Is Divorce as Bad as You Think? Maybe Not

Thinking woman laying in grass

We have made so much progress in the realm of matrimony over the years. Same-sex marriage, no-fault divorce, and the paternal right to equal custody keep us moving forward as a society amid the hotbed issues of marriage and divorce. However, there is still one area in which we seem to be stuck: our perceptions of marriage and divorce.

Back in the 1950s and earlier, divorce was widely considered disgraceful and humiliating. It was equated with complete and utter failure, and for a woman in particular, the demise of her marriage represented the end of her life. In contrast, marriage represented the ultimate accomplishment, the pinnacle of social status.

Here we are in 2012, and not much has changed. Divorce is a dirty word, and it has been referred to as “contagious,” as if it is some awful disease. Being divorced—or even single, for that matter—is often seen as undesirable and tragic. Marriage, in contrast, is seen as a rescue ship from singledom, a guarantee of eternal happiness.

Most of what you know about marriage and divorce comes from external sources. From the happily-ever-after stories ingrained in you from Disney movies to the volatile divorce conflict between your parents growing up, your perceptions of marriage and divorce live inside of you both in and out of consciousness. When you combine this internal schema with your present-day outside influences, you may find that processing your experience of divorce can be confusing and conflicting. You may feel completely at peace with your divorce, but find that friends and family look at you with pity and regret. You may also feel like a complete wreck inside, while people around you can’t understand why you aren’t simply relieved to be out of the relationship.

The important thing to remember is how you choose to experience divorce is completely up to you. Divorce is not contagious, nor is it hereditary. It is simply a life transition that forces you to challenge everything you thought to be true.

What you believe colors the way you see the world. Your beliefs are powerful and have a great impact on how you feel and behave, and they will ultimately affect the quality of your experience as you transition through and move on from your divorce. Beliefs can be categorized both positively and negatively, determined ultimately by how those beliefs affect your overall well-being. For example, if you believe your life is over because you are divorced, you may very well stop living. If you believe that your divorce could be a stepping stone to something better, you will aspire to make it happen. The choice is yours.

Here are five steps to help you begin uncovering your beliefs about marriage and divorce so you can develop perceptions that benefit you, and improve your well-being, as you move on from divorce:

  1. Make a list of all of your beliefs about marriage and divorce without judgment or editing.
  2. Go through the list and eliminate the beliefs that don’t serve you. These would be the ones that make you sad, angry, resentful, or embarrassed.
  3. Using the beliefs you kept, make a new list by adding any beliefs you aspire to have (even if you don’t believe these beliefs just yet).
  4. Review the list again and eliminate any belief, old or aspired, that could potentially keep you stuck in the pain of your past or fear of your future.
  5. Create one final list of positive beliefs that you can refer to on a daily basis as a reminder of your growth and well-being.

As you begin to let go of negative beliefs, and incorporate more positive ways of seeing your experience and situation, you will begin to change both internally and externally. Remember that you don’t always have to believe what you think!

© Copyright 2012 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Andra Brosh, PhD, therapist in Los Angeles, California

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • kiera

    October 16th, 2012 at 10:02 AM

    used to think divorce would only bring sadness and would be an end to happiness..this even though I was in a marriage I was not happy in..a little bit of time,support from friends and some sense has taught me that it is far better to move away from a toxic marriage and that being divorced is far better than living with someone who does not deserve me..divorce is not a dirty word in my mind anymore and I just hope more and more women start to see the truth.

  • Frances campbell

    October 16th, 2012 at 10:58 AM

    Shoot, for me I wouldn’t have had it any other way, and this is even coming from a woman who decided to pack her bags and call it quites long before this was “acceptable” behavior from a woman. But I knew that if I stayed then this was going to be life with a man who was going to suck away every piece of me and my son that was still whole and good. So I made the decision to cut our losses and run. And honestly I have never looked back. I am not saying that it was the easy thing to do, but it sure was the best thing for all of us. There are just some cases where this is the reality of things and the best thing for you to do to save yourself.

  • Kristin

    October 16th, 2012 at 11:20 AM

    I found out a long time ago that I need to stop worrying so much about what others think about the choices that I make and worry more about which choices are right for me and my own.

  • Dr. Brosh

    Dr. Brosh

    October 16th, 2012 at 3:04 PM

    Thank you for all of your responses. I love the strength and resilience you all so eloquently describe as being part of your divorce experience. You are all an inspiration for those still struggling with the stigma, shame and guilt so often associated with this life transition.

  • Betty

    October 17th, 2012 at 4:02 AM

    call me old fashioned, but I still think that no matter the kind of marriage you are in, if you have kids then you can’t just get up and walk away. You can’t say oh we just grew apart or had nothing in common anymore. I think that you at least owe it to the marriage to give it a try. I think that most divorces come on not because you fall out of love but that you simply stop trying. Is that really the lesson you want to teach your kids? Stop trying and then it’s fine to just walk away?

  • Bridgit

    October 17th, 2012 at 1:08 PM

    For every family I think that you will find a different answer.

    For some families the answer is obvious that the only real solution is divorce. There are simply too many problems for the couple to overcome to ever hope to be happy and healthy.

    For others, it might take some time and some work but there can be hope for healing. Those are the families that I hope will not give up, that they will invest a little bit more time and effort into the marriage in the hopes of keeping it together.

    There is not one answer that works for everyone, it has to be looked at and examined on an individual basis to get the right answer for you.

  • Chris

    October 18th, 2012 at 4:58 AM

    You ultimately know whether this is a place in your life that you want to stay. If it isn’t working for you, then why not let it all go? At least letting it go gives you thee chance to make a fresh start instead of always dwelling on the past.

