Column: Stop shaming divorce

Let me begin by saying that my parents are still together and I do not know first hand the trauma a divorce can have on a family. That being said, I don’t think divorce should be as villainized in our society as it is. I know a lot of people whose divorced parents get along great, others whose divorced parents hate each other and some whose married parents hate each other. I would offer that, to many, divorce is the healthiest option in an unhealthy and unsustainable situation.

I spoke to a friend the other day who told me that her mom wanted to get divorced and knew she would be happier away from her husband, but also knew she would never get a fair legal process because her husband had several high profile lawyer friends. I spoke to a woman this summer who tried to get a divorce in South Carolina on the grounds of domestic abuse and was told in her hospital bed that it wouldn’t be granted because he’d only put her in the hospital once. I watch "Rick and Morty" everyday and see the toxic effects of a dead and harmful marriage made just barely commercially palatable with dark humor and morbid fascination.  

Aside from "Rick and Morty," these are real life examples, and yet many people would see a high divorce rate and shake their head, "tsk"ing at the fickleness of lesser people, cheaters and quitters. There does seem to be some consensus that the largest predictors of happiness are genetics, local histories and community engagement. So, presumably, one could say that marriage leads to happiness. But let's be real, that’s not how it works. They say millennials are killing the diamond industry, but maybe we’re just wiser and poorer than our parents were.  

One important reason I think the option of divorce should be looked upon favorably is because it actually implies a lot of safety for women. Though there is some statistical contention surrounding the divorce rate in the U.S., William Doherty, a marriage therapist and professor of family social science, reports that women initiate about two-thirds of divorces in the United States. Georgetown University Law Center produced a chilling analysis of the lack of women’s access to divorce in many countries around the world, the result being de facto imprisonment in a legal arrangement that has become dangerous for them. Though currently only the Philippines have refused to enact any type of divorce legislation, many countries make divorce far more difficult than it has to be.  

Though the U.S. divorce rate is “high” (some accounts report it at 53 percent), it is on the decline since peak divorce rates in the 1980s. This can be attributed to more liberal approaches to courtships, such as premarital sex and premarital cohabitation, which contribute to longer courtships and a much older average age of marriage, as well as fewer people overall getting married. 

Some also attribute the lowering divorce rates to increases in feminism, as women become more aware of their rights and the expectations they have for their lives and relationships and, hopefully, avoid horrible partners a little better. Though the trope of the woman desperately searching for a husband has been perpetuated for decades in mainstream media, scientific and psychological studies have actually found that men benefit the most from the institution of marriage. Maybe that’s why male-controlled governments make it so hard to escape. It’s not a terrible institution, but it’s also not a necessary one. So why shame people for wanting to leave it?

Parents might each be a little happier and feel a little safer if they could easily and shamelessly get out of a legal institution that is making their lives difficult. I’m not saying everyone should do it, just that it shouldn’t be seen as a terrible choice that only selfish quitters make. Sometimes, divorce is the healthiest option, and no one should have to feel bad about that.  

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