This week, Former Speaker of the House and twice divorced Newt Gingrich celebrated the Republican House vote on health care, stating that far from being symbolic, it was a first step in repealing the legislation, a move that leaves me wondering, who will champion the rights of people like me, who belong to one of the one of the most poorly organized, underrepresented, and downright depressed but growing population in America: the unhappily married. We stand to stand to lose more than almost any other group: not only money and our health, but our ability to separate from our spouses.
As a constituency, like many Americans, we've seen our benefits decrease while premiums and deductibles rise, in addition, we know now that our health is at risk by staying married. The latest research shows that both men and women in unhappy marriages have higher cortisol levels in the morning, leading to increased stress levels, high blood pressure, raising the risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, depression as well as other serious and unattractive illnesses. So, ironically, we're staying married to keep our benefit plans, but getting sicker, which adds to our costs and chances of becoming uninsurable should we ever be able to afford to go it alone.
Certainly couples stay in unions for a variety of reasons, including religious prohibitions and raising children, but the traditional impediment to divorce, social stigma, has nearly disappeared, which only points to how dramatic the economic situation has impacted couples who want to separate. Although a recent Pew Research Study showed that 4 out of 10 Americans find marriage obsolete, couples are choosing to remain in a "nondivorce" or the phenomena known as "sleeping with the enemy" to preserve things like their health care benefits while couples in European countries that provide universal health care, like France, sees its population divorce rate increasing and younger couples foregoing tying the knot altogether.
Job losses and the downturn in the housing market has further eroded our ability to split up. In fact, in states like Michigan and Florida, hit the hardest by the mortgage crises, the divorce rate has plummented.
Furthermore, employment of divorce attorneys has declined in those states, soon we may well see unemployed divorce attorneys trolling supermarket aisles during the day, trumping up irreconcilable differences over heads of lettuce and number of items in the fast lane check out.
Not being able to afford to get divorced is just another way of measuring the inequity between income levels in the U.S.A. It's frustrating to see how celebrities like Ryan Reynolds and Scarlett Johansson can blithely slip in and out of matrimony. OK, to be fair, they announced they were splitting after "a long and careful consideration" but they were married for under two years. I've taken longer to decide on a new hair color!
Who are these unhappily married and how can you tell if you are one of us?
How do you determine if your health is really at risk by being in an unhappy marriage? In my case, when you've been married for 15 years happiness is a relative term, with so many ups and downs, perhaps like evaluating your investment portfolio, it's best viewed in the long run. Frankly we're too busy being underemployed to worry about happiness. The problem is, no one wants to stand up and be identified, in fact, when my husband reads this, if he wasn't unhappy with me already, he will be now.
Who will champion our cause?
Perhaps its too much of a stretch for Newt to imagine how much health care costs impact the sad sack spouse, after all, he asked his second wife to divorce him while she was in the hospital recovering from cancer, courtesy of his government health plan.
Our best advocate might be Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, whose marriage publicly crashed and burned after her husband was caught hiring a hooker. That story, in and of itself, is a terrible sign of the times. Stabenow's husband only paid 150 dollars for sex, compared to the over 4,000 dollars offered only a few short years ago by the former governor of New York.
Only when we can afford to divorce as freely and frequently as Newt, will the unhappily married be able take off our rings and put on our sweat pants and head to the gym. That's right, because marriage makes you fatter, the average newly wed gains 6-9 pounds compared to their single or cohabitating peers. Let's give Debbie's office a call.