Selfishness`destroys Nineties marriages'

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The Independent Online
MODERN RELATIONSHIPS break down because young couples now are more selfish than their parents were, the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine of Lairg, was told yesterday.

Research commissioned by the Lord Chancellor's Department has found that many of today's generation selfishly pursue careers and other interests at the expense of marriage or long-term relationships. This, the Nottingham University researchers say, may be why the divorce rate has trebled in a generation. The untamed demands of the ego, says the report, are also partly responsible for four times as many children being born out of wedlock as in the Fifties, the study suggested.

People now in their sixties and seventies might have happily forgone job promotions, the blinkered pursuit of hobbies or even a romantic fling in the office, but their children, it appears, will not.

Professor Jane Lewis, the report's author, said that the central issue addressed by her research is the idea that individualism in personal relationships has substantially increased. The responses from a range of couples found that people in their thirties and forties "strove to more individual development". One in five of the 777 married or cohabiting people questioned in the survey said they considered leisure time and individual development was most important. However, 50 per cent said it was time spent with partners that was important.

Today's couples have to balance many different interests and this can cause friction, said Professor Lewis. In modern relationships, it was "the process of negotiation" that was difficult.

But she acknowledged that we know little about what has "actually happened within intimate relationships". What was clear was that "pre- marital" and "cohabitation contracts" were not the answer. They were regarded as "too cold", "too inflexible" and generally "too American".

Professor Lewis said that Lord Irvine and other policy makers had invested too much in the traditional belief in the stability of marriage. Professor Lewis said that the results of her study made clear how "impossible it is to put the clock back". It was important that more was done to accommodate the needs of cohabiting couples. But she speculated that the greater incidence of breakdown in cohabiting couples may be a function of "drift".

The report also detected in younger men an "ambivalence" about dedication to career as opposed to investment in family life. A majority of the younger women needed to work to pay the bills. The older women, by contrast, viewed work as a source of "pin money".

The study will provide much food for thought for Lord Irvine who in June shelved no-fault divorce reforms and compulsory mediation meetings for divorcing couples.

Lord Irvine's own change in personal circumstances can also be attributed to the changing attitude of society towards marriage. In an interview with The Sun last year Lord Irvine spoke of the guilt he felt when he fell in love with the wife of Donald Dewar, the Scottish First Minister, and divorced his own first wife. Last month he said: "Everyone has a view about divorce though, fortunately, not everyone has to experience it. Those who have been divorced are often scarred by the experience."