Headed for Divorce: Do Scotland and Great Britain Have Irreconcilable Differences?


The impending vote on the independence of Scotland this week is an interesting parallel to the decision that thousands of people make every day in America when they choose divorce over reconciliation of their marriage. Some people simply reach a point where they are convinced that the grass truly is greener elsewhere during a long-standing partnership. But is the grass really greener after divorce?

300 Years is a Long Marriage

We are witnessing history this week as Scotland advances toward a referendum on Thursday that would trigger its divorce from Great Britain. Most of the Scot’s push for independence seems to stem from cultural differences and the growing belief that their centuries-long union with London is an unbearable burden to the Scottish. One might therefore expect to find irreconcilable differences between supporters of Scottish independence and those that are pro-union.

But according to Neil Irwin of the New York Times, the differences between Scotland and Great Britain are surprisingly mundane. They don’t seem like the kind of rifts that could force a country that’s been “married” for 300 years to just split in half.

He writes,“What’s all the more remarkable about this possible secession is that major, specific grievances over public policy between Scotland and the rest of Britain are hard to identify. This isn’t like the Southern chunk of the United States seceding in 1860 because it was committed to slavery and the North was against it.”

Economists have pointed out that although the break-up of the U.K. would be costly both to England and Scotland, the heaviest toll will be paid by Scotland—betting perhaps too heavily on projected revenue from untapped oil fields.

The Seductive Appeal of Divorce

A comparison could be drawn between the polarization within the U.K. and what happens in a marriage between two people. Like the waxing pro-independence sediment in Scotland, there are many spouses that might see divorce as an appealing choice. But marriage experts warn that ending a marriage can’t be done with the same rally-cry pitch of the Scottish independence supporters.

Couples that overestimate the benefits of independence and underestimate the hidden costs can wind up feeling much worse than being in the throes of struggle with their spouse. “It’s difficult to imagine,” said Linda Evans (altered name for anonymity), who agreed to speak about her own divorce. “You’re already depressed from the constant fighting and you think ‘how could being on my own be any worse…it can’t be, right?’ But it was [worse] for me.”

Evans’s experience is what Connecticut divorce attorney William Donaldson might consider a classic case of a premature divorce. Says Donaldson, “Too often, a divorcing individual accepts an unfair settlement and finds that a few years later he or she is experiencing serious financial challenges. Was he or she intimidated or pressured to settle? Did the offer appear to be equitable?” According to Donaldson, Evans’s outcome can be avoided by working with the right professionals such as a collaborative attorney—a divorce lawyer that is trained to minimize collateral damage during a divorce and facilitate the division of assets with as much cooperation as possible.

Compared to the potential breakup of Britain and Scotland (estimated to cost London $226 billion), the cost of breaking up your marriage may seem like pocket change. But chances are most people don’t have between $15,000-$50,000 in extra cash to pay for a divorce. That’s how much a divorce can cost, depending on factors like whether you need litigation, according to some sources.

Averting Divorce Is Possible with the Right Intervention

Reconciliation of major clashes inside your marriage doesn’t usually happen without skilled, supportive intervention. It can be a major investment of time and money but one that is less costly in the long-term. In my upcoming book, Love Under Repair: How to Save Your Marriage and Survive Couples Therapy (available via this website October 19th ), I devote an entire chapter to the financial costs of couples therapy.

If you’re inspired by events in the U.K. to start an independence movement in your own marriage, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Have you fully exercised the option of reconciliation using a therapist trained in one of today’s leading brands of attachment-based couples therapy?

Attachment-based couples therapy isn’t the therapy of your parent’s generation. It has a reputation for being able to help couples make sense of volatile relationship patterns and help you handle difficult emotions that don’t always fit neatly into the wheelhouse of a traditional couples therapist that might rely on solution-focused or cognitive-behavioral methods.

  •  Has an individual therapist encouraged you (or your partner) to get divorced without accounting for your blind spots?

According to research, most couples divorce (or will soon get a divorce) when one or both partners believes he/she is better than the other (contempt). Most therapists are not trained to provide relationship advice that is effective against contempt. An experienced couples therapist that’s trained in relational psychology will tap into your deeper values and help you find your blind spots. You may not realize how you sabotage your own needs in your relationship, but with some help identifying these areas many people see their relationship in a totally different light.

  •  Do you want to end your current relationship because you feel there’s no other good choice, or would you rather make this decision knowing it’s the best of many good options?

Under stress, our emotions strongly bias our decision-making to favor short-term gains, but may cause us to ignore our best long-term interests. It takes skill and experience to make a decision that doesn’t just avoid pain and discomfort but protects our most vital interests without igniting resistance from others close to us.

Will independence from Great Britain truly benefit Scotland? Pundits and historians will surely have plenty to say about what the future holds for the U.K. One thing is certain; Scotland’s vote for independence across the pond puts the strength of any union, marriage especially, in sharp relief. As an American watching the U.K. this week I can’t be any more grateful for our united United States, and for the many reasons that couples have to believe they can survive the toughest of challenges to their union.