  • Fernando

    October 18th, 2012 at 12:26 PM

    I disagree with Betty. I was married to a woman with a personality disorder that was augmented/worsen by her heavy consumption of alcohol. I pleaded her for years to get help. Yet, she didn’t. Meanwhile, I continued to go to couple therapy by myself until it became clear I wasn’t the one giving up on the marriage, she was. She was verbally and emotionally abusing me, taking advantage of me, and late in our marriage even cheated on me. So, I’m sorry. Your marriage experience is different than some, not all are clear as peaches.
    Signed,
    Proud father of 2 boys- Fernando
    PS: I do share custody with their mother, but I enjoy to have them 4 days out of the week.

  • Maria

    November 5th, 2012 at 9:27 PM

    Being a child of divorce and now seeing the effects on my adult children….divorce causes so much pain. Sometimes it is the only way out…but it should only be considered when all other paths have been tried. Our society looks for a quick fix….instead of working
    through issues. Sad to see so many inflict pain on others for their own well being. I know I have experienced that. My children and I will endure…and are better off….but what a waste.
    I just don’t like statements about minimizing divorce and it’s effects. I sometimes wonder the ones saying this may not have experienced it.

  • Jay

    November 19th, 2012 at 7:52 PM

    I find myself in conflict about divorce now that I am on the edge of it. When the love of your life has thrown in the towel and doesn’t want to invest energy in the relationship, how long do you hang in there? How long do you hope they come around ? And to what end? Nobody should have to exist in a relationship where there is no love, compassion or connection. It is cruel. At a certain point I think one comes to a point where you have to save yourself before there is nothing left to save. Why am I still in the relationship? Because I do view it as a failure. I always thought I could beat the odds. Guess not.

  • Margaret

    November 19th, 2012 at 10:28 PM

    Are you the filing spouse? If so, then it is you whom is tossing the towel in the air. If she has not filed, then she has not surrendered. Labeling warped-habits-of communicating-on both sides no doubt- as her “not wanting to invest energy in the relationship, is a wonderful explanation, (used to ease your guilt) for being the one who has actually ditched the union, im my opionion.
    I dont mean to sound like a real bi*&h, but I too am in the midst of a nasty dissoution, and the fact that our relationship was being neglected had nothing to do with EITHER party surrendering-All that has to do with is both parties being on the the same page at different times- in other words when I was willing to work at it- he was angry or vice versa-
    Im not saying you should stay and be unhappy, loveless life ect…but to stop having faith that your best friend and yourself are going to undoubtly, be at the same place at the same time sooner or later- I mean come on- the odds are great-
    But not if one decides they are going to… well, stop believing.
    The one who files is the ONE WHO HAS GIVEN UP. Period.

  • ruppert

    March 24th, 2015 at 2:29 PM

    Over half of people regret getting divorced, according to a recent study: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2727716/Is-going-separate-ways-really-good-idea-Astonishing-50-divorcees-regret-breaking-partner.html

    I think this number would be higher if it wasn’t for something called cognitive dissonance, which is a complex psychological term that states that people convince themselves that the choice they made is the right one (if you choose a Snickers bar over a Milky Way when both were equal in your mind beforehand, after the purchase, you are more likely to say you like Snickers better).

    I’m in the middle of a divorce. My wife filed, but I’m as guilty as she.

    We had a couple of major catastrophes: death of our daughter, followed by a flood four weeks later. This put tremendous pressure on our relationship.

    Sometimes I miss my wife and sometimes I don’t. I’m likely to regret this 10 years from now, as will she, as she being deeply Catholic will not remarry, and is living with family, one that is reclusive. She’s also not working, so she won’t be making social connections.

    But the children have already been traumatized by the loss of their sister. Even though they are legally adults (one commutes to college, and the other is at a sleepaway college), they need a mother (who is 5 hours away, and won’t visit or call – they have visited her once in the past year). I could use my wife’s help in dealing with their problems (college kids are still kids, I have found, and require time, as well as guidance and psychological help during a time like this).

    My opinion is this:

    1) Many divorces occur after a major change, such as I went through, or a lost job, or a lost parent, etc. Intervene immediately (my wife refused to go to marriage counseling for 2.5 years, and by then, he rmind was made up, and the resentment was boiling).

    2) Don’t believe for a moment that kids are resilient and won’t feel it, even if they are past 18. Wallerstein’s research indicates that kids really suffer in divorce. Research on College age and Adult Children of Divorce also demonstrate that these kids (who you signed on for for life when you gave birth to them) suffer significantly from a parents’ divorce.

    3) Work hard on staying married – do your best to keep the lines of communication open. Get help early. Don’t go for advice from friends and family – they’ll side with you. Think about the pain you’ll cause your children, and that the quick fix and release from pain that you get now will most likely not end your pain for the long haul (unless you’re being beaten).

  • Catherine B

    May 19th, 2017 at 5:55 AM

    The amount of judgement in these comments is interesting, and I think reflects the very heart of the article, namely that we have very ingrained responses to divorce. My parents divorced, and I am divorced, so I have seen both sides of this situation intimately. I am disappointed I am divorced, and I am sad that my children are suffering through many of the same things I suffered as a child. But, the reality is that they were suffering in one way when my husband and I were still married, and their pain is now centered around different points. I believe that I chose the lesser amount of pain for all of us, and the lesser dysfunction. Their father and I are friends, we share custody and work together to co-parent. Is it perfect? No. But it was a long way from perfect before. It’s not like we were choosing between a great option and a terrible one. We were choosing between options that were both sub-optimal, and we did what we could.

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