Sharilee Swaity writes on family and marriage issues on her blog, Second Chance Love. She has written a book on the topic of remarriage.
Should I Get a Divorce?
Most people have thought about divorce at least once during their marriage. For some, divorce is a constant threat; for others, it feels like the only hope. Whether you avoid the thought of divorce or think about it every day, this article gives ten new things to consider.
I start with a disclaimer: Both my husband and I are divorced, but neither of us chose it. Our ex-spouses chose it and we had to live with it. If your partner chooses to end the marriage, you cannot force them to stay married.
Another caveat: If a partner is any of the following, divorce may be justified:
In other words, if they are cheating on you, hitting or putting you down, leaving you for someone else, or is an alcoholic or drug addict, this article does not apply to you. However, if the preceding reasons do not apply, and if you are wondering if you should get a divorce, I present you with 10 reasons not to.
1. Divorce Will Hurt Your Kids
The first reason is something that should give us all pause: the kids. Should you stay married for your children? Well, maybe not, but at least think about how divorce will affect them. You might get over it in time, but they never will.
They will never get over the loss of their family, and their lives will never be the same. Never. When parents start living separate lives, a child's world is shattered, and they must navigate a new reality. There will be long-lasting financial, emotional, developmental, academic, and psychological repercussions. For that kid, the fairy tale is officially over. Yes, kids do "move on," but they are affected forever.
Judith Wallerstein, a well-known psychologist, researcher, author, and advocate of children of divorce, says that even 25 years later, children of divorce are 40% less likely to marry. They report ongoing romantic repercussions many years after their parents' divorce.
Another study, The Effects of Divorce on America, found staggering correlations between divorce and ongoing problems for children. Divorce was linked to higher drug abuse, lower grades, more mental health issues, and higher suicide rates. These are only a couple of examples; there are have been many other studies done on this subject as well.
These statistics are not intended to make anyone feel guilty about something that has already happened. Divorced parents and stepparents (like me) all try to make the best of a difficult situation, but make no mistake, the kids are very much effected.
In my own life, both as a stepmom and as a teacher of at-risk teenagers, I have seen a lot of anger in kids of divorce. This can largely be attributed to the way children feel torn between the two people they love the most in the world: mom and dad, who now don't like each other very much. Divorce is an ongoing conflict, even if there is no real squabbling going on, and it causes division within the child.
So, reason number one for not divorcing is the kids. Divorce hurts them. Period.
2. Divorce Brings Emotional Devastation
Divorce is emotionally devastating for most people. It forces us to kill all of the hopes and dreams we were counting on when we decided to marry. It separates us from the one person we believed would always be there for us, holding our hand when we got old and feeble. We may deny it, but there is always pain with separation. Divorce is a type of death and we will need to grieve the loss of the relationship just as we would if a person we love died.
Divorce is the ultimate rejection because we are either rejecting or being rejected by the one person who knew us best in this world. These days, we've grown so accustomed to people splitting up that this silent pain is often ignored and not acknowledged, but it's still real. People often try to alleviate the pain with addictions or new relationships, but these don't heal the wounds. Many people are never the same after a divorce, because everything they thought was real and true is gone.
3. Divorce Leads to Loss of Confidence
We grow up thinking that we will marry and be happy. When we "fail" at that, our self confidence and belief in ourselves is deeply affected. We have failed at one of the key jobs of adulthood: to find a suitable mate and make it work.
When my second husband and I were still dating, he was very reluctant to make a commitment to marry. In fact, it was terrifying to him. You see, he had "failed" at marriage once, and he did not want to fail again.
Another aspect of confidence that is affected is our confidence in our desirability. This is why newly divorced people often go through a stage of serial dating, desperately seeking to re-establish themselves as being attractive and wanted. Or they may fall into another relationship right away, rebounding instead of carefully choosing someone who is healthy for them, compounding and complicating the already raw wound of divorce.
