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Divorce in the Kibbutz: Lessons to be Drawn*


Mordecai Kaffman, M.D.

The kibbutz in Israel constitutes one of the few places in Western culture where one is able to
examine the essence of an "authentic emotional divorce" because of the minor role of factors that
are extraneous to the disruption of the emotional marital attachment itself. This is the case
because the kibbutz is a society that is based and functions upon principles that neutralize to a
large extent the legal, economic, and co-parenting obstacles to a constructive divorce. Although
there are significant differences in the severity of the post-divorce conflict, the divorce crisis is
rather similar in kibbutz and non-kibbutz settings regarding both the quality of the emotional
responses and the nature of the influencing factors - thus pointing to the ubiquitousness of the
human condition.

1 Doubtless, divorce is a major, critical life event that is almost always associated with
considerable tension and stressful emotional problems. And yet it is difficult to ascertain the
relative weight, within the complex of the post-separation emotional reactions, of socioeconomic
factors versus the purely affective components that influence the quality of the marital relationship.
Most people who divorce in the traditional family setting of Western culture face two distinct yet
overlapping areas of conflict resulting from the dissolution of marriage. On the one hand, they
must try to copy with manifold marital issues within a legal system that encourages adversarial
positions: divorce negotiations often include litigation over custody arrangements for minor
children, child support, and division of marital property. Simultaneously, the divorced couple has
to face the emotional effects of the separation. These add up to what is usually labeled as the
"emotional divorce", and include the reactions and feelings related to the sense of failure in
marriage, the symptoms of decathexis from a love object, and the difficulties in adjusting to
autonomy, loneliness, and a new life style.
2 The kibbutz in Israel constitutes one of the few places in Western culture where one is able to
examine the essence of an "authentic emotional divorce" because of the minor role of extraneous
socioeconomic factors that do not belong to the disruption of the emotional marital attachment
proper. This is the case because the kibbutz is a society that is based and functions upon principles
that neutralize to a large extent the legal, economic, and parenthood obstacles to a constructive
divorce.

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Plenary Address at the 6th International Congress of Family Therapy, Jerusalem, Israel,
March 29 to April 3rd, 1992.
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The kibbutz principles include: (1) collective ownership of the means of production, with no
private property accumulated by the individual member (hence, no reason for conflicts over
questions of property); (2) collective responsibility for all material, cultural, educational, and health
needs of the divorcing couple and their children (hence, no danger of economic stress, and no
reason to demand alimony or child support); (3) separate and equal housing facilities for both
members of the divorcing couple, based on the accepted standard for all kibbutz members (hence,
both members of the divorcing couple continue to maintain the network of social relations that had
preceded the divorce); (4) equal rights and opportunities offered to both parents by an agreed,
egalitarian arrangement of co-parenting (hence, as long as both parents remain in the kibbutz, there
is no reason for problems about custody of the children and parental visitation rights).
3 In the kibbutz, therefore, divorce does not change one's place of residence, social status, place
of work, or economic stability, since the communal services continue to fill all the material needs of
the individual member. Divorced persons find little difficulty in maintaining their normal
household routines, the community taking full responsibility for day-to-day functions such as
shopping, cooking, laundry, home maintenance, as well as all physical, educational, and medical
needs of the family.
4 From a technical point of view, separation does not involve too many changes in the role of
parenting, or disruption in the lives of the children. Children continue to be cared for in the
children's houses during the parents' working hours. The kibbutz fully practices the principle of
equality for both of the former spouses regardless of the cause of divorce. The divorced father is
free to be with his children to the same extent as the mother, and there are no difficulties in
arranging for equal division of the children's leisure hours between the two parents.
5 In contrast, in urban societies of comparable socioeconomic level, divorce is frequently
accompanied by considerable material stress. Spanier and Casto (1979) found that about 60% of
divorced American women complained of a substantial deterioration in their economic situation
after separation. For them, divorce often means less money, more modest housing in a poorer
neighborhood, and greater social isolation exacerbated by an increased family burden. One of the
former partners is forced to look for alternative housing, and this may lead to radical changes in the
parent's contact with the children. The custodial parent, usually the mother, must become
accustomed to her new status as a single parent, while the other is forced to accommodate himself
to visiting rights, and to see his children less frequently than in the past. In the city, issues of
alimony may become a major source of conflict with severe implications for post-divorce
adaptation.

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6. Due to its special nature, therefore, the kibbutz offers a unique research laboratory for
investigating the effects of divorce and post-divorce adjustment. This article aims at summarizing
our findings on divorce in the kibbutz over the past 10 years, with a view to comparing these
findings with data from other settings, and to determining what lessons can be drawn from the
kibbutz experience.

