Have a “Failed” or “Broken” Marriage, or Are You a Spinster?

In the middle of one of my divorce groups recently, Stacy announced that she was getting closer to using the “D” word with her husband. She quickly added, “but when we file, I refuse to use ‘divorce language.'”

“She went on to say that she was angry that people called it a “broken family” and talked about marriages “failing.” She said, “It’s all about making people feel bad for having to end a marriage.”  It’s true. The words we use to describe divorce serve only to shame the people involved in the split.

One of my greatest inspirations for, The New I Do, was the need to talk about taking the shame out of both non-traditional types of marriage, non-marriage and divorce. It’s pretty ludicrous when you think about the fact that we have a “one-size-fits-all” paradigm that fits only a small number of people, yet we make everyone wrong for not fitting the mold.

I share about my experience in working with divorcing people, “What [I] found so striking was this: people felt incredible shame if they did not fit the marital mold. Practically everyone whose marriage ended said he or she felt like a failure or described the dissolution as a “failed marriage.” But admitting something isn’t working does not equal failure. In fact, it often takes more courage to go separate ways than it does to stay and pretend to the world that everything is fine.”

For years, I’ve heard people talk about being marginalized by others and feeling rejected by society as a whole. For years, I’ve watched couples (my parents included) stay together for far too long trying to achieve matrimonial “success” (which we currently only have one way to measure – spouses are parted by death). It’s still quite uncommon to hear couples talking about creating their own rules for coupling but it is starting to happen.

Not Marrying or Marrying Late In Life is Shamed Also 

I was shamed for being over 40 and as-of-yet unmarried. People often asked me what was “wrong” with me because I was single. I wondered that myself, although I defended my choice to stay single saying I wanted to marry the right person and not just marry for the sake of marrying. 

When I tied the knot for the first time at age 43 (my husband—also his first marriage—was 45), I was absolutely treated differently. I was seen as (and felt like) more of an adult. 

My friend, Brent, a man well into his 60s shared with me that he has gotten grief for being a commit-a-phobe because he has never married. Yet, he has had several long term, happy (and monogamous) relationships in his life. Why can’t he choose that lifestyle and have it be okay? Why is he wrong for not “settling down?”

An Anything Goes Paradigm

There’s traditionally been a tremendous amount of pressure to get married and to stay married; to stay “until death do us part;” to live together; to have kids, and to follow the life script the generations before us have laid out for us.

But things are changing. That’s why it was so great to hear Stacy defend her actions unapologetically, and be strong enough in herself to not take on the beliefs of those trapped in self-made boxes. I’d like to see more people believe the way Stacy does and say, “I refuse to feel bad about my choice” to separate from my spouse and I refuse to take on the language that implies that I, my spouse, or my family is somehow broken because we made a decision to not stay together as a family.

Brent refuses to take on the judgment of others about his decision to never marry.

There are many couples that my co-author, Vicki Larson, and I interviewed for The New I Do that also refused to apologize for their choices. Yet, there were many who we found were keeping their nuptial arrangements a secret from family, friends and the world-at-large.

Vicki and I write: “It’s still about blame, shame and personal failure, instead of looking at the institution of marriage itself and asking, “Why isn’t it working well for about half of these who enter into it? Actually, it isn’t working well for more people than that; many couples remain married in name only because the wife or the husband needs the health benefits, or they own a business and it would lead to financial ruin, or they can’t afford to sell the house, or they live separate lives but decide to stick it out, unhappily, “for the kids.”

What Has Your Experience Been?

Where are you in the scheme of things? Are you single (never-married)? Single (divorced)? Do you have a traditional marriage (i.e. monogamous, living together and planning to stay until one of you dies)? If so, is that what you really want? Do you have a non-traditional (non-monogamous, live-apart, starter marriage)? Are you on your fifth marriage? Live next-door to or with your ex and his or her new flame?

I’d love to hear from you about things people have said to shame you for your choice, beliefs you’ve bought into, or anything you’d like too share about your non-traditional life-style. 

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