4. You May Experience Loss of Identity
When divorce happens, both individuals lose that familiar role of husband or wife. Even if the marriage is troubled, there is still security in knowing that you are this person's spouse. All of that is gone when the divorce papers are signed. You are no longer the wife of so-and-so, you are now just their ex—not a very affirming title.
Women feel this in a very literal way as they go from "Mrs." to a "Ms." Not only that, but many women must wrestle with the decision of changing their name back to their maiden name or continuing to identify with a name that no longer reflects who they are.
Marriage gives us a strong identity and role in this world, and divorce takes that away.
5. Custody Battles Are Hell
This reason is closely related to the first. Fighting over children will change everyone's life.
One of the worst things about divorce, if children are involved, is the new dirty word you will become very familiar with: custody. You will no longer have the children in your home full-time. You will be sharing those children with your ex-partner, and you will have to arrange your whole life to accommodate these arrangements.
If you are the non-custodial parent, you can never get those hours back and you will miss those children, guaranteed. I watched my husband go through it, and there is nothing like the pain of a dad or mom missing their child. Nothing.
Walking away from a marriage because it's not what you wanted will likely mean walking away from your kids... and that impact is enormous.
It is also important to realize that even the custodial parent loses out. Every time the children go to the other parent, the custodial parent loses their purpose and focus for those days or hours. It's not that the kids' time with your ex-spouse is necessarily bad, but most mothers like to know where their kids are and how they are doing, and sharing custody changes that. You no longer have 24-hour access to your children because you have to share that with your former mate. That is a tough pill to swallow, no matter what.
Custody also means that your children will now have two homes, not one. For the rest of their childhood, they will have to continually split themselves between two residences and will have to adjust every time they go from one to the other. Yes, custody arrangements might sound easy on paper, but emotionally they are seldom easy and rarely painless.
6. You Lose Your Partner's Family
Now this is a very difficult one, and painful for many people. You know how when you got married, everyone said you were marrying your fiancé's family, as well? Well, this truth also works in reverse. When you divorce your wife, you are also divorcing her family, in most cases.
Family members will often feel forced to take sides, and guess who they are going to pick? Of course they'll choose the blood relation. So the relationship you built with your in-laws will probably end.
I have known people who have kept in touch with their ex-partner's relatives, but it is rare and often awkward. For some people, this can be a huge loss. Family connections run deep, and we take our family for granted. It can be very painful to realize that those connections are gone.
7. You Will Lose Some of Your Friends
Divorce will have a dramatic effect on your social life. In most social circles, a person's marital status is important and affects the dynamics of most social interactions. Couples often feel more comfortable being friends with other couples, and making the switch to two singles instead of one deuce will shake everything up. If you are really close, the couple might choose to see you both at different times, but usually, friends feel forced to take sides and be loyal to their original friend. This doesn't sound very nice, but it's a reality.
Also, some couples don't feel as comfortable hanging out with a divorced person. Their lonely presence serves as a reminder that things always don't work out. Friends might question their own marriages, and problems that were once covered up may begin to rise to the light of day as they witness your break up.
Just as people often don't know what to say to someone who is grieving the loss of a loved one, people are often awkward when confronted by a divorce. They don't know what to say, so they stay away.
8. It Will Cause Financial Stress
The longer a couple stays married, the more time they have to build assets. Couples who have been together for a long time often enjoy a great deal of financial stability. Staying together allows them to accumulate assets and good credit as both partners work together for the good of their household. Divorce disrupts this building process and forces both parties to start from scratch.
According to Nolo Press's nationwide divorce survey, "Most reported paying a total of around $15,500 for their divorces," and if it is contentious, it can cost a lot more. According to Divorce Magazine, many divorces cost well over $100,000. Divorce is expensive in so many ways.
- There are the actual legal costs of obtaining a divorce judgment. If there are children involved, custody and child support must be handled. If there are assets, they must be divided. All of these things involve extra expenses and billable legal fees. Anytime a judge is involved, you must pay for the lawyer's time.
