When we started discussing divorce, I looked it up online. The second entry on Google? “History’s most expensive divorces!” Scintillating, yes. Typical? No. Nor necessary. The six-figure divorce is not only a waste of time and money, but also pretty rare. High-cost divorces generally come from repeated court battles, but less than 10-percent of divorces actually go to court. Most people manage to reach agreement without sapping their savings. But if you start talking about divorce, chances are, someone will tell you an awful tale of going broke.
Or they’ll cite a study about divorce’s harm on children that they just read. Or skimmed, rather. Or actually, they never saw the study but glanced at an article summarizing a study that, upon closer inspection, isn’t even about divorce. Articles and reports bemoaning today’s changing family often conflate stats on social problems, such as the poverty of unwed mothers, with divorce. Unwed mothers are among the poorest people in our society, in part because more than half of unwed mothers are adolescents. A tenth grader struggling to raise a baby alone tells us nothing about the future of two professionals in their forties, say, who decide to divorce. But when you read an article decrying the poverty of children raised by “single mothers,” you’ve just been hoodwinked into thinking it does.
Who suffers from these Big Bad Divorce Myths? Those who divorce and spend years overwhelmed by anger and grief. Those who feel helpless as they watch their once-loving marriage devolve into bitterness. The kids. The families. The friends.
Even those who stay in bad marriages suffer. Despite that fact that nearly half of marriages end in divorce, we all know individuals bound in miserable unions. How might they flourish if a happy, productive, utopian divorce were an option, if the spouse could remain a lifelong partner of a lesser sort?
We need to change how we talk about divorce. The mismatch between perception and reality continues to make people behave poorly in divorce. Saddled with misplaced guilt and blame, we turn on each other and on ourselves at a time when we need compassion, self-compassion and cooperation. Getting divorced is not a license to hate, but because we overestimate its evils, we’re angrier than we need to be a spouse who failed us. That anger saps the energy we need to take positive actions to move forward. Fear, guilt and humiliation stand in the way of bouncing back—and springing forward.
It’s time to shunt off the judgment, accept divorce as a reality in the lives of adults and children, and turn our attention to what really matters: doing it well.
Many people are beginning this effort. They’re creating divorce ceremonies for themselves and new co-parenting arrangements for their kids. They’re using the new self-help centers at many courthouses to file divorce without expensive legal fees. They’re using sites such as twohappyhomes.com to organize their children’s schedules, share photos with a co-parent, and post messages to each other. More couples are achieving creative, cooperative, productive solutions to downgrading their primary relationship to something less intense.
Divorce has changed for the better, as has so much in our private lives. There are resources available to help you restructure your life without the marriage part. About two million people divorce in the United States each year, and the numbers are growing around the world. There are an estimated 50 million divorced people in the United States today. Everyone likes to say that marriage takes work. Why not work equally hard to have a good divorce?