Strengthening of Family Life as a Factor in Divorce


7 It is surprising that in Israel today, despite the aggravating, material circumstances affecting the
divorce decision of urban couples, the rate of divorce is very similar in kibbutz and non-kibbutz
settings. One out of five marriages in both kibbutz settlements and Israeli secular big cities may be
expected to end in divorce. This figure contrasts sharply with the situation 20 years ago, when
demographic data showed that only one kibbutz couple out of 12 became divorced (Gerson, 1968).
8 At first glance, it may seem paradoxical that the rise in the divorce rate should occur at a time
when the fostering of family life in the kibbutz has acquired far greater emphasis. Parallel to its
economic expansion, particularly since the 1970's, the kibbutz movement has witnessed a
strengthening of the role of the nuclear family within its total social structure. Gradually, many of
the functions that in the past were the responsibility of the collective are now being assumed by the
parents and the nuclear family, particularly in the area of child-rearing and education. There are
many indications of the increased centrality of the family: for example, greater care is given to the
physical comfort and appearance of the family dwelling, more time is devoted to leisure activities
within the family setting (often at the expense of involvement in communal activities), and meals
are often eaten at home rather than in the communal dining room. There is general agreement that
the parents should play a more active role in the upbringing of their children with regard to feeding,
toilet-training, clothing, health, school activity, and physical care. These changed norms were, in
the not too distant past, considered totally alien to the essence of the kibbutz and in violation of the
principles of collective education, which insisted on the centrality of the children's house and the
authority of the caregiver ("metapelet") and the educational staff. The most striking expressions of
the increased strength of the family within the communal setup is the ever increasing number of
kibbutzim - by now more than 90% - that have decided to discontinue the communal sleeping
arrangement in the children's house in favor of the children sleeping in the parents' house until
adolescence. One should not forget that until a few years ago the children's communal sleeping
arrangement was considered a foundation stone of the kibbutz and one of the marks of its unique
identification.
9 The process of transferring manifold functions from the children's house to the parents is not
the result of the failure of collective education. It is generally recognized that children brought up
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under the previous system were well adjusted, developed close ties with their parents, and grew up
without any special physical, intellectual, or psychological disabilities. The main reason for the
change seems to be the desire and the pressure of the parents, in particular mothers, to be more
directly involved in the rearing of their children and in their daily care. In fact, the kibbutz today
can be seen to present an almost anachronistic model, as far as western society is concerned, of a
highly concentrated, family-oriented society. The average kibbutz family today spends many
leisure hours together because the parents finish working in mid-afternoon and are then free to
devote their time mainly to the family. In this respect, the kibbutz differs sharply from many of the
communes outside of Israel, where the predominant beliefs, values, and practices tend to reduce the
importance of the nuclear family and undermine "familism", which is regarded as responsible for
many of the social evils of today (Jaffe and Kanter, 1979).
10 It may thus seem surprising that this trend toward a more closely knit family life on the
kibbutz is accompanied by a significant rise in divorce. In our view, there is no contradiction
between the two phenomena. On the contrary, the enhanced closeness and interconnectedness
between family members has the potential for greater sources of friction, conflict and discord
within the family. Many of the domestic issues and dilemmas previously handled by the communal
institutions are now being faced by the parents, arousing inevitable differences in attitudes and
approaches. The tendency in tight-fitting, familistic societies to exhibit an increased level of
marital conflict has been described by several authors. Levinger (1979), for example, in
summarizing a number of studies on the subject, points out that, contrary to prevailing opinion,
"couples with children in the home tend to have lower marital satisfaction than those without
children, greater financial burdens and more interpersonal stress". Stuart (1980) has pointed to the
consistent finding that marital dissatisfaction and divorce-proneness are positively correlated with
family size. Beck (1988) has suggested that, since both parents divert a considerable part of their
attention and energy to the child-care tasks, the amount of time spent for the sheer benefit of the
couple may be diminished and result in a net loss in marital affection and satisfaction.
11 There is doubtless some exaggeration in the style in which these conclusions are presented. It
is clear that for most middle-class families, children - in spite of the additional burden their
upbringing involves - are welcome and happy additions, at least for an average, well-functioning
family that is in no particular financial strain, as is the case in the kibbutz. Nevertheless, there
seems to be sufficient ground for the contention that, for a fair proportion of marriages, an
increased family concentration beyond a certain level, with enhanced intensity in the transactions
around the daily problems of childcare, may serve to augment the potential for marital stress and
conflict. It appears, therefore, that the current radical changes in kibbutz family organization, with
its enlarged, daily intra-family interaction and the heavier responsibilities of the parents, have

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exerted many additional pressures on marital relations, frequently aggravating marital discord and
sometimes leading to separation.

Research on Divorce in the Kibbutz


12 Over the past 10 years we have carried out at the Kibbutz Child and Family Clinic, with the
cooperation of the Institute for the Study of the Kibbutz (University of Haifa), a series of studies on
the specific characteristics of divorce in the kibbutz. It should be noted that we use interchangeably
the terms divorce and separation, meaning a permanent break in the marital relationship and
physical separation of the spouses with or without the legal sanction of the civil or rabbinical
courts. Among other research aims, we wanted to obtain an answer to the question whether divorce
in the particular setting of the kibbutz may allow us to draw lessons and conclusions valid for other
social contexts. Our unreserved answer is that it does.
13 In support of this overall conclusion, I will present some of the findings in our study of a
representative sample of 100 divorced subjects from 32 kibbutz communes. This sample includes
all kibbutz members, 59 women and 41 men (with at least one preadolescent child in the family)
who had divorced in the years 1979 to 1982. The mean length of the marriage was 10.6 years. The
mean time after the separation was 23 months. Interviews were conducted in the homes of the
participants by three well-trained family therapists of the Kibbutz Child and Family Clinic. Each
interview took, on the average, 2 and 1/2 hours. During the first part of the interview, the
respondents were asked both open-ended and structured questions dealing with (1) personal and
sociodemographic data and (2) their views on the quality of their former marriage, the
circumstances that led up to the divorce, and the nature and severity of the conflict that preceded it.
The second part of the interview explored post divorce issues, ranging from the nature of the
emotional impact of the breakup to the manner of functioning in areas such as work, child rearing,
intimate and sexual relations, social life, and leisure-time activity - as compared to the pre-divorce
situation. In the third part of the interview, the respondents were asked to describe and evaluate the
relative weight of the main factors that helped - or hindered - the effort to cope with the divorce
crisis. Finally, subjects were asked to rate on a 5-point scale (from "mild" to "decisive") the
relative importance of every factor that they considered relevant to their own or their mate's
decision to separate.

Who is The Initiator?


