Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Wednesday, August 28, 2002

Happily ever after -- just a fairy tale?

Grania Litwin
The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon)


Prince Charles' and Diana's fairy tale wedding in 1981 ended in divorce 15 years later

VICTORIA -- Larry Lipiec admits he had unreal expectations about marriage, and an idealistic image of his beautiful wife when they tied the knot.

"Our wedding was wonderful and I will never forget the beam of pride emanating from my mother's and father's faces, and my new parents' faces, as they watched my bride and me walk down the aisle. When I was asked to say a few words I looked at the guests and spoke of how fortunate I was to have married such a beautiful lady."

Now, a dozen years later, he has two wonderful young daughters but no fulfilling marriage and no beaming bride.

"She's now my former spouse . . . and let me tell you, separation is nothing short of devastating," said the Toronto lawyer and professional pilot who has just written a book about the experience.

"I thought marriage was forever, then all of a sudden we became a statistic. It was a tremendous blow, almost like a death," he writes in I had Dreams of a Happy House, Now I'm a former Spouse. His marriage broke apart three years ago, his daughters are seven and four.

Now whenever he hears someone gush about their upcoming nuptials, Lipiec feels shivers run up his spine and he longs to offer a word of caution.

"Every day in my practice I meet people who are planning to marry, who are contemplating separation, who are already divorced, or are thinking about remarriage. I also meet people who have been happily married for years and years. This book is based on everything I have learned."

It was inspired by a Transport Canada quarterly publication that recounts chilling stories about accidents and near misses. An airplane pilot for 20 years and a former aviation inspector for Transport Canada, Lipiec thought the concept could work for marriage too. His resulting small book covers everything from the realities of dating and going steady, to engagement, wedlock, divorce and re-marriage. It's down-home advice from someone who has fought in the conjugal trenches, and feels most couples could do more to save their marriages from disaster.

A recent American study has found that unhappily married people who tough it out tend to end up happier than those who divorce. Only about half of the divorcees interviewed were happy five years later, compared with two-thirds of those who stayed together through thick and thin. The study found the most common reason married couples gave for success was that they stubbornly outlasted their problems.

Lipiec believes modern couples have been oversold on the benefits of divorce, and haven't heard enough about the benefits of marital endurance.

He also finds people give scant thought to collateral damage: the kids who suffer through separation and divorce.

In his book, the wills and estates specialist has recorded real stories and experiences that everyone can learn from, and hopefully will help some avoid a lot of pain. "I personally am going through hell. I'm separated, I don't see my children every day like I used to. . . . You can end a marriage at the stroke of a pen, but that doesn't wipe out the family obligations. My two young children are my primary responsibility now."

It takes two to tangle but only one to separate, and he believes many splits stem from people thinking marriage is a fairy tale -- and he acknowledges he was one of them. If it isn't perfect one person may decide to pack up and look for "true happiness" elsewhere.

His Web page -- www.helpmelarry.com -- is full of letters from readers who agree and relate their own angst-ridden experiences, but Lipiec has heard plenty first-hand. One involved a female client who joined a gym and fell in love with her trainer. She was swept off her feet one night and told her husband she was leaving. She later found out the trainer was not in love with her, but seduced all the attractive women in the gym.

"She jumped ship and now regrets it," said Lipiec who talks at length about the "infatuation factor."

He believes successfully married couples actively listen to each other, focus on keeping each other happy, respect each other and each other's achievements, provide breathing space, never criticize each other in public, focus on a future together and never take the other for granted.

According to Statistics Canada, 36.9 per cent of Canadian marriages end in divorce before the 30th wedding anniversary, and second marriages have a 60 per cent failure rate, he says, because people bring more baggage into it.

In 2001, close to 1.2 million couples were living in common-law relationships, up 20 per cent from 1995, whereas the number of married couples increased by only three per cent from 6.2 million to 6.4 million.

Three months ago a 28-year-old female client came to him for a divorce. She had lived common-law for eight years, had three kids, and fell out of love eight months after marrying her partner. "I told her everybody goes through that. Everybody thinks, at some point, they will be happier with someone else. Do you think everyone is madly in love all the time? Were your mother and father googly-eyed every day?"

Lipiec's clients often ask him to counsel their children who are considering marriage.

"I tell them: When people are dating they are on time, well dressed, smell good, they are accommodating and tend to ignore little faults. It's all about good times and physical attraction. When you are dating you are on your best behaviour. When you are going steady it's like you're playing your favourite song over and over again. Dating is nothing like marriage."

He urges young people to get to know as many people as possible and really delve into their inner natures, not just their exteriors. "When you get engaged, watch for warning signs. Ask yourself if you are getting married for the right reason or as a means of escaping home."

Lipiec hopes his little book will be an impetus to get some couples talking, or for parents to raise issues with their kids before it's too late. "So many people say to me: 'If only I'd known . . . I could have saved my marriage.' "

MARRIAGE MATERIAL:

Canadian couples are marrying later, divorcing later, and some are deciding not to marry at all:

- The average man is 42 when he divorces and the average woman is 39.4, according to the most recent Statistics Canada figures in 1998. Ten years earlier the average age at time of divorce was 38.8 for men and 35 for women. But that goes hand in hand with later marrying trends.

- The average age of first-time brides in 1998 was 27.6 years, compared with 25.5 in 1988; first-time grooms averaged 29.6 years of age, compared with 27.6 in 1988.

- Prince Edward Island had the highest marriage rate at 6.4 per 1,000 population, followed by Alberta at 6.1. Quebec had the lowest marriage rate in 1998 at 3.1.

- According to data from the 1995 General Social Survey, women whose first conjugal union was a common-law relationship were almost twice as likely to separate as women who married first.

- Among women aged 30 to 39, almost 63 per cent of those whose first relationship was common-law had separated by 1995, compared with only 33 per cent of women who had married first.

- About 61 per cent of women in their 40s who started in a common-law relationship had separated by 1995, compared with 36 per cent who married first.

© Copyright  2002 The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon)