If you read headlines regarding divorce you will conclude that the quality of marriages is falling dramatically and record numbers of divorces are ruining family life. Divorce will be seen as the big evil and something to be avoided at all costs. You may look back at bygone generations and the supposed idyllic marriages our predecessors enjoyed with longing. If you are unmarried, you may decide to opt out altogether, of this failed institution we call marriage, in an effort to avoid dreaded divorce. If you do end your marriage you will be viewed to have failed and maybe even be viewed as a failure yourself. You will be a marriage dropout.
Why are Divorce Rates so High?
Speculation runs the gamut from people not taking marriage seriously, to a decrease in values, to cohabitation before marriage. I’d like to propose a different theory. Maybe divorce rates are so high because our standards on what a marriage should be are higher. Perhaps we demand more from our marriages. Today we expect to stay in love, to be happy, and to be respected by our partners. Today we see our spouses as more than just partners.
In all but recent history, marriages were more business agreements than romantic commitments. A husband was expected to support the family and a wife was expected to take care of the house and raise the children. There was no expectation of emotional fulfillment from your spouse. Spouses did not expect to be best friends.
Another reason divorce rates could be up is because it is more acceptable to get a divorce now. In the past it often simply wasn’t an option. If you picked wrong and married an addict, an abuser, or a cheater, you were expected to just suck it up. If you happened to not want to suck it up and got a divorce, you were ostracized as morally inferior.
We have not all of the sudden gotten horrible at picking spouses. We simply expect more from our spouses and from our marriages. Is the expectation of happiness in marriage such a bad thing?
Divorce is Not the Enemy, Bad Marriages are
An unfortunate consequence of us viewing divorce as the enemy is people end up staying in failed marriages for much longer than they should. I am not suggesting that anyone who has a dip in marital satisfaction should run out and file for divorce. However, if there are serious issues in your marriage such as addiction, abuse, or severe incompatibility with no common ground, divorce may be better for all involved. By all means, try marriage counseling and see if you can fix your relationship but if it remains unfixable, don’t let a fear of divorce keep you miserable.
The Sunk Cost Fallacy
There’s a economic term called the sunk cost fallacy that basically says you shouldn’t base future decisions on past investments. Many people, including myself, do this all too often in relationships. “I’m not happy with my spouse but I’ve already given them so much of my life that it will all be a waste if I get out now.” After almost three years of dating, buying a house together, and completely entwining our lives, not marrying my first husband seemed like a huge waste. In hindsight, I should have recognize the red flags in that relationship and ended it then. Instead, I wasted eleven years of my life trying to make a broken relationship work. Staying in a bad relationship just makes a bad decision worse.
What about the Kids?
This is often the biggest reason people stay in failed marriages. They don’t want to hurt their kids and uproot their lives. I’d like to ask a question though. Is staying in a failed marriage really what’s best for your children? Everyone wants their children to grow up to be happy well-adjusted adults and this includes wanting them to have wonderful marriages. How do kids learn what to expect in a marriage? They learn from observation of their parents’ marriage. If your marriage is on the rocks what messages are you sending your children about how marriage should be? Are you teaching them that disrespect, abuse, addiction, or infidelity are acceptable in marriage? Are you teaching them that sacrificing your own dreams and fulfillment to an overbearing spouse is okay?
You may think that staying in your marriage is giving your children stability but is it? Even if you don’t fight in front of your kids, they pick up on those underlying tensions. When you walk around angry, disappointed, or depressed because of your marriage, your children are not getting the parent that they need. When we are feeling that way, we are less patient, less enthusiastic, and less involved. Or maybe you take the other extreme of throwing yourself completely into your kids and living only for them. Is that a healthy message to send to your children? Is it fair to them, to perch your own happiness on their lives?
How are kids lives improved by divorce?
Kids’ lives can be improved by divorce? It is controversial just to say that but I believe it to be true because I’ve seen it in my own children. My kids no longer witness fights and name calling. Divorce shook up their father enough for him to get treatment for his addiction so that they no longer see him drunk. Having to take care of them by himself on visitation weekends has also helped him to become closer to them. I am now in a healthy relationship and my kids get to see what that is like. They see a true partnership and they see that their mom is both respected and respects her partner. They see a more equal division of labor. They see disagreements worked out in healthy ways. They see that appreciation for acts of service should be expected. They also have seen my focus and interests expand from just them, to new healthy hobbies. They see that I live a fulfilled life now that they are a big part of but no longer feel the pressure of being my sole focus. They are free to be individuals now. They are free to find their own fulfillment and happiness. With the example I am setting for them I think they have a great shot at that.