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14 In our sample, men were equally likely to initiate the divorce as women (4l% men versus 46%
women). This finding differs from studies in other social groups where women increasingly
predominate as the initiator of the separation (Bloom & Hodges, 1981). Demographic data in the
United States show that beginning with the eighteenth century, more women than men took the
initiative to terminate the marriage. Wallerstein and Kelly (1980) found women to be the initiators
of the divorce in about 75% of the cases, whereas in our sample the corresponding figure is 46%.
The difference is even more surprising if we consider that the kibbutz women would seem, at first
glance, to be less limited by external difficulties in weighing the possibility of marital dissolution.
The existence of socioeconomic equality between the sexes (which is one of the essential
foundations of the kibbutz) contrasts sharply with the more prevalent situation in other frameworks
in Western society. There is little doubt that, for most American women who are thinking about
terminating a marriage, the harsh reality of discrimination and economic inequality is frequently
one of the prime considerations in deferring divorce.
15 There are several possible explanations for the relatively low proportion of women initiating
divorce in the kibbutz. Our main hypothesis is that, under kibbutz conditions, some of the sources
of the wife's feeling of frustration and marital unhappiness in urban society do not exist. The
kibbutz provides employment for both husband and wife, with equal compensation for their work
and equal satisfaction of all their material needs as consumers. There is, therefore, no room for
dissatisfaction about the husband's earning capacity, nor is there the same competitive drive to
"keep up with the Joneses". In contrast, researchers on divorce in the United States have indicated
that the husband's level of earning and his stability and skills at his place of work are negatively
related to divorce more strongly than any other demographic variable ( Levinger, 1976).
16 Another common source of wives' dissatisfaction in the urban setting is the husband's absence
from home because of extra work after regular work hours. In the kibbutz, as a rule, both parents
work similar hours, which leaves them both free to enjoy the leisure hours together with their
children in the family setting. The kibbutz society strives toward maximum participation by the
father in bringing up the children. The father is expected to be effectively and affectively involved
with the children. He ordinarily assumes, together with the mother, full responsibility for the
provision of daily care, emotional nurturance, play, and socialization of values.
17 In the kibbutz family, generally speaking, there is no room for manifestations of "machismo"
or for the traditional, stereotypic division of roles by sex. Men and women share responsibility for
domestic chores and for the handling of affairs in the various communal consumer services.
Women in the kibbutz do not depend on their mates in order to realize their potential and needs of
self-fulfillment (work, studies, leisure time) and there are no conflicts about place of residence for
dual-career couples. In addition, since the kibbutz is quite selective in its policy of accepting new

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members, with the society exerting considerable pressure on individual members to adapt
themselves to the accepted behavior patterns and the agreed-upon values of the community, there is
an extremely low incidence of chronic alcoholism or of physical abuse of women and children.
18 The factors described above offer sufficient explanation for the fact that the initiative for
divorce in the kibbutz comes in equal measure from the wives and the husbands. It is also evident
that the motives of kibbutz women for separation are more likely to be concerned with emotional
aspects of the marital relationship than with marital/material well-being.
19 In our study, about 40% of the subjects defined themselves as non-initiators of the marital
dissolution. On the average they exhibited substantially more emotional complications than the
initiator of divorce. Among the non-initiators, the group that revealed most severe post-divorce
conflict is that of respondents whom we labeled "the surprised spouse" (3l% of our sample), who
reported lack of awareness of marital conflict prior to the divorce. Obviously, any unanticipated
loss constitutes a serious traumatic event since it rules out the possibility of a slow, gradual
adjustment to the new life situation. In the case of unilateral divorce, in addition to the unexpected
loss of a love-object, there is also the wounded self-esteem of the non-initiator, who tends to
respond to the initiative of the partner with long-term reactions of anger, desires to retaliate, and
uncompromising demands. When the lack of symmetry over the decision to divorce appears linked
to the involvement of the ex-mate with a third party, a severe post-separation conflict usually
evolves.

Determinants of Breakup
20 As a result of the particular conditions of the kibbutz, which eliminate legal, religious, or
economic obstacles to the decision of one or both spouses to separate, the resolution to continue to
terminate the marriage can be seen to depend primarily on the quality of the marital relationship
itself. It is, therefore, of great interest to know the reasons for divorce under such circumstances.

Covert Conflict
21 In contrast to the prevailing impression that the major cause of divorce lies in an overt conflict
full of disputes and quarrels, we found that the most frequent factor leading to divorce in the
kibbutz is a covert, subtle conflict, prevailing over a long period of time. More than a third (37%)
of the kibbutz divorce subjects indicated that the final decision to separate resulted from an
accumulation of discomfort and lack of satisfaction from the marital bond, and not from noisy
arguments or open conflict. A central component of this state of discontent is emotional alienation
(sometimes accompanied by physical and sexual distancing), leading to progressive, mutual
estrangement. She or he feels trapped, but finds it difficult to take the initiative in expressing
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distress and trying to alter the family situation. (We refer to the spouse in such a predicament as the
"silent complainer"). The silent complainer who finally decides to initiate the divorce does so, on
the average, after about 10 years of an ungratifying marital relationship, when, under the stress of
critical life events and changes, she or he finds it difficult to maintain the homeostatic marital
balance. The break generally follows a period of painful indecision over breaking up a stable and
familiar life pattern, the fear of loneliness, guilt feelings as to the effect of the divorce on the
partner and the children, and the reactions of many surprised kibbutz members who may consider
the act to be the result of a poorly thought-out impulse.
22 The decision to divorce after years of hidden dissatisfaction may be sparked by a meaningful
tie-up with a third party or by significant transitional changes in the life cycle. In the kibbutz, such
changes might include beginning or terminating a period of service on behalf of the kibbutz outside
its physical confines; the beginning or end of a period of study; or the children's decision to leave
the kibbutz upon reaching adulthood. An additional factor, which would seem to be unique to the
kibbutz, is a phenomenon that may be termed "collective contagion": the influence on a given
individual of the decision by another couple in the kibbutz to seek divorce. In a study of the
determinants of divorce in the past 10 years, conducted in 73 kibbutzim, we found that in more than
half of 600 cases of marital separation the divorces appeared as a "mini-epidemic” - concentrated
within a span of less than 6 months - alternating with a "quiet" period of about 1-2 years with not
a single case of marital separation (Palgi et al., 1965).
23 About one-third of all the divorced subjects included in the category of covert conflict
indicated that one of the decisive reasons for the divorce was the low level of mutuality of views,
values, and interests regarding social life, as well as priorities in fun and leisure-time activities.
The main complaint in these subjects was the low correlation of mutual interests that might hold
them together. The husband and wife find few topics for conversation outside work and the
children; their talks become punctuated by prolonged silences.
24 Most respondents in this category declared that this low level of mutual interests, opinions,
and philosophy of life was "discovered" in the early stages of their marriage; but, rather than
accommodating to this situation, they increasingly found themselves under stress because of it. In
many cases the awareness of the lack of common interests existed before the marriage, but various
considerations caused the marriage to take place anyhow, in the hope that, with time, bridges would
be built over the abyss. This kind of marriage, with no common basis of views and preferences,
and with little sharing of enjoyable event, did not generally lead to open conflicts but, rather, to
cumulative frustrations and disappointments. The marriage turned quite dull, lacking the
enrichment that shared experiences of a positive and enjoyable nature could lend to it.

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25 About one-third of the divorced individuals included in the category of covert conflict pointed
specifically to a deficit in the affective quality of the marriage and described a condition of
emotional alienation. Generally the complainer drew a picture of a couple living parallel lives
lacking in intimacy and warmth. The interaction lacked pleasing and caring behavior. The
marriage soon turned routine, without vitality, surprise, fun. In most cases the non-initiator looked
upon the marriage as fixed and irreversible, with no thoughts as to the possibility of divorce since
there was no overt conflict or friction in the day-to-day relations. The initiator of divorce (the silent
complainer), who usually displayed a continuous pattern of conflict avoidance, often described the
marriage as "lifeless" or "dead", with an "emotional cutoff", and she or he frequently would seek
affective compensation, mainly in the form of an extramarital relationship.

Overt Conflict
26 Most people associate divorce with arguments, loud quarrels, and mutual vicious attacks in the
style of the couple in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf". In the kibbutz, severe and open marital
conflict with frequent arguments and noisy quarrels appears with lower frequency (26%) as the
principal cause of separation, when compared with 37% of the respondents who gave covert
chronic conflict as the decisive reason for divorce. Most respondents in the overt conflict group
reported a consistent pattern of sharp, destructive quarrels over both major and minor issues, with
constant mutual recriminations, accusations, and insults. After going through a series of destructive
fights, involving reciprocal negative remarks and uncontrolled verbal attacks, each of the partners
becomes well-equipped with both a "bank account" of legitimate claims and an "arsenal of
weapons" to attack the spouse's Achilles' heel. However, despite the clear-cut conflict and the
constant mutual threats of separation, the couple for a long time would find it difficult to take the
final step. In more of our cases there were several short-lived separations that ended in a
reconciliation and an agreement to give the marriage one more chance. This closed circle of
prolonged quarrels and brief periods of accommodation would sometimes go on for years, until one
of partners reached a final decision to divorce. In our sample we found that the decision to break
up often came just as one of the partners - independently of the other - decided to seek
psychological help for the marital difficulties.

Extramarital Involvement
27 Many recent studies show that between 40-50% of all married males and females among
Western, urban middle-class couples engage in extramarital relations (EMR) within the first 10
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years of the their marriage. A survey that we conducted in five randomly chosen kibbutz
communities in 1984 showed a similar figure: 39% of 412 kibbutz couples (married on the average
for 9 years), in response to a questionnaire sent by us assuring anonymity and professional secrecy,
reported that they had been involved in EMR. We found a somewhat greater prevalence EMR
among women (54%) than among men (46%), but this difference lacked statistical significance.
There is an interesting discrepancy between our data and comparable data collected in American
society, where, in contrast to the kibbutz frame, men are more likely to engage in extramarital sex
than women. On the basis of our data, we cannot support the view of Ellis (1969) that "the female
of the human species seems less strongly motivated toward plural sexuality than is the male" (pp.
154). The specific case of the kibbutz appears to indicate that differences between the sexes with
regard to EMR are not genetically or phylogenetically motivated, but rather must be considered
related to dissimilar social and situational circumstances, particularly the absence in the kibbutz of
double standards of sexual conduct that one finds in most Western cultures.
28 A comparison between our findings and those of other researchers shows great similarity
between the kibbutz and other social settings as to both the overall extent of EMR and its effect on
divorce. In our sample of 100 divorced kibbutz members, 30% claimed that the breakup was
caused - either in great measure or even decisively - by emotional involvement with a third party.
However, the fact that in 70% of the cases EMR did not figure as a major factor and that a
significant number of extramarital relations are not followed by separation or divorce tends to
refute the statement of Dicks (1967): "Adultery, when it becomes known to the spouse, is the most
serious threat to the great majority of marriages" (p. 165). Our clinical experience in the kibbutz
shows that the discovery of the spouse's infidelity, though the cause of grievous hurt and sometimes
of an acute family crisis, does not in most cases lead to a termination of the marriage. A real danger
to the marriage arises if the relationship with the new lover offers an attainable alternative that
seems preferable to a marriage that has been failing for a prolonged period of time.
29 In contrast with American studies, which show that no more than 15% of the divorced persons
eventually marry the EMR partner (Hetherington, Cox, & Cox, 1977), we have found that 82% of
the kibbutz respondents who acknowledged involvement with a third party as the decisive factor in
the family breakup did establish a permanent and binding tie with the new partner shortly after the
termination of the previous marriage.
30 In the kibbutz, as in other settings, whenever a marriage is broken up because of a new lover,
we found that it is the husband rather than the wife who takes in the initiative to separate, the
proportion being 2:1. This finding seems surprising and seemingly not in consonance with two
other findings: (1) that in the kibbutz there is no significant difference between men and women in
the frequency of initiating separation; and (2) that, if there is any gender difference at all with

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regard to the frequency of EMR, females will be more likely engaged in extramarital affairs. In
view of the above, the answer to the intriguing question why more men than women are motivated
to terminate their marriage because of third-party involvement may perhaps lie in the somewhat
different motive for women to become involved in EMR than for men. Apparently, in a significant
number of couples, men and women perceive quite differently the meaning of extramarital sex with
regard to the marital relationship. On the basis of the answers of the respondents in our study, we
fully agree with Thompson's (1984) assumption that extramarital sex among women if often
motivated by "pull" factors of curiosity about a new experience, and sometimes the search for
personal growth, whereas among men the "push" factors of an unsatisfactory marriage are more
frequently reported as the precursors of EMR.
31 We have found an additional interesting gender difference in our sample of kibbutz divorced
persons who rated EMR as the decisive cause of divorce: most men who reached the decision to
terminate their marriage did so after a slow and gradual process, sometimes after a period of
indecision lasting a number of years, whereas divorce following a passionate love affair that left no
room for compromise or delay occurred more frequently among women.

Affective Responses to Separation


32 We found no support for the supposition that divorced subjects go through predictable phases
in the post-separation adjustment process. The nature, severity, sequence, and clustering of the
emotional responses run an individual course influenced by different interconnected variables.
33 In the kibbutz, as in other settings, among the factors that seem to be of major importance in
determining the severity of the divorce conflict, the duration of the marriage is a central one. As a
rule, the longer the marriage, the more marked were the reported affective reactions and distress.
Obviously the marital breakup is much more painful when it takes place against the background of
great emotional investment over a period of many years of mutual transactions and interdependence
in terms of love, care, hurt, and frustration.
34 Our research findings confirm clinical evidence at the Kibbutz Clinic that the intensity of the
emotional distress is most severe when the divorce follows 10 or more years of married life. In a
parallel study of 307 kibbutz divorced couples, which included childless couples, we found that the
emotional reactions were less severe and of shorter duration among young couples below the age of
28 and with less than 5 years of marriage, particularly if the divorced couple had no children.
35 As early as the first few months after separation, two distinct groups emerged with regard to
the degree of emotional acceptance and ego-syntonic concordance with the decision to divorce.
The first group, consisting of about one-half of the respondents, openly expressed relief over the
decisions, with no reservations. The second group, about 38% of the sample, displayed severe
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reactions of sadness, pain, anger, feelings of guilt toward the children, and difficulties in accepting
the divorce, expressing a totally unrealistic expectation that their marriage could yet be saved. At
the end of 2 years, respondents who reported positive feelings about the decision to divorce
comprised about three-quarters of the total sample, whereas the group of "regretters" dropped to
about 12% of the total. This ratio continued practically unchanged for the next 5 years.

Positive Emotional Responses


36 Following the decision to separate, a high percentage (44%) of the kibbutz divorced subjects
reported immediate, positive reactions, namely, complete acceptance of the divorce as the best way
out, with no feelings of ambivalence. Half of the subjects reported a clear feeling of relief and
respite upon closing the pre-divorce chapter of their lives, which were often full of uncertainties
and difficult decisions. This percentage increased in the second year after separation - 74% of
the divorced subjects reported full acceptance of the divorce, most of them with a distinct feeling of
relief, sincerely convinced that the divorce helped them enhance their lives.
37 Our findings show that a positive attitude of acceptance of and conformity with divorce found
within the first months after the divorce constitute a reliable, good prognostic index to post-divorce
adjustment, and represent the only emotional reaction in the first months of divorce that is steadily
associated with a higher, improved level of overall functioning in the second post-separation year.

Negative Emotional Responses


38 At the other extreme, for the majority of the group of 12% of divorced subjects who at the end
of the second year of divorce continued to maintain that the breakup had been a mistake, showing
persistent affective bond toward the former spouse and difficulty in accepting the irreversibility of
the divorce, clear signs of emotional conflict and dysfunctional post-divorce adjustment persisted at
least 5 years following the divorce. These subjects erect a living memorial to the terminated
marriage, a memorial built up with anger, never-ending accusations, self-blame, and self-pity.
39 The proportion of "regretters" in the kibbutz samples, particularly after the first post-divorce
year, appears to be lower than in comparable samples elsewhere. Kressel (1985) concludes that
most American divorce studies indicate that about 30% of the individuals who had been divorced
within the preceding 2-year period report distressing, strong feelings of attachment to the former
spouse. The high proportion of "regretters" outside the kibbutz can probably be explained by the
aggravating pressures created by the day-to-day living conditions of a large proportion of broken
families: a drop in living standards, the burden of daily care of the children by a single parent, the
maintenance of a household, and other stressors that are absent in the kibbutz.

