Divorce Without Shame

If there were no shame in divorce, would there be mayhem?

Posted Oct 03, 2010

In our modern American culture, divorce is still seen as a negative life event - even taboo. Despite its fairly common occurrence, divorce isn't supposed to happen. It is considered a failure by many. 

For the divorcing people, it is often not only sad, hurtful and scary, but the added element of shame can be debilitating.

Although it can be subtle (or not), the attitudes and actions of friends, family and acquaintances in reaction to hearing of the split can leave "dissolutioners" feeling isolated, marginalized and rejected. Some have described the sense that others stayed away as if they had a contagious disease - in fact, a study came out recently stating that indeed divorce is contagious!

See my previous article on this study: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/contemplating-divorce/201007/is-divo... 

Everything we are taught about marriage is that it should never end - it is "'til death do you part. Period.

Naturally, the response of many a divorcing man or woman to this credo is to feel that, not only have they done something wrong, but that they are deeply flawed. This is the very definition of shame.

Those in the "you-made-your-bed-you-must-lie-in-it" camp are only too happy to perpetuate this profound sense of failure. Yet, where else do we place this level of expectation to "succeed" on people?

If someone starts a business and it never gets off the ground, how do we feel about that person? We may have judgments and criticisms of what we think they should have done or why they failed, but the primary emotion most of us would likely have is one of sympathy. Perhaps even admiration at the courage and effort starting and running a business require.

There is the obvious issue of bringing innocent children in to this "mistake," and, while we know that children raised by a single parent is less ideal than a two-parent family in some ways, there is only so much we can know about our futures at any given moment. 

George Bernard Shaw says it best in his quote, "When two people are under the influence of the most violent, most insane, most delusive and most transient of passions, they are required to swear that they will remain in that excited, abnormal, and exhausting condition until death do them part."

People change and grow and circumstances change. Why don't we as a culture accept that fact more readily and stop placing blame and shame on those who must divorce?

I'm glad that people take the commitment of marriage seriously, however, there is a point at which I think it hurts us as a culture to feel we "can't divorce no matter what" or that if/when we must divorce that we have "failed."

If you are a divorcing person feeling ashamed that you are at this unhappy juncture in your life, I urge you to get some professional support and consciously work to alleviate your shame.

If you are contributing to the stigma a divorcing friend or loved one is feeling, I urge you to stop and try to see the situation from a different perspective. One in which this person did the best they could with the knowledge and resources they had and the marriage simply didn't work.