In an interesting post about marriage and parenthood, Retriever questions the logic of people who reject marriage because of their own traumatic experience with parental divorce:
The coworker who has gone public [with her pregnancy] is unmarried, close to 30, and the father is the live in boyfriend, who has no permanent job She assures me that he will be a great father. She is a child of divorce, and was largely raised by her grandmother, so is gun shy about marriage. I worry (to myself) because I know how much I rely on my husband in raising our kids, on daily help we give each other, encouragement, raising our brood. There is often conflict, but we are a team. If I had had to cope as a single parent all these years, I think I would have gone bonkers. A friend at work reminds me that the mother to be is strong and will manage. I hope so. I wonder how the kid will?
The logic of people who have been traumatized by parental divorce rejecting marriage when they have their own children escapes me.
Deliberately choosing single parenthood does seem like a costly way to avert the possibility of an unhappy marriage or painful divorce. I would go even further and suggest that, even without children in the picture, the rejection of marriage because of parental divorce can be a self-defeating behavior. There may be very sound reasons for a particular individual to avoid marriage, but I am referring specifically to those who reject marriage because they were traumatized by parental conflict and divorce.
One way to understand a choice that seems illogical or self-defeating is to consider it from a straightforward learning perspective. Aversions are conditioned and maintained by processes that are beyond rational, conscious intention. (I'm speaking here about what occurs absent a deliberate, cognitive-behavioral intervention.) Perhaps the experience of divorce can be so punishing that marriage becomes a conditioned aversive stimulus. It's hard to argue that learning isn't an important factor for those who reject marriage because of a traumatic parental divorce.
But I am not entirely satisfied with learning explanations, at least not in every case. Conditioned fears, in my experience, have more of an acute, palpably distressing quality about them than the calm, philosophical-sounding explanations I've often heard from individuals who reject marriage based upon the trauma of parental divorce. I don't rule out learning as a significant factor, but these more calmly philosophical rejections of marriage strike me as rationalizations in many cases. With rationalizations, I look for an underlying unconscious conflict—some extremely troubling, denied element of motivation that is disguised by a more tolerable rationale for the decision. So what motive for self-defeating behavior could be so troubling that the trauma explanation would be preferable?
I would begin by looking toward psychodynamic principles of unconscious motivation and symptom formation.
At the outset, I must say that I am in no position to render an opinion on Retriever's coworker. I don't know her coworker and I have no information beyond R's brief description of the coworker's situation. So what I am offering here is a more generic discussion of dynamic unconscious pressures that might drive self-defeating decisions.
Talion Law and the Talion Principle
First, though, a bit of background on what is known in psychoanalysis as the talion principle.
Talion law refers to the ancient notion that punishment should fit the crime. The precept, as it's represented in the Torah, is that justice requires an "eye-for-an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, a foot for a foot."
We might think of talion law as a merciless legal construct, but it should be remembered that when talion law emerged, typical punishments were extremely brutal and disproportionate to crimes. Talion law brought proportionality and limits to retribution. Even today, when we consider the brutality of punishment in many parts of the world, talion law would be a vast improvement.
In psychology, the talion principle refers to the human tendency to expect and dread severe retribution for our transgressions—especially retribution befitting our transgressions. Freud discovered, for example, that voyeurs are often troubled by the fantasy that they will go blind. Talion anxiety is, essentially, the earliest form of guilt we experience. If all goes well, as we mature, we also develop a capacity for guilt that incorporates feelings of empathy. But the more primitive expectation and fear of punishment for transgressions never leaves us.
Another dimension of the talion principle is that punishment paradoxically brings about a measure of relief from talion fears. If we have been punished sufficiently, if we have atoned or made adequate reparation for our transgression, runaway fears of more brutal, limitless punishment diminish. (The anxiety-binding function of punishment has interesting implications for various religious notions of divine forgiveness and salvation, but I'll save that discussion for another day.)
To be continued here.