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'Commitment the heart of the issue'

Divorce on the rise in T&T

By Kim Boodram WAIT to get married.

This is the advice of Catholic Priest Father Clyde Harvey following a statement last week by Chief Justice Ivor Archie that divorce rates were on the increase in Trinidad and Tobago.

At last Monday's opening of the 2012-2013 Law Term at the Hall of Justice, Archie said 2,840 divorce applications were filed in the country last year, marking a conspicuous increase.

Attorney General Anand Ramlogan remarked that this was an area that needed more attention from religious leaders.

Unlike in years past, when religious leaders urged marriage and "settling down" at a young age, changing times have called for a more measured approach to what is still regarded by many as a commitment not to be taken lightly.

And commitment, Harvey told the Sunday Express, is at the heart of the issue.

"The fact is that people are no longer willing to make long-term commitments," Harvey said, adding that annulments were also on the increase in the country.

"We are living in a world of soundbytes and commitment is hard. It is a fundamental issue that the Church recognises as it is now affecting the numbers in the priesthood and the convents."

In addition to declining numbers of those wishing to join these institutions, Harvey said the Church was seeing more abdication.

"We are seeing people, after some years, saying, 'Look, I cannot continue with this commitment'."

Similar examples can be seen in the world of work, where people may change careers a dozen times.

"People are moving from one thing to the next, to the next, to the next," Harvey said.

"When it comes to marriage, family and children require a certain stability."

There are trends in human development and this is a period of change.

"What that change means, nobody knows," he said.

This period of change includes a journey towards equilibrium of the genders, Harvey said.

Male and female roles are not as set and defined as they once were — particularly where women are no longer expected to exist only within the frame of being a housewife and mother — and men and women are trying to find balance within these changes.

"At the core of it was the subjugation of women," he said. "But what is still there is a societal pressure on women to get married and have children."

It would now be considered prudent to consider well, despite the fact that one takes chances to find happiness.

"Wait. Don't rush into it," Harvey said.

Religion is itself a source of discord that is recognised as a significant contributor to failed unions.

Vice president of the Inter Religious Organisation (IRO) Imam Haji Abzal Mohammed, said last week there was indeed a high rate of divorce among people who practise different religions.

Many young couples seek a divorce after a year or two of marriage because they simply "did not take the time to understand each other while going through courtship".

Mohammed said secrets were also detrimental and younger couples got divorced over minor things.

Marriage counsellor Dr Claude Khan said, "I think many people come into marriage with unrealistic expectations. They are looking for this one person to complete them rather than being complete in themselves. Also many couples never take the time out to get premarital counselling. A good marriage needs preparation and hard work. Many people feel that "love" alone (which in many cases is really physical passion) would be enough to give a lifetime of happiness."

His wife Lynda Banks-Khan said, "Marriage involves a great deal of character-shaping self-sacrifice, especially when we have children and the wife's attentions shift from the husband to the kids."

Secretary of the Association of Psychiatrists of Trinidad and Tobago, Dr Varma Deyalsingh, last week agreed that religion and cultural differences can become bugbears when the relationship makes the transition from courtship to marriage.

This is in spite of the fact that many couples who live together before getting married end up divorced.

Infidelity is also a part of the country's culture, he said, and with women becoming more exposed as they pursue education and careers, this is increasing.

"It is a fact that the more developed a country gets, the higher its divorce rate," Deyalsingh said.

"And infidelity itself is also now being facilitated more by technology."

Deyalsingh said the internet has also led to more "emotional affairs" being created outside the marriage, where men and men women are seeking and finding emotional support from someone other than their spouse, even if a physical affair has not developed.

Traditional reasons also still abound — emotional and physical abuse, emotional, intellectual and sexual incompatibility, one spouse attempting to control the other, persistent jealousy, and strain caused by differences in financial expectations.

"Also the inability to manage and resolve conflict is still common and eventually leads to many a divorce," Deyalsingh said.

—Additional reporting

by Sue-Ann Wayow

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