Divorce is common these days to those of us who are still getting married. Marriage may be the latest way to tip off others about your financial status, but the commitment –whether religiously sanctioned or not — doesn’t always endure, unfortunately. Some may regret marrying too young or, to the outside, may appear to call it quits much too early. But to those who are putting themselves and their families back together again following those notorious irreconcilable differences, let us not wag a finger in divorce shame.
I echo Rebecca Eckler‘s sentiments in that I wish married people would speak up more about the tribulations and hard work of a marital commitment rather than just boasting the good. It is of course true that we all live in frantically commercialized times in which the most you often hear about any marriage is the wedding: the color of the napkin rings or how much the price of the bride’s dress rather than the maintenance and effort of such a union. I suppose seeing triple zeros in a headline is infinitely more alluring to eyeballs than “Our secret is marital counseling!’ or “We actually just don’t have sex anymore!” It’s too bad too because for every couple that chooses to keep mum about their relationship upkeep, those of us who perhaps may be looking ahead to marriage or some sort of long-term partnership are truly missing out on gold. And for those of us who do want to walk down the aisle and remain with our partners forever, we’re clearly at a loss for contemporary models.
But while divorce and marriage aren’t milestones to be entered into lightly, the trend of shaming those who do find themselves with a marriage behind them doesn’t help much anyone — nor the status of marriage. Divorce may be commonplace and that stigma may have worn with your grandmother’s era, but the assumption that these are somehow “failed” individuals who didn’t work hard enough in their “failed” unions slights those who perhaps did. Divorce-shaming also convinces those of both sexes to remain in unhealthy, considerably toxic partnerships, sometimes to the detriment of their children.
Some women may love their children more than they love their husbands, but the role of parents is to first and foremost cultivate a healthy and stable home for their kids. And it should be recognized that for some women and men who found their kids to be languishing in a truly abysmal home life, divorcing their spouse was keeping with those essential parental responsilibities. Some parents save their kids from further anguish and pain by reading the writing on the wall and not subjecting their little ones to chance. For some parents the divorce isn’t for them at all — it’s for their kids.
For parents who remain in horrendous marriages, I often wonder what values that imparts onto their children. I’m not talking about love spats or routine quarrels or even occasional fighting. I’m talking calamitous, truly annihilative relationships in which there are only bad days, worse days, and the floor you cannot fall below. What are children supposed to glean from these households in which they watch either of their parents wither for years in desperation? Never take initiative? Settle for whatever misguided decision you once made? Never consider yourself worthy enough for more? Such tag lines run great PR for marriage at a time in which we sorely need positive examples and enthusiasm, while also disadvantaging kids.
One of our readers named Tina recently commented with an anecdote regarding her personal experience that I found particularly poignant on the subject:
I also find all the people commenting about their happy marriages and “giving up easily” a bit offensive. Good marriages don’t end in divorce. I was married for almost ten years. I put up with things I never should have and I’m not a better person for it. I would have been a better person to walk away before I had not only a broken marriage but a broken spirit.
Congratulations to those who chose wisely and have worked hard (I’m not saying good marriages are easy marriages) to maintain a happy, healthy relationship. You haven’t been where divorced people have been. Our cultural tendency to shame divorce like this keeps people in bad situations, married to people they shouldn’t have been married to in the first place as if divorce is giving up on something.
Considering the wealth of variables and intimate circumstances that comprise every marriage, it’s dangerous to traffic in absolutes. Displeasure at the heightening divorce rate should not be funneled into disdain for those friends and neighbors who make such agonizing decisions for their families. Any marriage that is being propped up solely by shame is probably not all that conducive an environment to kids or adults anyway.
To those champions of marriage and commitment, refrain from shame as a motivation. Advocate for the union you hold sacred by sharing your magic, your methods for reconciliation, and your tactics for navigating forever with all of us marital hopefuls. Heidi Klum and Seal are even divorcing now, so we can’t ask them.