01/22/2011 03:04 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Divorce Is Not A Failure

How many times have you heard someone tell you that they had "a failed marriage"? In colloquial terms, people often describe the fact that they have been divorced as a "failure". Others, referring to someone who has been divorced, commonly say "she had a failed marriage." The connotation is that this individual was not capable of being successful at a marriage because they did not remain in the marriage until one of the partners died.

Amongst the definitions of "failure" according to Webster's Dictionary is "a lack of success." If divorce is a failure then the only possible success requires someone who is married to remain married until that person or their spouse dies. The fact is that there are many marriages that have ended prior to the death of a party, and those marriages were not "failures". We, as a society should stop referring to divorces as "failures." The reference, and the connotation are not at all accurate. It only promotes the view that a divorced person is somehow a lesser person than someone who has not been divorced.

Many people get married with the best intentions and they carry those intentions out, for a period of time. That does not mean that they have failed. In the course of living things happen to people and those things sometimes cause people to change. Sometimes those events cause their goals to change. Sometimes those events cause relationships to no longer be viable. However, that does not mean that a marriage that ended in divorce was a failure.
Take, for example, the hypothetical couple that each of us knows: They were married for many years and raised children successfully. Their children have left the house. Their interests have changed. They decide to divorce. Does that make them "failures"? Who decided that the only possible success in marriage is to live it out until life comes to an end?

It should be an accepted fact of life that sometimes relationships just come to an end, and that end often occurs long prior to one of the spouses passing away. This does not mean the relationship, nor the marriage was a "failure." In the case of the hypothetical couple, they lived happily and successfully for the years that they were together. Their children were all happy and turned into successful adults. If we now decide that because either or both of them no longer wished to be married that they are "failures", do we mean to negate the years of success that they had? What does that say about their children? How could anyone describe that as a "failure"?

Our hypothetical couple may have developed other interests and no longer felt compatible. Our hypothetical couple may only have been together because they wanted children and the purpose was served. Our hypothetical couple may have comprised two people who had different views of life after children, or different expectations for themselves. That does not mean that they were "failures." If our hypothetical couple comprise "failures" simply because they chose not to stay together "until death do us part," is their marriage more of a failure than the couple who stays together for a lifetime in misery? Is their marriage more of a failure than the one where one spouse is burdened with living with a spouse with substance abuse problem the entirety of his life? Would we refer to the marriage of two people involving a spousal batterer and a victim as a "successful marriage" simply because they stayed together until one of them died? I think not.

While divorce is common on our society, it still has a certain stigma to it. As one of my clients once put it "I am losing my social standing simply because I chose to get divorced". In our society we are obsessed with categorizing people depending upon the manner in which their marriages came to an end. After all, is it not common on an application for employment, insurance, or credit to be asked your marital status? Why is it that these forms always distinguish between "single" and "divorced"? Someone who is divorced is, in fact, single. Yet, the person who was once single and is now again single is looked at differently.

In life, things happen to people. One of the things that sometimes happens is that a marriage ends in divorce. However, this does not mean that it was a failure and there is no reason to refer to it as such. In doing so, we give a negative connotation to something that isn't deserving of it, and we attach a negative stereotype to people without any basis for doing so.