- Even after the divorce itself, there will be more expenses because now, between the two of you, you are paying for two separate residences instead of one. Two rents or mortgages, the cost of heating two houses, separate meals... it all adds up.
- Taking care of your child used to be something the two of you shared, coordinating schedules and jobs to cover the responsibilities. Now, one person—usually the woman—must find a way to care for the child, and the other—usually the man—must pay large amounts of cash to help her do this. Economically, this is far harder than doing it together. Both parties lose in a child support situation.
- Job situations also have to change to accommodate a new schedule and a new situation. This can affect employment. If one person has been a student, they may no longer find it possible to continue with their studies after the support of their spouse is gone.
My ex husband moved several times after our divorce in an effort to be closer to his children. That was expensive. I lost many of my household effects because I did not want fight for them and had to move in with my parents for a while. Everyone's situation is unique, but most people incur extensive economic costs.
9. Second Marriages Are Even Harder
I am my husband's second wife. My husband is my second husband. Therefore, I talk about this next subject with some trepidation. For those of us making a new life after divorce, we hope and believe in second chances, and this often includes a second marriage. If a person is divorced, they will often want share their life with someone else and not to simply be alone.
But let's be honest. Second marriages are harder than first marriages. In fact, studies show that 25% of second marriages fail (as compared to 20% of first marriages), and that second marriages, on average, only last 10.8 years for men and seven years for women.
Why are second marriages more difficult?
- We're less innocent. For the first year and a half of our marriage, my husband and I talked about divorce a lot. Actually I did, and my husband would get angry with me. Why did I do that? Well, it was fear. I knew that we had both come from divorced backgrounds, and when troubles came, it was hard to keep believing that we were going to make it. The threat and possibility of divorce loomed over our heads like a curse. Unlike with our first marriages, we were not "starry-eyed" going in. In fact, we had no illusions to break, and that made us tough. I did not want to be hurt again, and so I acted out to prevent that. Am I alone? I don't think so. Second marriages are less innocent and that makes them harder. Although they are trying to love again, both people are scared, and that's not a good way to start a marriage. This might not apply to everyone, but for some people, it can definitely be a factor.
- Second marriages are more complicated. Second marriages, especially when children are involved, are very complicated. Your kids must now deal with a new person in their life, and stepparents are now suddenly related to children that they did not create. There are so many variables, and trying to create a new family in the aftermath of a family breakup is never an easy or simple process. When people get married the first time, they usually have some time together before children enter the picture. Or even if they have children right away, they grow with those children. Stepparents, on the other hand, must deal with children from the very start of their marriage and don't have that all-important adjustment period.
- History repeats itself. History repeats itself, unless we are healed. When people go through a rough relationship that ends in divorce, it is often because of ingrained patterns. Unless they recognize those patterns, both parties will tend to repeat them. For example, if a woman's insecurity interfered with her first marriage, this same insecurity will affect her second marriage unless she finds a way to heal whatever wounds are causing her insecurity. If a man is too controlling in his first marriage and it drove his wife away, those same tendencies will surface in his second marriage and history will repeat. The best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour, and unless significant healing and change happens within the individual, they are at risk of repeating the cycle. This might be hard to swallow, but it's true.
10. Because You Promised Forever
I,_____, take thee,_____, to my wedded Husband/Wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, cherish, and to obey, till death us do part, according to God's holy ordinance; and thereto I give thee my troth." (Marriage vows from the Book of Common Prayer.)
The wedding vows. Above all, these are the most important reason not to divorce. If you got married, you promised to stay married forever. That was for richer or poorer (through the financial difficulties), in sickness and in health (even when illness disrupts your life and causes emotional turmoil), for better or worse (through all the problems and all the successes of life).