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40 In summary, it is clear that in the kibbutz a high percentage of divorced persons react to the
traumatic event of separation with emotional responses that in their essence are similar to those in
other frameworks. The main difference would seem to be a decline in severity and duration of the
affective reactions, although, obviously, divorce also constitutes a major crisis in the kibbutz, and
not all persons attain a successful post-divorce adjustment. Altogether, 24% of the kibbutz
divorced persons reported conflictual relations with their former mate even at the end of the second
post-divorce year. This is a finding not to be treated lightly. In a previous study of kibbutz
divorces (Pagli el al.,1985), we found that two-thirds of the divorced individuals who have failed to
overcome the divorce crisis in the first 2 years, and who do not manage to complete their emotional
divorce within this time span, will continue to show signs of the conflict for at least 5 years.
41 In order to decrease the risk of chronic post-divorce conflict and in order to enable a
therapeutic intervention as early as possible, it is important to identify the symptoms that point to
the development of a pathological emotional divorce. We have found that four emotional responses
are related, at a statistically significant level, to a high risk of marked and persistent post-divorce
conflict:
- deep sadness and symptoms of depression
- severe anger, hate, and hostile interactions with ex-spouse
- feelings of guilt toward the children
- intense jealousy toward the third party
The persistence of these reactions during the second half of the first year after divorce, points to the
danger that a serious, long-standing, post-divorce emotional conflict will be created. In our
experience, this at-risk group calls for prompt therapeutic intervention to prevent as far as possible
the development of a chronically unfinished emotional divorce.

Factors Influencing Post-divorce Adjustment


42 Many authors have noted that little is known about the coping mechanisms and circumstances
that facilitate or hinder the process of adjusting to divorce (Berman & Turk, 1981). Seeking at least
a partial answer to this question, we have examined the six main factors that the divorced subjects
in our kibbutz study indicated as significant in enhancing their ability to cope with the separation
crisis. About one-half of the respondents reported three cardinal, positive influences that helped
them to a decisive degree in overcoming the separation distress: (1) supportive and helpful friends
(54%); (2) psychotherapeutic help (54%); and (3) a new intimate involvement, including satisfying
heterosexual relations (49%). With somewhat lower, but still high frequency, involving about one-
third of the respondents, the following supportive factors were mentioned: (1) the supportive
attitude of the kibbutz institutions involved in implementing the divorce - in technical and various
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pragmatic matters (39%); (2) the practical help and advice from the educational personnel involved
with the children (35%); and (3) the support of the parents of the divorced couple, by their positive
attitude and encouragement (30%).
43 Only for three of the above six support factors was there a significant correlation between the
particular support variable, on one hand, and on the other hand, a low level of emotional conflict
with a satisfactory, overall level of functioning in the second post-divorce year. The three
significant, positive factors found in our study were (1) a satisfactory personal experience in the
context of a new, intimate heterosexual relationship; (2) parents who encouraged and actively
supported him (or her) at critical points; and (3) the help provided by psychotherapy in moving on
to a new life with new goals.

Role of Early Sexual Activity


44 It was no surprise to find that a satisfying heterosexual relationship, developed in the early
months after the divorce, was a major source of support: we came across the same finding in an
earlier study (Kaffman & Talmon, 1982). In studying a group of 24 divorced kibbutz persons who
fulfilled our criteria for a successful post-divorce outcome with personal growth, all without
exception pointed to an intimate attachment or a love affair in the early post-divorce phase, usually
during the first 4 months of separation, as having played a paramount role in the healthy resolution
of the divorce crisis. Likewise, in our sample of 100 divorced individuals, half the respondents
considered a new love relationship as one of the most powerful elements in their positive post-
divorce adjustment.
45 We have found, therefore, a consistently significant association between an active sexual life
in the first months after separation and an improved total functioning. Even though no long-range
commitment was usually undertaken in connection with the sexual activities, these were not of the
promiscuous type, but, rather, constituted a monogamous, gratifying relationship with a reasonable
degree of meaning and intimacy. Thus, an intimate relationship with a new or former lover in the
first phase of the divorce crisis generally provides an important source of stability and support, as
well as added positive self-esteem, derived from the feeling of being wanted, of being competent
and capable of successfully meeting social and sexual challenges.

Other Positive and Negative Factors


46 About two-thirds of the respondents (68%) received some kind of divorce therapy. Most of
them considered treatment an important factor in the achievement of a positive post-divorce
adjustment. Most interviewees who sought therapy stressed the psychological help they received
for coping with anxieties, depressive reactions, and guilt feelings, with particular emphasis on
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avoidance of further pathogenic involvement with the ex-spouse through recognition of the illogical
nature of the reconciliation fantasies and final acceptance of the new reality. Divorce therapy also
helped to modify the false assumption that cooperation with the other spouse following divorce is
almost impossible. As a matter of fact, in the frame of the kibbutz, a working cooperation between
ex-mates is one of the most precious goals to be reached in divorce therapy, particularly in the area
of co-parenting. Children should become totally free of the apprehension that loving one parent
endangers the affection of the other. They should receive from their parents a categorical message
that it is not an act of unfaithfulness to love and experience a separate, warm relationship with each
parent. Divorce therapy proved to be essential for the achievement of all these goals.
47 An unexpected finding in our study was the large role ascribed to the help received from the
divorced person's parents. In at least one-third of the cases, the parents were actively involved,
mostly as a support factor, sometimes as a factor trying to prevent the separation, and, in fewer
cases, by identification with the son-in-law or daughter-in-law. We found a positive correlation
between a comforting and supportive parental system (as reported by 30% of the respondents) and
the outcome of post-divorce recovery with psychological well-being. At the other extreme, a lower
percentage of divorced individuals (13%) reported a lack of support from the parents, and hostile
interactions with them. In this group, we found a significant correlation between perceived
discouraging parental attitudes and an increased level of divorce conflict. To the best of our
knowledge, the role of parents - for better or for worse - in the development, severity, and
duration of the post-divorce conflict has not been stressed enough in the professional literature,
even though it clearly has some practical implications. Since we now ascribe due weight to in the
interaction of divorced persons with their parents as one of the central factors that determine the
severity of the divorce conflict, we include the parents of the divorced, when possible, in our
divorce therapy program.
48 Two factors, out of a list of twelve, were particularly stressed by the respondents as hindrance
factors, that is, as factors that intensify the emotional turmoil of the divorce crisis. The first is the
continuation of the conflictual involvement and disturbed communication with the ex-spouse
during and following the divorce proceedings (34% of the respondents). The second, reported by
30% of the respondents, was the continued physical proximity and unplanned encounters with the
ex-spouse in the small and closely knit community that is the kibbutz. At the same time, it was
found that neither of these factors significantly associated with a high level of post-divorce conflict
or a low level of functioning. They were sources of tension and distress, particularly in the first
half-year after the divorce; but it seems that, with the passage of time, the enforced meetings
between the two ex-spouses provided opportunities in most cases for what may be said to be a
"second chance" for improving relations, by slowly working out a modus vivendi in physical

