By the Way, Divorce is Not Failure

Dena Landon

By Dena Landon | Feb 4th, 2018

My parents got divorced in the 90’s. When they started telling people my Dad sat me down and gave me strict instructions: “Do NOT tell your Great-Grandmother W.”

In my ultra-religious, conservative family divorce is a sin. While my Aunt, my Dad’s younger sister, had gone first and filed the first divorce in the family –ever– a few years earlier, she hadn’t had children. The shame of a divorce with children meant that up until the day she died my father pretended to be still be married, with my mom ‘out shopping’ or ‘busy’ whenever my great-grandmother called.

It’s been twenty years since then but when my divorce became public knowledge I noticed that some retro notions are still present in society. The soccer moms at my son’s daycare started looking right through me when I said “hi” in the lobby. Others made obvious –and awkward– excused to avoid general chit chat when I tried to engage them in conversation. While the city I lived in –Saint Paul, MN– had the characteristics of a small town I hadn’t realized that taking off my three-carat ring was part of a magic spell that turned me invisible.

I hadn’t realized that taking off my three-carat ring was part of a magic spell that turned me invisible.

Why, in 2018, do such 1950’s era attitudes and reactions to divorce persist? According to the American Psychological Association about 40-50 percent of marriages in the United States end in divorce. Among my peers many of my friends’ parents are divorced. Women are able to support themselves, and their children, without a partner. Studies done in the last eight years have shown that the negative effect of divorce on children has been greatly exaggerated and that only a small percentage of children experience divorce-related problems. So why is there still some stigma around it?

I think it stems from how our society views failure and its associated feeling of shame. As a society, we don’t like failure. We want to read success stories. Stories of individuals overcoming the odds, or breaking boundaries. You won’t find many articles written about the people still down in the valley, slogging their way out of a failed business or bad marriage.

To many people, a marriage that has ended carries with it the stink of failure. But not all endings are failure. And many things, by their very nature, are meant to end. A college or high school graduation is moving onto bigger and better things. Quitting a job to take a new one that offers more responsibility or better pay is applauded. Closing a good book may leave you feeling disappointed if you didn’t want it to end, but finishing it is the natural progression of starting.

A marriage’s end may simply be its natural progression. And it may be for the best, particularly if it was abusive. In those instances we should cheer for and support the women (and men) who leave. Since society’s backward insistence on viewing divorce as a shameful failure could contribute to feelings of being trapped in a bad or abusive marriage I think we should continue to reframe the narrative.

For many, a marriage’s end is a graduation. A move to brighter and happier days. It’s getting your wings and learning to soar. There may be some turbulence in that flight path but it’s still an upward trajectory.

A marriage’s end may simply be its natural progression. And it may be for the best, particularly if it was abusive.

Shortly after my parents divorced a new friend at my new junior high asked me if I hoped they’d get back together. My answer was to laugh and declare, “No!” I never fantasized about a reconciliation or wanted things to go back to the way they’d been. Both of my parents had been miserable and I didn’t like living in a house full of constant tension on the verge of erupting. According to Scientific American, “children from high-discord families may experience the divorce as a welcome relief from their parents’ fighting.” That was certainly the case for me!

In so many other situations; a bad job, a distant boyfriend, a failing business, it’s not seen as a bad thing to pull the plug if it isn’t working. It can often be the best decision. The same can also be true for a marriage.

Endings lead to beginnings. You can view the end of your marriage as a failure or you can take the lessons it taught you and step into the beginning of the next, glorious chapter of your life. If that’s the choice you make, welcome! January was divorce month and you may be new to the Worthy community. There are some amazing people and resources here to guide you along your journey. With one book closed and the next one opened, let’s write some amazing stories together.

Dena Landon

Dena Landon

Dena Landon's bylines have appeared in The Washington Post, Good Housekeeping, Salon and more. The proud mom of a boy, she specializes in parenting and divorce.


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