Parallel Lives: Love, Marriage, Power and Divorce

29th May 2020 Family Law

How many times have I read the expression, somewhere close to the beginning of the written statement (the section 25 statement) of a husband or a wife in the middle of divorce

 “We came into the marriage as equals“?

The words are intended to convey both the actual state of affairs at that time; love and expectation, with the comparative and desired outcome; something less than love, but the expectation that the judge will understand the importance of “equality“ when it comes to the division of the spoils.

However, relationships are actually two separate stories, running alongside one another, stories that are often experienced in very different ways.

I first read Parallel Lives by Phyllis Rose in 1985 and it is one of the reasons I became a divorce lawyer.

35 years later, my copy lost in the sharing of matrimonial assets, it is now back in print in the UK.

The book is a study of five Victorian marriages and an exploration by Rose of 

The primary political experience in which most of us engage as adults”.

It is more however, than just a study of five marriages, it is an opportunity to look at the themes, the rhythms and the commonality of the experience; inevitably it asks the reader to compare another experience of marriage with their own. 

Divorce professionals have a unique opportunity and insight into the marriages of others however, the divorce papers tend to be seen more as an abacus (love is many things but divorce is mostly about money) than autobiography and so this is a book for the bean counters and quantifiers, the married and those contemplating marriage.

It is a book about relationships and power.

Marriages go bad not when love fades- love can modulate into affection without driving two people apart- but when this understanding about the balance of power breaks down, when the weaker member feels exploited or the stronger feels unrewarded for his efforts.”

Equity Theory is a relationship balancing exercise aimed at the ideal position where both halves of a couple see their respective relationship benefits and costs as being equal. If there is an actual or perceived imbalance in the cost benefit analysis, then the relationship is more likely to break down.

At a more troubling level, the Equity Theory might also be the point in a relationship where each partner believes that they get what they deserve from it, good and bad.

My experience as a divorce lawyer tells me that shame, guilt and co-dependence can make a nonsense out of such an approach. The work that I have done over the last 10 years with divorces in which Narcissistic Personality Disorder makes an appearance has demonstrated that a person, who comes from the “get what you deserve” school, is likely to be target, victim and apologist.

I am now buying Parallel Lives in large quantities, for all of my clients thinking of divorce but particularly those entering into the “warm up” as I sometimes see the process of negotiating a Pre-nuptial Agreement.

The copies that I give will come after the liberal use of my highlighter on the following sentence

“Perhaps that is what love is - the momentary or prolonged refusal to think of another person in terms of power “


Michael Rowlands, divorce lawyer at JMW with 30 years of experience of the “Difficult Ones”

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Michael Rowlands is a Partner located in Londonin our Family department

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