Healing starts with a divorce

  • Keeping out the ‘sunk-cost fallacy’

 There’s a term in economics for continued investment in a failed project, justified only by heavy investments in the past. The ‘sunk-cost fallacy’ refers to the irrational idea that just because one has already spent enormous resources on something non-viable, one should keep ‘trying’ to make it work by spending even more resources. There’s no discernible growth, no progress report, and certainly no passion. All there is, is the spectre of sunk costs keeping one from pivoting to something new.

It’s the fallacy of sunk costs that gets a gambler spiralling to the absolute bottom. For one who’s lost thousands in a casino, what’s wrong with putting one more dollar in the slot machine? It’s the fallacy of sunk costs that keeps a person from switching career paths despite being able to, when the chosen profession fails outright at satisfying one’s financial, social, or perhaps spiritual needs.

We fear the unknown more than we’re dismayed by scheduled suffering; much like a frog in a pot of water being slowly brought to a boil. There’s an added obstacle of ego in the case of situation which one has placed himself or herself in. A tactical retreat would only embolden the opponent, one might reason.

The notion that children cannot be raised by one parent at a time, is a gross insult to widows, widowers, and other single parents everywhere

A divorce or a break-up is a similar retreat. A divorce isn’t the nuclear option that it’s made to appear. Ending a relationship is painful; but it is ground-shaking only in cases where it’s been allowed to gain pressure for years, culminating in a natural explosion that shatters everything in the vicinity.

As a nation, we spend an appalling amount of time and resources on marriages. The sheer proportion of Pakistani mental real-estate dedicated to rishta-finding is staggering; evidenced easily by the meteoric rise of the wedding industry. The West cares about marriage; the East is obsessed with it.

Any individual or group investing as much time, money, social effort, and emotional labour into a marriage as Pakistanis, is dangerously susceptible to the sunk-cost fallacy. We are afraid to admit that a relationship is over, because it would inundate the combined efforts of a wife, her husband, her parents and in-laws, aunties and uncles, and 600 other people who danced their wedding to life. A wait-and-watch policy does not necessarily make a relationship less toxic; it merely allows the participants time to adapt to its toxicity.

Pakistanis often point at higher divorce rates in Western countries as evidence of their moral failure. The misogynist among us would find satisfaction in a study linking women’s education to higher divorce rates. A divorce rate is no way to measure marital quality. Educated women are more likely to apply for divorce, not because education takes away their yearning for a good family, but because they have the option of safely exiting a hostile situation. A woman who depends on her husband for financial and social support, is less likely to have the means to end an absusive relationship.

Our obsession with marriage rather than marital quality explains our general abbhorence of divorce. Consider the disproportionate backlash against a few signs at the Aurat March suggesting that a timely divorce can make a woman happier. Mockery intensifies tenfold in case of a termination of a love marriage. This is immediately assumed as evidence of love’s folly and the righteousness of an arranged marriage. Who needs human emotions like intimacy and affection anyway, when you can marry your well-off cousin with wheatish skin?

A key problem among couples considering divorce is the matter of their children. To keep a toxic relationship for the sake of one’s children, is one of the most egregious acts of cruelty towards oneself and one’s children. More than two parents, a child needs a loving home that is not being rattled by angry shouts every other evening. The notion that children cannot be raised by one parent at a time, is a gross insult to widows, widowers, and other single parents everywhere. In the traditional heteronormative structure, children usually are raised by only one parent, which is the mother. The father may as well be a distant uncle who sends money once in a while.

The institution of marriage is supposed to serve us. We are not supposed to serve the institution of marriage. The objective is not to make a marriage last for its own sake, but to build a relationship that’s worth keeping.


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