On that day, we promised that we would love. That we would honour. That we would cherish. These days, the "obey" part is usually replaced with "respect," but the point remains. We would be there for each other, no matter what. We say those words in earnest, never guessing what they will cost us. But the words stand, nonetheless.
Mike Mason, in his incredible book, The Mystery of Marriage: Meditations on the Miracle, talks about how those vows are really impossible standards for anyone to keep. How can we always love, he asks? How can we always honour? Or cherish? Yet, we still make those promises. And those words, he concludes, are what keep us together when nothing else does.
You promised. You promised your spouse, your family, your friends, and yourself. That is the final, most important, and most profound reason not to divorce.
More Reasons to Stay Married
- Divorce is bad for your health. Many studies have observed a connection between health and marriage (and a loss of health with divorce). According to BBC News, compared to those who never married, divorced people experience 20% more chronic illnesses like cancer, depression, heart issues, and diabetes.
- "Divorce regret" is a very real thing. And it happens to lots of people. According to a 2016 survey conducted by Seddons, 22% of divorcees have second thoughts and later regret breaking up.
- Divorce is not an easy solution. It might be much simpler to work on your marriage than to throw it all away. Divorce seems like an easy solution, but it's not. Most couples who have lasted say that they had to work through some dark times to get to the good stuff.
5 Dumb Reasons to Divorce
- "She/he no longer makes me happy." It's your job to make you happy, not your spouse's. If you're not happy then figure out why, but there's no need to blame other people.
- "We've grown apart." Of course you have. This is inevitable in any long-term relationship. Make being together a priority so you and your spouse have time to reconnect.
- "I'm bored." Again, a marriage's purpose is not entertainment, and this is not your spouse's responsibility. Face it: life gets boring if you stop doing things to keep it interesting. If you're bored then you need to fill your time with something meaningful... but divorce isn't what I'd call an exciting alternative.
- "Because all my friends are doing it." Although a recent Pew Research study suggests that divorce might be "contagious" and that if your friends and family are divorcing, it greatly increases the chance that you will, too, this is just not a good reason. If they were all jumping off cliffs or getting body piercings, would you do that, too?
- “We’re just too different.” Irreconcilable differences are a common reason people use for divorce, but it doesn't make sense if you really think about it. After all, you were two different people when you met so why would you expect that to change? Couples don't need to match, meld, or conform to one another, and no two people agree on everything. If Democrats can marry Republicans and people from dramatically different cultures can peacefully cohabitate, maybe you can, too. Couples that last aren't necessarily the most similar, they're just the most committed, and they remain openminded to and appreciative of difference.
For Those Who Have a Choice
In conclusion, I would like to say that this article has been hard to write, not just because it has been emotional, but because I don't want to be misunderstood. I don't want anyone to be hurt or feel judged by what I am saying.
For anyone already divorced, I recommend moving on and making the best of your life. Heal and live. I do not intend to make anyone feel worse about what's already happened. Similarly, for those in abusive or adulterous situations, I do not mean to guilt you into staying in an impossible situation. Instead, this article is for those who have the choice. I do so want to make that distinction clear.
Disclaimers aside, though, I plead to those who are in the position of considering divorce to consider the cost. It is a huge decision and not one to take lightly. Few, if any, escape unscathed. In fact, it was my current husband who gave me the idea to write this article. We are happily married, but it has been a hard road for both of us to get here. His kids still live with the reality of it, and so do we. My husband wanted people to know how hard divorce is, so I share the credit for this story with him.
Before you divorce, be sure to consider the consequences, because they are serious.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
Question: Is it bad to divorce while grieving? My mom passed away, and my daughter moved away.
Answer: Thanks so much for taking the time to write. I am sorry for the loss of your mother.
Experts advise to never make any life decisions when you are in the middle of grieving because you are not yourself during this time and may strongly regret it later.
Grief itself can be hard on a marriage and make it hard to reach out to your partner. So, I would suggest waiting for a while until you make this kind of decision.
© 2010 Sharilee Swaity