Is divorce a failure?

Posted on Sep 1, 2021 by Katie Carter

It seems like I’ve come up against this word – failure – a lot. Even in circles of women who otherwise are empowered, positive, and uplifting, they describe their divorce as a failure.

It’s a word that makes me sit up and take notice.

Full disclosure: I haven’t been divorced.

I’ve been through hundreds of divorces, but not my own. So maybe what I think carries less weight. Or maybe, on the other hand, it carries more, because I have a level of objectivity about the whole thing that you – forgive me, reader – do not.

Divorce, it seems to me, is not a failure. Divorce is a quiet voice that says, “there’s better out there.” And, then, quickly on its heels, “I’m going to find it for myself.”

You see, divorce rates didn’t approach 50% until the 80s or so. They’ve actually declined in recent years – not because people aren’t getting divorced, but because they aren’t getting married.

And, at the end of the day, whether you’ve stayed unmarried or whether you are getting a divorce, it all boils down to OPTIONS.

Quite simply? You have them. In ways that your grandmother didn’t. In ways, even, that your MOTHER didn’t. Women even as recently as the 70s couldn’t get mortgages or credit cards in their own name. In our enlightened, modern minds, we’ve been able to do these things for so long that they barely register.

But, though that may be true for us, there were scores of women for thousands of years before us who had no such options. If they found themselves in a bad marriage, well, they just had to make the most of it. They couldn’t divorce. There were no options available for a woman without a husband and without real career prospects, without an education or an ability to get financing to secure her own kind of independent future.

So, she stayed. She didn’t get divorced. But was her life – her marriage – a success?

I don’t think success or failure is a matter of staying married or not staying married. Success is a big word, with implications FAR beyond your marital status. Maybe your relationship didn’t work out – I suppose you could use the word failed, if you’re a glutton for punishment – but that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t a stepping stone to bigger, better, more fulfilling things.

Sometimes, our relationships don’t work out. But that’s as it should be, right? You’re not still beating yourself up over the doofus who broke up with you after prom, or the really sweet but utterly boring guy you dumped from a pay phone in Rome during study abroad one year in college. (Ooops, sorry, maybe that was just me.) Right? Because those relationships were supposed to fail! They were just there as placeholders to teach you something – about yourself, about love and life, about what you want to achieve, or whatever.

Marriages can, sometimes, be the same way. They can serve a purpose for a time, maybe even bring you children. But, ultimately, that doesn’t mean you’re permanently compatible. It doesn’t mean that, once you commit, you need to commit no matter what life throws your way. To say, “no, thank you” is not a sign a failure, but, instead, a sign of a success.

It’s a sign to me that the woman involved believes that there’s better out there and that she’s going to go and find it.

Sure, it’s difficult, both in the sense that the divorce process is hard and that rebuilding your life after divorce is hard. But it doesn’t change the fact that women are getting divorced because they are able to believe that there is more out there to reach for.

You know what’s a failure? Staying for years in an unhappy, unfulfilling, unsuccessful, or abusive marriage. Even worse? Doing so because you don’t believe that there’s better out there for you.

I know it’s hard to re-examine your own thinking – especially with so much pressure around you to make your marriage work (if I had a nickel for every time I heard that young people these days just don’t value marriage anymore…) – but I encourage you to do it. Every time you start to use the word ‘failure’ in your words or in your thoughts, check yourself. Consider that you are instead privileged, because you have rights and options and access to financing and education to make decisions to put yourself and your children in a better position tomorrow than you are today.

Marriage is great, when it’s good. And it’s lovely when a happy couple celebrates a milestone anniversary. But it’s not the only way to be successful or to have success in your own life.

Your divorce is not a failure. You are not a failure.

The fact that you have options, and that the very act of pursuing a divorce signals that you know this and that you’re willing to reach for it with both hands, is a sign of incredible success, in my opinion.

For more information, to learn about Virginia divorce, or to schedule a consultation, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.