go to kollel by default system. Staying in learning should be a decision and not just part of the system. How am I supposed to get a job that will be able to support my 3 children? For those that wake up at 35 with 7+ children there is really no way out of the mess!

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