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Juliet Jeske

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Removing the Stigma of Divorce

Posted: 04/09/2012 7:45 pm

I have heard some buzz about certain politicians advocating for tougher divorce laws. So I did some research in the anti-divorce movement and some of what I found really made my head spin. For instance, in an article on www.smartmarriages.com, I found the following:

It is hardly debatable that many of society's ills can be traced to the continuing high rates of marital distress and divorce.

I would argue that there are plenty of other things contributing to society's ills, but in order to stay on topic I won't list them here. What followed that statement was actually a fairly balanced discussion on the pros and cons of enacting tougher divorce laws. What I found disturbing however is that in 2012, anyone would debate making divorce less accessible.

Our culture has grown leaps and bounds since the 1950's and earlier when most of society viewed divorced people with suspicion and derision. But the stigma of divorce hasn't completely gone away. Every time a divorced political candidate runs for office, the press scrutinizes their marital history as if it is somehow indicative of their moral character. Entertainers and public figures are not immune to this criticism either. Rush Limbaugh -- a seeming crusader of conservative values -- is on his fourth wife. Newt Gingrich can't seem to stop getting married and having affairs. Jennifer Lopez has been divorced three times by the age of 42, and Larry King is on marriage number eight. And of course we have Kim Kardashian who, after a lavish televised wedding for her second marriage, filed for divorce after only 72 days. Some people truly seem to have a marriage problem. And then there is the rest of us.

I married once, and for reasons completely out of my control, my marriage ended. I am not deficient or somehow morally bankrupt as a result. It was not a weakness on my part that my marriage fell apart. My husband was a closeted homosexual. I discovered as much and got out as soon as I possibly could. Many of my divorced friends also felt like they had no choice but to leave their marriages. One of my friends found out that her husband was a criminal, and when she confronted him with this information he blamed her, even though she knew nothing about it. Another friend married a man who refused to seek treatment for his bi-polar disorder -- a disease he struggled with in the past but had hidden from his wife. His untreated mental illness made him physically and emotionally abusive to both her and their child. Since he refused treatment, she also had no choice but to leave the relationship. Or in the case of several of my friends, one spouse simply did not want to remain in a monogamous relationship and continually had extramarital affairs. What is the other spouse supposed to do? Stick around and put up with the constant deception, open themselves up to possibly getting a sexually transmitted disease, and stay faithful to a partner who is not faithful to them? And in some marriages, one spouse becomes overwhelmingly emotionally or physically abusive, constantly tearing down or controlling the other. Should someone stay in that situation? I think not.

Are we supposed to feel like failed people because our partners made it impossible for us to stay in our marriages? Are we emotionally weak or deficient? Are we morally bankrupt? Have we committed some horrible crime against society? When I hear of conservatives promoting laws to make divorce more difficult I want to scream. Marriage is a personal matter between two people. Should the government intervene for the sake of society and prevent divorce? We all know of couples who stay together in a mutually destructive dance of co-dependency, or marriages in which one partner suffers irrecoverably while the other uses them as an emotional punching bag. Is an injurious marriage preferable to a divorce?

In my case there were no children involved; the only people who have suffered are my former spouse and myself. How are we destroying society? And when children are present, should restrictive divorce laws force them to stay in a painful and destructive household in which one or both parents are miserable? I can't imagine that environment could lead to a healthy childhood.

Marriage is just a relationship made more complicated by social and legal ramifications. If one or both parties want to leave a marriage, the government should not force them to stay together for the sake of society. Of course, some individuals do abuse marriage and make both marriage and divorce seem trivial. But most of us were just doing the best we could, and maybe we ended up with the wrong partner. Maybe we got married too young, maybe we felt pressured into it, maybe we just made a foolish choice. It doesn't matter; most divorced people are not morally bankrupt and we are not the bane of society. Thank goodness we live in a country where we can legally walk away from these toxic unions, and anyone who would prevent us from doing so is the truly morally bankrupt person.

 

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