15
proximity to each other, for the benefit of both the parents and the children involved in a co-
parenting arrangement (Kaffman et al, 1989a).

When Ex-Spouses Remain in the Same Kibbutz


49 In a divorce in non-kibbutz settings, former spouses usually discontinue physical proximity,
one partner moving far away and the ex-spouses meeting (if at all) only by prearrangement, mostly
to take up matters that concern the children. This is not the situation in a kibbutz, where the
community prefers that both parents continue as members of the kibbutz, take part in community
affairs as they did before, continue at their place of work, and reach a mutually agreed-upon
program of co-parenting. One spouse would continue to live in the old apartment while the other,
in most cases the man, would be provided with housing in some different section of the kibbutz.
However, since the kibbutz is an intimate commune built within a restricted area, with many
communal institutions normally providing a nearly continuous opportunity for meeting other
kibbutz members, there is no way of preventing chance meetings of the ex-couple. If the couple
has children, the occasions for such meetings become multiplied in and around the children's
houses. These chance encounters sometimes may cause tension and embarrassment as, for
example, when one encounters one's former mate accompanied by his or her present partner.
50 There is no doubt that physical proximity forced upon one by the small physical size of the
kibbutz is often the cause of great difficulty and pain, particularly during the first half-year after
separation. In our sample, 58% of the respondents reported that they found it very difficult during
the first months after the divorce to deal with the forced proximity of the ex-spouse. But the
passage of time in most cases brought gradual relief, even as early as during the second half of the
first year. At the end of the second post-divorce year, 61% of the respondents pointed out the
advantages offered by the arrangement, especially with regard to co-parenting. The permanent
residence of the other parent in the kibbutz makes it much easier to come to terms about flexible
arrangements with the children in the event of some unexpected problem such as illnesses of the
parents or child. Only one-quarter of the divorced persons reported that relations between the ex-
mates at the end of the second year after separation were still strained so that it was difficult for
them to approach the ex-spouse in a quiet, natural manner.
51 We found no evidence in support of the assertion that if one of the spouses leaves the kibbutz
there is likely to be a reduction in the severity of the post-divorce affective reactions. Although
significant correlation was found between the intensity of the emotional conflict and the presence
or absence of one spouse, we did find a tendency for increased severity of the divorce crisis if one
of the ex-spouses (most often the male) got a year's leave from the kibbutz. Of course, it may well

16
be that the decision to ask for a year's leave was brought on by the special severity of the divorce
conflict in question.
52 Not all divorced persons in the kibbutz are ready to endure the ordeal of forced civility at the
peak of the divorce crisis. A significant minority prefers to leave the kibbutz, either temporarily or
for good. Current demographic surveys report that 20-25% of all divorced persons leave the
kibbutz within 4 years of the divorce (Pagli et al. 1985). Some of them leave for no reason directly
connected with the divorce, as do other members who are free to leave the kibbutz at any time they
decide to do so. More men than women tend to leave the kibbutz, but the gender difference is not
statistically significant. In the majority of kibbutz divorces, however, both parties stay on the same
kibbutz, in spite of the initial difficulties of coexistence in close geographic proximity. They
remain in the same kibbutz in a state that can be labeled "separation in proximity", with close
contact with the ex-spouse in the course of putting into effect the agreed procedure for the
children's care and other ordinary kibbutz matters. This unique post-divorce interaction between
the former spouses may serve, in a context of a stable support system, as a corrective emotional
experience, fostering a gradual improvement in the quality of the relationship while allowing the
individual greater freedom of action in pursuit of his or her personal plans. Task-oriented relations
between the former spouses are created around the children, relations that often are even more
positive than they were during the marriage.

