"I work the whole day knowing
that I will have to face a sink
full of clothes to wash and iron
If I ask him for affection,
he says I think of nothing else
Oh, I ask:
God, what did I marry him for?"
These are the lyrics of a song by popular Samba singer Cimara, whose songs of protests describing women leaving unhappy marriages strike a chord among women. While musicians have been singing these songs for some time, life is now catching up with art.
Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) data - published in 2002- reveals the growing number of judicial separations and divorces in Brazil. (A suit for divorce, which allows a person to legally remarry, is allowed only if the couple has been living apart for over two years.) Between 1991 and 2002, the number of judicial separations increased from 76,223 to 99,693 and divorces from 81,128 to 129,520 - reflecting increases of 30.7 per cent and 59.6 per cent respectively.
IBGE says that the fact that there are more women in the job market, and thus greater independence, could be a possible explanation for the trend.
"My songs are a success because they reflect the woman who doesn't tolerate a man who mistreats her. I suffered through three marriages until I finally left home with my four children. Now, I only date men. As soon as I marry, the husband wants to change the way I dress and asks me to stop singing," says Cimara.
In the year 2002, most separations and divorces were consensual - 79 and 70 per cent respectively. But the non-consensual cases (where the petition is filed by only one spouse) indicate that more women than men were responsible for the dissolution of marriages. In that year, women filed 75.3 per cent of non-consensual judicial separation cases. IBGE surmises that the higher rate of men filing for divorce might be due to the fact that men are more likely to remarry than women are.
IBGE found that women usually decide to file for separation in the 35-39 age group. By this time, they achieve a degree of stability in their professional lives and the money they earn allows them to live alone and support their children.
Journalist Antonia Veronese, 37, met her husband when she moved to the city of S'o Paulo. He was a kind and helpful co-worker. They decided to marry. However, the extroverted and sociable Veronese found the going tough after marriage. Her husband would not attend parties, and when he did, he was a different person altogether. "He drank and became aggressive. Once he pulled me out of a conversation only because I was talking to a male friend. The situation went from bad to worse, until it became unsustainable," she says. Veronese has filed for a divorce and intends "to give a break" to marriages.
Of the 20,990 petitions for non-consensual separations in 2002, 10,062 were filed by women who accused their husbands of disgraceful conduct or violation of marital duties. 5,266 women said they were already living apart from their spouses. Interestingly, 13 petitions for non-consensual separations were filed by people over 75 years. Of these, 12 were filed by women. Better late than never, one guesses.
Psychoanalysts are largely agreed that intolerance with an unsatisfactory relationship is one of the main causes of the phenomenon. But there is no unanimity regarding the origins of the dissatisfaction.
Leila Maria Torraca de Brito, Professor at the Institute of Psychology of the State University of Rio de Janeiro, believes that there is now a strong sense of individualism, which makes adjustments in marital life difficult. In a research she conducted in 2002 (`Separation, divorce and child custody'), de Brito found that a number of men expressed surprise at how quickly women proposed divorce as a solution to a crisis. "I also noticed that women still wait for a Prince Charming, the perfect man. They also aim at being superwomen - perfect as a mother, wife, lover and friend. It is extremely stressful," she says.
Psychoanalyst Haline Grinberg disagrees. She says that these arguments are dated and do not fully explain the phenomenon. Grinberg says that the traditional marriage pattern is an illusion that doesn't fit anymore. She does not believe that a marriage that has lasted for, say, five years has failed because it has broken up. "Is that too little? Nowadays people don't stay in the same job for more than five years. The marriage of our parents' days is a social ideal, but not reality anymore. The notion of time has changed. One year is a long time for us. New marriage patterns are being created and we have to find them as legitimate as we found the traditional pattern."
Grinberg also believes that sexual stagnation contributes to the separation. She avers that couples that have less intense sexual lives or have lovers outside the marriage are more stable in their marriage. She asserts that what people look for in a marriage today is the safety of having a companion. The complaint she hears most in her clinic is about the lack of companionship, not sex. "This is especially true because it is quite easy to find sexual partners today. What people say is - I want a person to share my life with; to arrive home and have someone to talk to," she says.
The marriage of civil servant Maria Matos, 36, illustrates this theory. Married for nine years, her sexual life has never been satisfactory. And over the past three years, it has become practically non-existent. Matos asserts that she did not miss the sex but did expect more affection from her husband. In December last year (2003), much to her husband's surprise, she asked for a divorce. "I tried to talk to him to save our marriage. He said that he would change and took me out for dinner. But nothing changed. I only asked for more attention. Unfortunately, he didn't give it to me," she says sadly.