12/03/2010 03:30 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Capital, Marriage and Divorce

We live in a particularly capital-focused era. As capital rushes to the top 1 percent and drains from the remaining 99-ers, as our government printing press works overtime to inject capital into a still-damaged financial system, as we salivate over lifestyles of the rich and famous while clinging to our ever more embattled jobs- capital arguably rules our consciousness. But capital is more than money.

The potentially record-breaking several billion-dollar divorce payout rumored to be in the offing for Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev to his wife prompted these thoughts about capital, marriage and divorce.

The news is replete with big money divorce stories: Tiger and Elin's $110 million settlement, the reputed $450 million or so Mel Gibson paid to be free to bring on the crazy in his life, Charlie Sheen (not yet quantifiable but on the boards for 8 figures or more for sure...). Huge chunks of capital change hands in the interest of freedom, revenge, lawyer enrichment, even fairness, all drivers of divorce. But lately I think of capital in a different way, courtesy of my marital and divorce experiences and time of life.

Ben Franklin reputedly said time is money. I would amend that to say: time is capital and capital is time. And a key form of capital is the quality of the minutes we are given. And- finally to the point -- toward the end of my second marriage, I found myself thinking about capital in relationship terms. In other words, relationships have capital.

My second marriage was contentious. Despite relationship therapy then marital therapy, supplemented by individual therapists for parents and kids all around, cluster-therapy you might call it, we couldn't get past the constant fights which were like a hydra-headed monster. I couldn't help thinking toward the end, we are spending our capital on fighting and I didn't mean therapist bills (not to belittle those). The trauma of the constant flareups and then prolonged cool-downs chipped away, I see in hindsight, at the emotional reservoir, the warmth and trust, that are the backbone of a good relationship. Finally, the positive capital was drained and legal euthanasia ensued.

If my ex and I had had the foresight to see the Pyrrhic nature of each fight, could we have stanched the outflow of relationship capital? Maybe. Or, maybe we were just incompatible and should have bitten the bullet a lot earlier instead of spending massive emotional capital trying to jerrybuild our lives together.

On the flip side, when it comes to divorce, capital also has a dual meaning. In traditional divorce, financial and mental capital are too-often severely depleted. It's just a variant of what I experienced in a contentious marriage. If you come out swinging in divorce, perhaps fueled by the worst emotions of lawyers and clients: avarice, jealousy, hatred, tainted love -- you are forced to invest and ultimately lose hunks of emotional and financial capital. At the upper echelons of society this is what hits the tabloids, pitched battles ending in 8 or 9, or even 10 (!) figure settlements the amounts of which, I honestly believe, do not match the emotional devastation wreaked on people we think we envy.

What if, as we enter our next marriage or longterm relationship, we are able to pay attention to the emotional "capital" in it, with a view to preserving and growing it like we try to grow our IRAs? And what if, when we end up in the clutches of the legal system getting divorced, instead of coming out swinging we approach it with a view to preserving as much emotional capital of everybody involved as we can? Would we be able to sacrifice conflict for concord?

Kind of goes against human nature dunnit? Maybe so, but sometimes, a mere intention is worth a thousand words.