Ernest Hemingway wrote the classic novel, The Sun Also Rises, which takes place in post-World War I Spain. The book invites the reader to peak through a window into the lives of a group of expatriates who travel to Pamplona in Northern Spain to experience the festival of San Fermín, known for its running of the bulls. The book is witty and unexpectedly layered, which I did not fully appreciate when I first read it in in high school. Hemingway’s story brought the Spanish festival to the general attention of the English-speaking world. It has become the most internationally renowned celebration in Spain with over a million people participating each year. Some mistakenly attribute a famous quote in the book to Mark Twain, but it was Ernest who wrote it first in this dialogue between two characters in the story, Mike and Bill:
“How did you go bankrupt?” Bill asked.
“Two ways,” Mike said. “Gradually and then suddenly.”
“What brought it on?”
“Friends,” said Mike. “I had a lot of friends. False friends. Then I had creditors, too…”
I can think of a lot of circumstances in life where one’s journey cannot be directly mapped beyond present reality. These situations, or at least the ones I think about, are typically negative, and they are only being processed to avoid repetition. This can certainly be said for many people who find themselves sitting in our office. Many clients go into great detail about one or two specific, recent events they attribute to the breakdown of their marriage. Granted, these immediate motivators are valid and create significant concern, but the truth is, and as Hemmingway might agree, divorce happens gradually and then suddenly.
I would describe this gradual breakdown like a drip. Some might say Chinese water torture. I am sure you have seen a waterfall or a trickle in a cave or some feature in nature where water has been making contact in the same spot for hundreds of years. The stones underneath the steady flow or drip of water are eroded wherein their shape reflects the constant contact with the water. After hundreds of years of a single drop hitting a surface in the same spot, the water changes the shape of the stone.
The breakdown of a marriage obviously does not take hundreds of years, but the concept is relatable. Persistent although seemingly small things in a relationship can be the proverbial drip of water that leaves a lasting impression. An apathetic response produces very little impact the first time or even after many, but as time passes, the relationship – like a stone under constant contact with water, begins to erode. As years pass without accountability surrounding those seemingly small things, many find they are different than they once were. Think erosion, not growth.
I am learning love is a verb. It requires action. Hearing the story of how a person fell out of love never gets easier. Indeed, the recurring theme is often something small that goes unchecked for a long, long time.
Drip, drip, drip.
While marriages are supposed to be forever, people change. The change in a person is a reflection of their experiences. Due to this inherent quality in people, love must evolve too. Love is more than simple presence, it is practice. It takes active effort.
Attentiveness is critical. If love is to last, little things matter – except when they don’t, because letting go is important too. For example, I do not think my grandmother pumped her own gas a day in her life before my grandfather died. She never asked for the small, consistent act of service, and it required little effort on his part, but he dependably performed this small act of kindness for decades. Their marriage was loving, not because of grand gestures, but in celebration of the small things. Sure, small things can create destruction too, but they can also bring life and fuel mutual admiration.
Divorce is usually a slow burn, it’s not typically an explosion. The momentous events people describe in our office can often be attributed to more of a steady decline — gradually and then suddenly. Divorce is a delayed consequence of inattentiveness. Rarely are both parties innocent when things become explosive in marriage. I touched on this briefly in my blog Know Thyself. It is hard to practice self-reflection. It feels uncomfortable to be critical of your own thoughts and actions, especially if it is not a regular practice. It’s even harder to apply meaningful change once those negative actions take root.
The best people I know take accountability as a professional endeavor. Extreme ownership is endearing. As a newbie divorce attorney, I find it refreshing to talk to someone who does not deflect, but instead takes responsibility for their part in their relationship status. No person or marriage is perfect, but if you commit to change the “gradually”, you may avoid the “suddenly.”
Mandalin Blanton is an associate attorney who received her Juris Doctorate from Mississippi College in 2023. Originally from Asheville, North Carolina, she also graduated from Mississippi State University with a degree in Psychology. Mandalin is a high achiever with a competitive edge, whose family worked in and around the foster care system her entire life. She is fiercely loyal and decisive, which when coupled with her adaptability and straightforward style of communication, makes her a great fit for family law and the R+E legal team. Mandalin appreciates helping clients create independence and promoting their personal growth and well- being throughout the divorce process and into the next chapter of their lives. Contact her at email@example.com