There are some fundamental flaws in the attitudes modern society currently holds about marriage and divorce.
Social media is flooded with engagement selfies and wedding snapshots and your wedding day is always hailed as the “best day of your life.”
Unfortunately, all this warm-and-fuzzy hoopla results in the other side of the coin getting overlooked.
“We live in a culture that prizes marriage and despises divorce,” said author and divorce “encouragist” Tara Eisenhard. “So we celebrate really long marriages and we have these wonderful anniversary celebrations, but we don’t really talk about the quality of the marriage. We talk about the length of it.”
Of course, there is nothing wrong with celebrating marriage and wedding anniversaries. The love and commitment two people share with each other absolutely should be admired.
What is problematic, however, is the way culture views marriages that end up not working out. Divorce is talked about in hushed tones, like a tragedy, which cultivates a sense of shame for the couples going through a breakup.
“When somebody says they’re getting divorced, we either express our sympathies or we help them become very angry,” Eisenhard said, “and that’s not very productive.”
To be clear, no one should decide to divorce without carefully considering all the many ramifications. There are certainly too many people who decide to end their marriages haphazardly. They fail to realize how far-reaching and long-lasting the effects of a divorce can be. It changes your living situation, impacts your finances for years to come, and can alter the relationship you have with your children.
But too often society fixates on the perceived tragedy of divorce, which cultivates a sense of failure and helps foster an atmosphere of animosity between the splitting spouses.
The family court system itself is constructed in such a way that breeds conflict. The courts naturally pit one spouse against the other as they battle it out over who gets the house, who gets custody of the kids, how much child support and alimony is to be paid, etc.
Many couples go into divorce on at least fairly amicable terms, but by the end of the process they are at each other’s throats.
This isn’t healthy for anyone. For one, it ends up being a long, stressful, and emotionally-draining ordeal for each spouse. That turmoil can even cause very serious health problems.
Perhaps more concerning is the effect divorce conflict can have on the children of the marriage. Kids face numerous risks when their parents divorce, but research suggests it is not actually the event of divorce, but rather the conflict associated with it that results in negative outcomes.
Eisenhard has stated that her mission is to change how society approaches divorce in a way that helps families evolve, rather than dissolve, through the separation process.
“Ideally, communities should accept divorce as a natural part of life,” she said. “We really need to trust people that are going through this process. We need to understand that families need to make their own decisions about what’s best for them. We need to empower these people.
“What’s happening right now, because they’re feeling so much shame, is that the way they discharge that shame is by blaming the other person. … If people didn’t feel that shame going through the process, they’d be able to be more collaborative and work together to feel better about that. Ultimately, everybody would be able to work through it to feel a little better.”
It might seem strange when we see divorcing spouses acting friendly and cooperatively, especially when they have children. It’s natural for people to ask, “Why don’t you want to work out your problems? If not for you, then at least stay together for your kids.”
But we shouldn’t be so quick to judge, and these couples shouldn’t be treated as oddities. As Eisenhard noted, friends and family should rally behind these families and support them through the transition.
Two years ago, Keith Hinson and Michelle Knight became the posterchildren for amicable divorce when they gleefully posted a “divorce selfie” on social media. Unfortunately, the splitting couple also took some heat in certain corners online from people who criticized them for not taking the divorce process seriously.
Hinson said their only intention with the post was to let their friends and family know that even though he and Knight were no longer in love, they still had no reason to harbor ill-will towards each other and planned to remain friends. Their hope, Hinson said, was that those close to them would not feel any pressure to take sides.
“We wanted to let people know that this didn’t have to be a negative experience,” Hinson told the Huffington Post. “We are choosing to move forward with love. We’ve been separated a year, and throughout that time, we’ve both been committed to preserving our friendship.”
While a divorce is never going to be as joyous as a wedding, there is no reason we shouldn’t celebrate couples that are capable of putting their differences aside even as they’re going through something as potentially contentious as divorce.
“I like to say that divorce is a shared goal,” Eisenhard said. “If it’s something they’re working for together, then their family and friends don’t feel they have to pick sides either and the community can rally around this family as it evolves.
“When you have a healthy, productive, and respectful approach to the divorce process, then the family can grow as a result of it instead of shrinking. I like to say it’s about the evolution, not the solution.”