What's the first thing you think of when you hear the word "Divorce?" For me, the word conjures an automatic, viscerally negative reaction. Like "cancer."
The fact is, we've been socialized to believe that divorce is always a bad thing, that it's something to be avoided at all costs and prevented whenever possible—no matter what the cost to the individuals living in the marriage.
The experts tell us to work on the marriage with couples' counseling and therapy. They advise us to stay as long as we possibly can, citing the needs of the children. And often, they prescribe antidepressants and Xanax, which will mask the issues and make them more bearable, but certainly not solve them.
When I was separated, I suffered through friends and family telling me to "just work harder at it," "try going away for a weekend together," and "try a weekly date night." My then-husband and I knew, after years of therapy and couples counseling, that divorce was the right decision for us; the issue was, no one else saw it that way, because divorce has such a strong stigma attached to it.
Let me tell you something. Those of us who make the difficult decision to divorce, 99.9% of the time have already tried working at it. We've struggled for years. We've agonized and cried and visited therapists who made us hit a pillow with a baseball bat over and over again (really). The problems are generally too big, by this point, to fix with a weekend away together.
When we do decide to divorce, we pay a high price. Not just a year or two (or more) of feeling depressed, guilty, and financially destabilized. There's also a social price. People who we thought were friends suddenly disappear. People in our communities judge us. We are suddenly regarded differently, as if losing our "plus 1" makes us less desirable in social settings.
The issue, as I see it, is that there is an automatic assumption that divorce is a bad thing. But what if we could shift that?
Sometimes we can do everything in our power to fix a marriage, and it doesn't work. Sometimes a relationship reaches its natural conclusion, and it's time to move on.
Let's lose the puritanical attitude that longevity is the sole criteria by which to judge whether a marriage is successful. And let's relegate to the dustbin the tired cliché that the institution of marriage is more important than the happiness and personal growth of the individuals in it. And for god's sake, let's stop telling ourselves we should stay together "for the children." No child benefits from having miserable parents who stay married but can't stand the sight of each other.
Rather than telling our separated friends to "work harder" on their marriage, let's tell them we love and support them—and invite them for drinks, because they probably need a night out.
Bad marriages are unhealthy for the people in them—and their children. Divorce, when approached thoughtfully and amicably, can be a healthy and productive next step in life. Thankfully, individuals can find love again, and their children can thrive, post-divorce.
In destigmatizing divorce, we will ensure that more marriages are happy marriages. And isn't that what everyone wants?
Written by Nina Restieri
Nina Restieri is an organizational expert and founder of momAgenda. Since its inception in 2005, momAgenda has grown annually to include a diversified range of products that help organize the lives of mothers and others, including day planners, home organizers, and helpful pads. For additional information about Nina Restieri, or momAgenda, visit momAgenda.com.