"Alternate Parenting"
53 According to Wallerstein and Blakeslee, children who are told about the parent's intention to
divorce need to be assured that the breakup does not weaken the bond between parent and child.
They recommend that parents approach the child with a comforting explanation: "Parents may
divorce each other but they do not divorce their children" (p. 287). Unfortunately, this sentence
appears to be untrue for a considerable proportion of children who in real life lose partially or
completely the ordinary contact with the non-custodial parent. For the majority of kibbutz children,
however, the affirmation that "parents do not divorce their children" is factual and honest.
54 In the kibbutz, a unique form of co-parenting has evolved due to the close proximity of parents
after the divorce. For the vast majority of kibbutz children in a divorced family, the continued
relationship with both parents is assured through an alternate parenting arrangement whereby the
children visit each parent on alternate days, or according to some other prearranged, daily schedule.
In this form of co-parenting, each of the divorced parents assumes an equal share of responsibility
for the care of the children. Thus, the traditional forms of custody arrangements, with one primary
parent in one home, are absent from the kibbutz system. This reduces some of the inevitable
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difficulties faced by single-parent custodial arrangements with regard to bilateral bonding with the
child and such issues as career choice, employment, social life, dating, vacations, and so on,
Furthermore, the alternate parenting arrangement, as instituted by the kibbutz from its early days
some years ago, has been found to foster cooperation and a good working relationship between the
divorced parents, with a consequent reduction in the severity and duration of the divorce conflict.
55 Most divorced couples in our sample admitted, at the end of the great emotional turmoil of the
first months after separation, that they were aware of the fact that the ex-spouse's decision to
remain in the kibbutz offered a great many advantages. When both parents remain close by and
share their children equally, the burden of bringing up the children is eased for both of them. In
most cases the alternate parenting arrangement increased the time available for children to have
contact with both parents.
56 Half of the divorced parents in our sample, mothers and fathers alike, felt that their
involvement with their children after the divorce was stronger than before. We found that 89% of
the mothers and 70% of the fathers saw and interacted with their children at least 4 days a week in
the after-work hours up until bedtime. Each meeting lasted for at least 6 hours, spent in parent-
child interactions. In most cases the principle of joint custody with equal time for each parent was
observed. Two-thirds of the parents in our study reported full satisfaction with the co-parenting
arrangements.
57 In contrast with what is found in the kibbutz, the findings for American divorced families
show that, on the average, a year after separation the parents' weekly time spent with their children
dropped by 22% for the custodial mother and 62% for the father, as compared to the pre-separation
period. Most strongly affected is the degree of involvement and influence of the non-custodial
parent (usually the father), brought on by the lack of day-to-day contact with the children.
58 Only 13% of the kibbutz-divorced parents reported dissatisfaction with the co-parenting
situation. These were mostly antagonistic parents with a high level of post-separation conflict and
a protracted emotional divorce, typically accompanied by vindictive reactions. Even in the cases
where angry, revenge-seeking emotions make any direct communication between ex-spouses
impossible, there is no reason to discontinue the joint custody arrangement. In these difficult cases,
it is customary for the kibbutz to name one of its members as a mediator, acceptable to both
parents, in an effort to reach at least a minimal agreement on arrangements that are beneficial to
both parents and children. It is only in rare cases that the two sides require the help of the mediator
beyond the second year after divorce. By then, most parents are able to meet directly and to reach
decisions that relate to the children by themselves or with the help of the educational staff. The
general outcome is that, in the vast majority of cases, kibbutz divorced parents are able, sooner or
later, to accommodate to each other about child-rearing issues.

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59 The children accept as quite natural the equal division of their leisure time with each of the
parents separately. From age 3, the children learn with ease to which parent they must go on any
particular day, as they leave the children's house to comply with the arrangements their parents
made for dividing their free time between them. They do not develop "yo-yo" reactions, but rather
maintain a sense of continuity in family life, feeling that, in spite of the divorce, it is not an act of
disloyalty to love both parents.
60 The kibbutz experience negates the pessimistic conclusions of Goldstein, Freud, and Solnit
(1973) that parents who were unable to live together in their marital state would not be able to get
along together in the post separation period, and would tend to use the children as a battleground.
We disagree with their recommendation that once it is decided who is to be the custodial parent, it
should be that parent - and not the court - who is to decide under what conditions he or she will
raise the child, thus depriving the non-custodial parent of legally enforceable visitation rights.
61 From our findings about divorce in the kibbutz, we conclude that it is not necessarily a
threatening venture for the two divorced persons to continue living in geographic proximity to each
other and sharing child-rearing activities. Generally, in the course of the second year of separation,
the majority of kibbutz divorced subjects feel satisfied with the co-operation of the ex-mate in
matters affecting their children. In contrast with the above, data about the effects of single
custodial parenting on the relations between the ex-spouses indicate that between one-third to one-
half of American divorced parents become involved in prolonged and often insoluble legal disputes
over custody, visitation rights, and the quality of care the children get with the other spouse. Of
course, alternate parenting in the kibbutz divorced families is neither a panacea nor a guarantee of
happiness for parents or children; yet it appears to be a sound way to reduce some of the negative
implication of the divorce process. Unfortunately, there is no guaranteed way to assure the
happiness of parents and children even in the case of intact families.

Conclusions
62 In summary, the severity of the post-divorce symptoms and the duration of the divorce crises
appear to be less marked in the kibbutz compared to non-kibbutz settings, due to the attenuating
socioeconomic circumstances. However, the quality of the emotional responses and the nature of
the influencing factors are very similar - pointing to the universality of the human condition. For
kibbutz and non-kibbutz families alike, divorce may be a painful wound that cannot heal, a living
and continuing memorial to an idealized past, a rationale for a persistent "victim career", or
conversely, an opportunity for constructive change, a turning point in life toward the fulfillment and
expansion of one's potential.

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63 For most couples in the kibbutz, divorce is a major stressful event. Post-divorce adjustment is
a complex and gradual process dependent on many factors, including the socioeconomic climate,
the determinants of the breakup, the length of the marriage, the impact of the usual unilateral
decision to divorce, the quality of the pre-divorce conflict, the presence or absence of support
systems, and the availability of new, meaningful relationships. Research on divorce in the kibbutz
indicated the feasibility and the advantages of regular co-parenting, with the parents assuming
equal responsibility for the emotional and material needs of the children in the context of a
continued parent-child relationship in close geographical proximity to both parents.

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