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Beverly Willett Headshot

After the Daily Beast, Part II: Accept Divorce? Never

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I won't accept divorce, ever. Not because I'm still pining away for my ex, which I'm not. Not because I need more mental health counseling because I've developed some newfangled form of Alzheimer's disease for gone off the deep end divorcees. And not because I'm stuck in the wheels of a Kubler-Ross-esque stage of denial, unable to move on. (Cathy Meyer wrote a helpful piece about the emotional stages of divorce, from denial to acceptance.)

"Mom, how is it you have a bigger social life than I do?" my very popular teenager asked me a few weeks ago. It's true. I've made lots of friends and acquaintances I probably never would have since my ex and I split, though it didn't start out that way. Before the split, weekends were mostly family time; overnight I became "single" again, adrift. Don't tell a mother who has her children wrongfully yanked away from her every other weekend, Thanksgiving and countless other days in-between that she ought to be grateful for the time off. Gains that come from loss are bittersweet. After eight years I'll tell it to you straight -- nothing replaces family even though I've moved on.

As you know, no-fault divorce now exists in all 50 states. Some feel that's a fait accompli. However, at one time our laws denied women the right to vote, too. And the Supreme Court's ruling in Loving v. Virginia, which outlawed hundreds of years of anti-miscegenation laws, is still so fresh millions of us remember it. These longstanding injustices didn't get rectified by eyes turned blind to the carnage. And today history casts a different light on the iron jawed angels. If they'd passively practiced Kubler-Ross's final stage - acceptance - our country might look a whole lot different than it does today. By passively accepting for so long that there's nothing we can do about our country's divorce mess our society looks a whole lot different than it might, too.

Finally speaking out about the fact that our families are in trouble because of our on-demand divorce system run amuck isn't denial. It's about time.

I vividly remember the first curriculum night at my daughter E's middle school. Her social studies teacher went over the course outline and nightly assignments from the textbooks, then opened the floor for questions. "How do divorced families get two sets of textbooks so the children don't have to carry them back and forth and maybe forget?" one parent asked.

The teacher was apoplectic. "You don't! I don't understand why you parents can't just learn how to sort out your problems and get along!" Some exes in the audience rolled their eyes in unison; my girlfriend and I closed ours in a moment of silence.

Since enactment of no-fault divorce millions of children pack suitcases and shuttle between two homes. Women and children of divorce suffer financially. We've set the divorce rate record for all Western nations. And children from broken homes have higher rates of teen pregnancy, depression, learning difficulties, divorce, juvenile delinquency, etc., than their peers from unbroken ones.

Those are facts. And not ones to be proud of. Refusing to acknowledge them is denial. Pushing them under the rug? That's denial, too. And those who believe that the Founding Fathers handed down to them an unfettered right to divorce on demand -- which looks a lot like the old-style Nevada quickie to me - they're in denial. George Bernard Shaw once said that "the moment we want to believe something, we suddenly see all arguments for it, and become blind to the arguments against it."

In certain cases divorce is a necessary evil. Homes riddled with alcoholism and domestic violence may need severing. I met a woman this past weekend who told me she was divorced because she'd discovered her husband was gay. Give her an out -- she's not just running away from commitment.

But divorce should be the exception, not the rule that it's become. Unfortunately, it's accepted as a foregone conclusion at the courthouse steps, the damage done, no turning back. Nor is it anyone's fault because, well, things just happen, people grow apart and spouses need the freedom to find happiness elsewhere.

Milquetoast and happy talk.

Here's a little known fact. One of the initial reasons floated for the no-fault divorce bandwagon was the desire to help lower the divorce rate. Reformers also purportedly wanted to help lessen the animosity between spouses to give them space to reconcile. In the final analysis, however, something went amiss.

But it's not too late to start turning back the clock. In a major study chaired by a University of Chicago sociologist, two-thirds of spouses who reported being unhappily married, but stayed together, turned their marriages around and reported being happily married five years later. Might more marriages be saved if our policies and legal system recognized that the health of our families goes hand-in-hand with the health of our society as a whole? And implemented policies to help shore them up? Are we in so much of a hurry to extricate ourselves in order to run from one marriage to the next that every bit of pause and patience is anathema?

In most cases, the grass is not greener. The divorce rate for second marriages is between 60-67%; for third marriages the death toll climbs to 73-74%.

In June 1987, my dear father died well before his time. I survived the heartache of his death, went on with my life, and finally accepted his passing. His loss I can't do anything about.

But we can do something about our unrestrained divorce culture. We need not accept the fact that one half of our parents and millions of our children become fatalities, and the first thing we need to do is acknowledge it. If we don't, we've failed at protecting the bedrock of our society.

Nobody said the task was going to be an easy one. So far, though, we've by and large accepted the unacceptable and given ourselves so little credit that we can do better.