When I finally told my family, friends and acquaintances that I was getting divorced, almost universally, everyone responded by saying how sorry they were.
And I have to admit that my immediate reaction to that was less than stellar. I was secretly offended and pretty ticked off. Why should they be sorry about my divorce? The majority of these people didn’t know why I was getting divorced and they didn’t bother to ask. Very few of them actually raised their hand to ask how they could help. And interestingly enough, those people that found out about my divorce, without having had a conversation with me, avoided me entirely. There are still supposed “friends” of mine today, well after my divorce, who haven’t asked about my divorce or how I am doing now that it is over.
And it seems my experience is not unique. Through my separation and divorce coaching practice, I hear similar stories from my clients about friends that quietly disappear once the subject of divorce is on the table. So clearly, this phenomena is larger than just me and my own saboteurs who want me to take this personally. So, what is really going on here? My personal theory is that everyone has saboteurs, who feed us negative assumptions and perceptions about divorce.
Divorce Is Failure
In the U.S., marriage is an integral part of the American Dream. Regardless of the reality that 40% - 50% of first-time marriages in the U.S. end in divorce, it is a subject that most people don’t want to talk about (unless you are a divorce attorney). The idealization of marriage in this country has led to an unconscious perception that divorce equals failure. And no one wants to be associated with failure. When people say “I’m sorry you’re getting divorced,” it can easily be interpreted as “I’m sorry you failed at your marriage.” I’m sure that that interpretation is not what people really mean, but when you are in your divorce, with your saboteurs running wild, it can sure feel that way. And even if that interpretation is not what people meant, it doesn’t mean it isn’t in their subconscious somewhere.
Divorce is Bad
Another assumption people tend to have is that divorce is bad. It is a huge generalization, but most people still think of divorce as two fighting parents who battle it out in court and scar their children for life. Just watch Kramer vs. Kramer once and you’ll know what I mean. People don’t want to get involved in what they think will be a long, drawn-out emotional battle. They assume that the outcome of divorce will be bad for all concerned and they don’t want to be caught in the cross-fire. And of course, the media doesn’t help since you hardly hear stories about the benefits of divorce.
Divorce is Scary
Based on these negative perceptions of divorce, most people find the idea of divorce personally frightening. They already associate divorce with being bad, being a failure – so what does that mean if it happens to them? When confronted with divorce, their saboteurs come out to poke at all the things that aren’t working in their own marriage. Fear and insecurity about themselves make it too difficult to be around someone getting divorced. It is too close. People are afraid of what they don’t really know. And since they don’t really know about divorce, they avoid it … and you.
Let’s Shift the Perspective
Divorce is not a failure. Divorce is not bad. Divorce might be unpleasant, but it doesn’t have to be scary. There is no shame here. Divorce is just a reality when two people decide to walk down different paths. And it doesn’t have to be the horror story people paint of it in their minds. In today’s world, far fewer divorces actually go to trial due to mediation and collaborative law. In the case of mediation, divorcing couples work with a mediator to craft a Separation Agreement. If they can’t come to an agreement, then they can both hire divorce attorneys as a second step to help with the negotiation. With Collaborative Law, divorcing couples make a commitment not to go to trial from the very beginning. They work with a mediator and professional therapists or coaches for as long as it takes to arrive at a final agreement. So, the trend these days is to avoid the time, money and stress associated with a trial as much as possible. I’m not saying it is a picnic, but it is far better than it used to be. As a result, divorcing couples are far better at co-parenting and creating stable family structures than ever before. Who knew, right?
Clearly, divorce needs a PR makeover. We need to shift the perspective. We need to remove all the negative connotations. Why should two people stay together when they are miserable? Why should two people stay together when they could lead better, more fulfilling lives separately? Divorce is an opportunity to reinvent your life. Divorce can motivate personal growth and empowerment. And as a parent, you can have a better, more honest, relationship with your children if you are actually happy in your life. We are not defined by our past, and as a society, we need to let go of past perceptions about divorce that no longer serve us.