So many of us associate long marriages with success, and indeed, long marriages are something to celebrate. Predictably, we also associate the opposite with marriages that end--that a divorce is a failure. That small piece of paper that binds you marriage suddenly becomes a divorce certificate and with it there is irrevocable, concrete evidence that you have "failed."
I am a child of divorce... not just one, but two. I can attest to the stigma that followed the divorces, but not from my mother’s end. I was also stigmatized. It was a strange reality when I came into my own and a few people I knew (or dated) voiced concern about my ability to be in a committed relationship--based on my mother’s divorces!
The argument was something along the lines of: if I wasn’t modeled a good marriage, could I still have one? The thought echoed in my mind for so long, I actually started to wonder if the papers declaring divorces that had been issued to someone else actually branded me as undesirable.
As I found myself in a very longterm relationship, even before I was married, I began to realize that there were things that go on between people that I could never understand. What happens in a marriage? Well that is another story altogether. The United States seems to hold marriage in very high esteem. In other countries, like France for instance, affairs rarely end unions. This is just one way in which we differ from other nations in our view of marriage.
But the fact remains, we hold the success of a marriage in the US to a high standard. So high, in fact, that somehow if you’ve decided you made the wrong decision, it is like Icarus, falling as his wings melted before him.
Or is it?
Half of all United States marriages end in divorce. Half. That is a huge number and one that has remained a steady statistic for nearly 40 years. It’s funny to think that in a society where so many people get divorced, that so many other people like to pass judgment on divorcees--like it’s the flu and you can “catch it”. Of course, it is usually the people who haven’t actually been divorced who like to pass that judgement on our divorced counterparts. Ironic, in many respects.
I’m not much on judgement. While I believe in the power of the vows I took, that doesn’t mean I can’t understand why someone else might get a divorce. To be married is a serious thing, and I believe that no matter how different the individual marriages are, we all start out in marriage relatively the same: with a ton of hope and pride. We are happy to be getting married, and proud of our relationships. We obviously don’t see an endgame or we wouldn’t be putting ourselves through the trouble.
One thing I have learned from the various divorces that have surrounded me is that most people don’t take the decision to separate from a marriage lightly. Divorce is emotionally messy and can be expensive. Sometimes it is a much needed course correction and while the person who is divorcing may feel a sense of relief, society bares down on them trying desperately to impart a sense of guilt on the divorcing parties. It is as if they want to know, “Who’s fault is this?” We want to place blame in order to have our guilty party to ease our own collective consciouses.
When I got married, I was just as starry eyed as the next person. I have been in lucky that I have a strong union, and a great support system. Even so, marriage has been no walk in the park for either my husband or myself. It can be hard and frustrating and awe inspiring...depends on the day. In the few short years I have been married, I have also seen several divorces. Never was it easy--never was it a decision taken lightly. Never did it really matter who was to blame and I never once looked at any of those people as failures.
The thing about life is that, if you are lucky, it is long. People are complicated wells of emotion. As people change and grow there are times when they need a course correction, whether that be in marriages, or anywhere else in their lives. The longer I live, the more I understand these things. So the next time you or someone you know stands in judgement of someone’s divorce--as so many of us have been guilty of--try to see it not as a failure, but simply what is right for that individual.
It's important to keep in mind that everyone out there is only trying to do right by themselves. That will look different for different people, and it is never our place to judge.