We walk down the aisle thinking it will be forever. “Til death do us part” is considered the love line of our time. But if we think about it, it’s a bit morbid and extreme. We stand in front of witnesses and suggest it will literally take terminal illness, a fatal car accident, or homicide to tear this love apart. Sounds profound, heroic, and inspiring, right?
In reality, it only really takes arguments and lack of commitment–or so say the studies.
Many people look at these reasons, and the stats that say 40 to 50% of first marriages end in divorce, and they think: “This is ridiculous! Why can’t people stick it out anymore?” In response to that honest question, some have created a “no divorce at all costs” mentality. They are metaphorically cutting the word divorce out of their life dictionaries and saying it is never going to happen. No divorce ever.
I get it; we want to be a people of our word. We want our children to grow up in stable homes. We want to believe in the family and traditional values. We want to live with integrity.
But the “no divorce at all costs” concept is terribly misguided at best, and dangerous in reality. It keeps women – and men – in unhealthy, abusive, or life-sucking relationships far too long. Sometimes getting a divorce is actually the only way to continue to live with integrity.
1. Every Married Person Has a Story
What is truer than truth? A story.
– Jewish proverb
We all have our own unique and complex personal stories.
We can look at the truth: most people are promising their lives to another person, yet 4 or 5 out of 10 break that promise. That truth sounds a bit grim.
Or we can look at a story. Your story. Her story. Their story.
My story goes like this:
I got married when I was 19 years old. I got divorced when I was 22.
You could say I should have stuck it out; many people did. However:
I was too young to know myself or to understand my partner.
I was too codependent to know what was up and what was down or understand boundaries in any healthy way.
I was naïve, I was trusting, and I was living a life that felt nothing like my own.
See, a problem we are faced with is the fact that we so often look at divorce from a societal perspective. Sure, it’s beneficial to understand divorce statistics overall; I’ve already mentioned some of those statistics in this article. However, when we glance through the stats, we group people together. The issue here is that the decision to divorce is an incredibly intimate communication between two individual people.
When we look at a stat or think about our values, we think we understand the truth. But that “truth” is clinical and scientific, and divorce and marriage are anything but! The complexities of human interaction and relationships are easily studied or written about by way of numbers, but it is the real stories that tell the truer picture.
This picture might be one that includes years of relationship neglect, infidelity, misunderstandings, un-fulfillment and just about every other possibility that exists between two people.
2. Black and White Thinking Cannot Work In a Grey World
People like to think of life as black or white: right OR wrong, good OR bad, hard working OR lazy, selfless OR selfish, etc. But life doesn’t work in either/or dichotomies. Life is in the grey areas. Since marriage and divorce are a part of life, they too are grey.
If life were black and white, we could easily say to people: “you make a promise, you keep that promise.” But that mindset doesn’t take into account that complicated life is happening every minute of every day to real people living real lives in a hard world.
Divorce is rarely the result of one single incident; it is the culmination of hundreds of actions, thousands of words, and infinite emotions. To suggest we can boil its reasons down to something that fits inside a nice box of our black and white understanding is greatly underestimating the vastness of human experience, especially in relationships.
Divorce isn’t a black and white event. Some spouses will cheat and be forgiven. Other spouses will cheat and end up divorced. Some young marrieds grow into one other, and some grow apart. Some people fall more in love each day with their partner; some people feel the opposite. You cannot fit love and relationships into categories of clearly black or clearly white. It’s a mix.
3. Bad Situations Happen All The Time
I find it interesting that most people you encounter who believe divorce can never be an option – make an exception for physical abuse. Most people do not realize that effects of emotional abuse can be just as corrosive, if not more, to a person’s psyche than physical abuse. Yet, there are no visible scars for the world to see. No bruises appear on the skin of somebody who has been controlled, manipulated, disregarded, criticized, torn down, and humiliated.
Abuse, in all forms, is a very real, but not always very visible problem. Truth is, it is an entirely common problem too.
Then there are other difficult situations. Addiction, infidelity, lack of equality, or lack of individual identity are only a few extremely hard situations that vary tremendously from person to person and relationship to relationship.
Then there are even more reasons; sometimes people get divorced because they simply should not be married anymore and the reasons are not even quantifiable. They aren’t bullet points I can nicely add to my list. Life is strange, terrible, wonderful, overwhelming, lovely, and ever-changing all at the same time.
4. We Cannot Place An Institution Above An Individual
Let’s go back to that word integrity for a moment. Integrity means, “the state of being whole and undivided.” If we put keeping the institution of the relationship above keeping the individual’s whole and undivided, we are missing the entire point.
Marriage is supposed to be a good thing. That doesn’t mean it is an easy thing, and it certainly does not mean every day will feel good. But overall, marriage is supposed to strengthen and grow you, and it is supposed to give you a built-in support system. When you look back on your life, you are supposed to be grateful and know the good days outweighed the bad.
If your marriage sucks every ounce of life from your body, if your marriage leaves you drained and miserable and sad, if your marriage is dangerous to your physical body or mental health, if your marriage is consistently a one-sided, if your marriage leaves does not leave you whole and undivided – it is not serving its purpose.
Maybe therapy and hard work can fix the parts of a marriage that don’t work. But it takes two to tango. If the institution of marriage is crushing someone who is supposed to be in a partnership, and their spouse does not want to face up to the problem and help fix it, that institution can not be more important than the person it is supposed to serve.
The decision with the most integrity could actually be to divorce.
5. Denying The Possibility of Divorce Is A Potential Recipe For Disaster
If people who live in a tornado zone decide that a tornado will never come to their house, and therefore refuse to create a storm shelter with extra food and supplies – they will probably be in for a deadly surprise.
When we decide divorce cannot happen, we abdicate our responsibility to prepare for the possibility that our partner doesn’t feel the same way.
Denying the possibility of divorce in your marriage will not prevent it from coming. In fact, denial is deadly to any relationship.
Actively realizing that you and your spouse are not above dissolving your marriage if/when the circumstances between you become impossible allows you to create a “storm shelter.” You will be more apt to seek counseling when things get rocky, you will be more intentional in growing your relationship, and you won’t be caught in the storm unprepared.
At the end of the day, we can believe in the power of love, we can believe in the power of family, and we can believe in the power of our promises, but we have to make room for real people with real problems and real hang-ups.
A no divorce at all costs mentality is dangerous. It forgets about people’s stories; it disregards the complexity of human beings; it keeps people, especially women, in all types of abusive relationships longer than they should; it puts an institution above the needs of individuals; and it is a method of denial that can keep couples from putting in extra effort to keep their relationship from falling apart.
Sometimes the answer to a happier life with our spouse is forgiveness, hard work, and dedication; sometimes the answer is divorce.
The truth is that divorce requires plenty of forgiveness, hard work, and dedication of its own. And remember: when two people are in the midst of it all deciding if it is make it or break it time, we do not get to decide the right choice for them.
There maybe isn’t a right choice; divorce just happens to be the best choice.