Divorce’s Bad Reputation


Divorce has an undeserved bad reputation and marriage has an undeserved good one. When I got married, even though it was clearly a shotgun wedding and the groom had given us all cause for concern, my friends and family congratulated me, as if I’d done something well. When I decided to leave him, very shortly after, I wasn’t in a mood for congratulations but could have done with less sorrow.

To me, looking back, it’s clear which of those decisions was bad (marriage) and which was good (separation/divorce). And it’s equally clear that my marriage was not all marriages, that for some people a vow to stay together feels like security, not a prison. It’s obvious to me that the quality of a marriage can be low or high.

Yet marriage is praised, almost universally, as a public and social good. Governments award tax breaks and other benefits to married couples. Schools and pediatricians treat married mothers with greater respect than single ones. Practically every religion is on board, sometimes with their own unique take on marriage (polygamous Mormons for example).

Divorce meanwhile is treated as a social harm, as a failure. Divorced people, especially women, are viewed with suspicion and disdain. Society acts as if divorcees have broken vows we made with them, as if they are the spouse we walked out on.

Divorce is substantially more expensive even without conflict; simply filing the paperwork can easily cost ten times the value of a marriage license. This is a governmental choice, to make marriage easy to enter but hard to leave, and it is not accidental. Divorce rights were fought for, by abused women denied legal divorce and by reformists.

As each US state adopted no-fault divorce laws making divorce more accessible, the rate of suicide among married women in that state dropped dramatically. Rates of domestic violence declined as well, and the number of women killed by their husbands dropped greatly. Divorce served as a social good, saving lives and providing the opportunity to escape abuse and suicide.

Marriage has a better reputation than it deserves and divorce has a worse one. But marriage can bring joy or pain, and divorce can provide solace and safety. Both can be tragedies. Both can be miracles. It really depends on the people involved.

One thought on “Divorce’s Bad Reputation

  1. I think marriage is a romantic idea that people perhaps have a bit too much faith in. Well of course there are marriages of convenience and arranged marriages, but when two people really become emotionally attached to each other and want to seal their union in the hope that they’ll always be together……well of course they hope that the love will always be there, but to be brutally frank, there are many things that could take away one partner’s love for the other. Of course I think that marriage is better if you ARE actually emotionally attached to the one you are marrying. But as long as I’ve known of marriage, I’ve felt that there was something very traditional about it. Like it wasn’t something that people necessarily wanted to do, more something that people did out of a sense of duty.
    The idea of “What God has joined together, let no man part”…..What has God joined together? Of course people feel as though their meeting someone special was destined to happen. Some would feel that divorce would be dishonoring that feeling. Or dishonoring God. But as far as I’m concerned this is taking it all too seriously. I know that people talk about “failed marriages”, but it’s possible to take a marriage and look at the good that came out of it before the partnership became too difficult. And you can argue that if you can see a marriage turning bad, it’s better to split it up before the shit really hits the fan i.e becomes violent. Not to say that someone you once loved isn’t worth trying to love again, but if the marriage really has turned violent, verbally or physically, you might want to think about other people you could love instead.


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