Are horror marriages becoming a trend? In the past year we’ve had the celebrity version – Jonny Depp and Amber Heard, the ‘trapped without love for 40 years’ version – Tini Owens, ‘the buried in a cesspit’ version – Helen Bailey. And now we’ve got the Mel B version. Allegations of threesomes, extortion, physical violence, an affair with the nanny, an abortion and sex tapes – weekly staples for the tabloid press – but going some when they all belong to the same marriage. But as the Daily Mail has been head-lining all week, this is the story of her marriage the woman, formerly known as Scary Spice, wants the Californian court to believe as she files for divorce from husband Stephen Belafonte
There will no doubt be counter-accusations and more personal slurs to come as this mucky divorce is played out in public. Why Mel B has opted for this high-profile approach to breaking her nuptials is not yet totally clear, but if you compare her strategy to that of saint-like Angelina Jolie – you can see there are some celebrities who really do thrive on publicity. But whatever is the truth of who slept with who, who coerced who, who disrespected who – at the heart of this matter is a marriage in complete disarray.
In a Western world that reveres self-determination, we often see marriage as an institution – the legal and formal recognition union of two people – public, official, and hopefully permanent. But as everyone who’s every tried it knows, there’s much more to marriage than a piece of official-looking paper. To work well it needs superglue bonding – physically, spiritually, emotionally. All the love and desire and hope the couple start out with will get swamped with deeds. Deeds like selflessness, commitment, fidelity, comfort, security and then there’s a whole heap of domestic duties. It’s no wonder keeping a marriage is so hard. And in most cases it’s the deeds that cause the problems; resist the strictures of marriage and it’s likely to crumble.
The psychology of a marriage – it’s intriguing to us all, from the couple next-door to the Queen and Prince Philip – we all wonder what’s going on behind that closed front door. The rituals, the habits, the slights and the endearments that make up all marital relationships often remain secret, even to the closest of friends. It’s only when the marriage breaks down that we hear the intimate details; stale, stifled, sordid.
Divorce is usually written about afterwards – as a spur to a new life (Cheryl Strayed, Wild, Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love). The mechanics of securing a divorce don’t appear to occupy novelists so much. It’s a wonder why not; at it’s best divorce is messy.
We know from seeing it daily; the huge pay-outs that scream from headlines to the snivelling boy in your child’s class. Family divorce today is utterly materialistic; it’s about the house, the money and the kids. It’s also about the public face of self-preservation, and the private hell of self-loathing. It’s all you will think about, it’s all you will talk about. Divorce will eat you, you will eat divorce. It’s also about game-playing and gambling and for those who enjoy the thrill it can be very high-stake. Ultimately though, however you play, it’s all about winning. It’s could be written like a high-octane thriller.
Perhaps because divorce is all about the dialogue it works better on a big screen – here we get close-up to the intricacies and nuances of a relationship breakdown;
From the cartoonish Mrs Doubtfire, It’s Complicated, The Royal Tenenbaums and the War of the Roses;
to the honest heart-wrenchers and sniffling soul-searchers; The Squid and the Whale, What Maisie Knew, Scenes from a Marriage, Blue Valentine, , Kramer vs Kramer;
But by concentrating on the warring couple (and sometimes their offspring) our literary tellings of divorce are really not painting the full picture. The after-affects of divorce are much more far-reaching. There are concentrate rings that will reverberate for years to come; the grandparents and other relatives, the friends, the school, the office, the neighbours. All these relationships will be altered and viewed through the prism of the divorce (possibly for good and certainly for a long while, until the dust has well and truly settled). To them you have become ‘the person going through a divorce’. People will interrogate you or ignore you. Divorce, the long term house-guest.
Mel B is finding horror marriages begat horror divorces. Hurting and hurling on the front pages is one way to tell the world your pain; but healing needs time and publicity-free space. As the song says, breaking up is always hard to do.
Reading on: Marriage has always been ripe for writing;
From tales of repression and propriety in the 19th century; George Eliot’s Middlemarch, D.H. Lawrence’s The Rainbow, Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary.
To the male view of 20th century marriage; frustrated, responsible, stifled; John Updike, Run Rabbit, Richard Yates, Revolutionary Road, Evan S. Connell, Mr Bridge, John Williams, Stoner.
And now women writing marriage as a chiller thriller; Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, Liane Moriarty’s The Husband’s Secret and A.S.A. Harrison’s The Silent Wife when home — the place to be safest — is actually the most dangerous place of all.
For the more thought-provoking try;
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