I used to love the “Can This Marriage Be Saved” section of my mom’s Ladies Home Journal. Spoiler alert: the marriages almost always could be saved. I loved reading the stories from each person’s perspective and I loved even more the idea that, with hard work and a good therapist, even people on the brink of divorce could reconnect and save their marriages.
Of course, that was years and years before I would start working in divorce. Back in those days, I was just a kid – and, to me, the stories were more about love than they were about divorce. Now I see something totally different.
Though there are many well-meaning people out there spouting a bunch of well-meaning messages, the reality is that many marriages cannot be saved. Besides that, there are many marriages that should not be saved.
And you know one more thing? If you don’t WANT to save your marriage, that’s okay too.
To be clear, let me add: I do not believe that women just throw out their marriages without careful consideration. I’ve talked to so many women who are in the process of ending their marriages, and they always come to me after a significant amount of soul searching. Some do go on to reconcile, but many eventually divorce. They do so for any number of reasons – from adultery to abuse, to addiction and mental illness, and even just fundamental incompatibility.
And you know what? It doesn’t matter. It’s her business, and really no one else’s. Could she “save” her marriage if she went to marriage counseling? Maybe. Or, at the very least, she could reach a decision NOT to end it. But would it be “saved?” Would it be a marriage worth saving? Would she look back in her old age and wish that she had stayed – or that she had left?
The thing about it is that the point is not just to save a marriage for the sake of saving it or of avoiding divorce. The marriages that should end should end. Sure, we could force people to stay, or shame them into thinking they have no alternative, but what does that do for anyone, really?
Divorce isn’t the evil thing that most people seem to think that it is. It’s really a neutral thing – kind of like marriage. It’s the legal act of ending a marriage and dividing the assets and liabilities between the parties, just like a marriage is the legal act of making two strangers husband and wife. It’s a legal process. It is inherently neither good nor bad.
Bad marriages are bad. Bad divorces are bad, too. But, in most cases, marriages are just marriages and divorce is just divorce. They can be good and bad; there is, after all, a sort of spectrum. But they’re not inherently either one of those things.
In the United States, we believe strongly in traditional family values. Somehow, divorce has become considered the antithesis of traditional family values. I can understand. If you consider two married people raising their family together the ideal, the breaking apart of that family is less than ideal. But not all marriages are created equally. Some married couples – and, of course, some unmarried couples – do not epitomize any kind of values, whether traditional or otherwise.
For about a million different reasons, some families are high conflict. Some have issues with addiction and mental illness. Instead of it being bad to end these relationships, most studies seem to have confirmed that it is significantly better for children when their parents divorce.
It’s good when two otherwise happily married people are able to work through issues (even big issues) and remain committed to their marriages. But I think it’s time to recognize that it’s also equally good when two people end a bad marriage, for any reason. It could be due to abuse – and, in fact, it often is – but there could be any number of other issues, none of which would de-legitimize the value of ending an unfulfilling or unhappy union.
Ultimately, in many cases, I think the question of whether a marriage CAN be saved is a bit offensive, and also entirely beside the point. At what point do we trust the parties involved to know what’s best? At what point do we let people decide to end their marriages? It doesn’t have to be saved. It isn’t necessarily save-able.
It’s not a question of loving divorce or even marriage. It’s a question of letting full grown adults make choices themselves, without judgment.
Marriages can’t always be saved. They shouldn’t always be saved. Some marriages should definitely end – this can, in fact, be the best-case scenario.
If you’re thinking of ending your marriage, make sure you know your rights and entitlements under the law. Download a copy of one of our free divorce and custody books, register to attend a monthly divorce seminar or Custody Bootcamp for Moms seminar, or schedule a consultation with a licensed, experienced Virginia divorce attorney dedicated to representing women exclusively.