It is high time we stop stigmatising divorce and normalise it.
It is high time we stop stigmatising divorce and normalise it.
We often talk about what goes into a successful and happy marriage or how to make a marriage work or tips to rekindle the spark in your relationships. But there aren’t many conversations around the topic of divorce.
Although divorce is common nowadays, it is still considered taboo irrespective of different cultures, social, and religious boundaries. A divorce lacks the joy, excitement, novelty, pomp, and splendour associated with a marriage, but it is fraught with pain in equal measure.
What is a divorce?
The process of separation begins right from the moment where you ‘deselect’ your partner, gradually growing apart in different directions, becoming emotionally distant from each other, and living in silent resentment wanting to break free from the unhappy union, and all the hurt and antagonism eventually ending in the physical dissolution of marriage.
Detaching yourself from all the happy parts of the memories and becoming an autonomous individual again is not easy and hits hard at your self-esteem. Divorce is painful and puzzling at the same time, as it pulls you hard into a deep dark abyss of grief, anxiety, perplexity, uncertainty regarding the future, and a profound emptiness that gnaws at you day and night.
It gets all the tougher when there are children involved. Not to mention going to work or getting your daily errands done.
Different stages of separation
Regardless of gender, it can be extremely hard for a person going through a separation. There are conflicting emotions as he or she goes on an emotional roller coaster ride while struggling to find a way forward.
In the initial stage, there is denial where one is shocked and refuses to believe that the marriage has come to an end. Refusing to talk or even think about it, he or she continues to live in denial as if nothing happened and declines to cooperate with their partner.
There is a dissection of events, arguments, and blame games fuelled by anger followed by a period of depression and hopelessness which is riddled with worry, guilt, and regret. It can all be quite overwhelming.
Finally, one arrives at a stage where he or she accepts the reality of having to let go of the spouse alongside welcoming the change in one’s life. It is important to allow oneself time to come to terms with what is happening, to have clarity on what you need, to understand where you are emotionally, and to be rational in approach.
However, in the face of adversity like a divorce, it is easier said than done. If you find it difficult to cope even with your everyday chores, seeking help can make things easier. According to experts, managing the grief following a divorce can take months and even years, the average time period being close to 5 years.
Process of healing and the stigma around the ‘D’ word
Emotional and moral support is what a person going through pain needs the most. Healing oneself after a separation is absolutely important to regain one’s being and function normally. But the healing process is usually difficult, and often hindered by many factors.
The first and foremost reason is the stigma around divorce. In a patriarchal society, it is often harder for women compared to men. Whether it is the person wanting to initiate a separation or somebody who has already finalised a divorce and living an independent life, society leaves no stone unturned in shaming, hurting, and humiliating them.
Even the most seemingly innocuous comments and unsolicited or unseemly advice, whether it comes from family or friends, can render a person wounded for a lifetime. While some utterances come in condescending tones, others try to gaslight the painful experiences and write off the victim as mentally unstable, weak, or too sensitive making the person doubt his or her own sanity.
There are yet others who simply stare at you in disbelief as if you just committed a murder. All this can add to anxiety, loneliness, and depression.
A woman sans husband is deemed to have no value, deserves no respect, is assumed to be at fault for bringing about a divorce, appears to be flawed in one way or the other, and is more or less ostracised and this perspective cuts across societies. Nothing positive is associated with choosing to walk away from a loveless, unhappy, or abusive marriage and live an independent life, all thanks to patriarchy.
Divorce is that ‘bad’ word and a divorced woman is generally considered an added ‘burden’. Women are usually considered to be at fault because the onus is on them to keep the marriage running smooth, raise the children, and manage the household. That is how they are conditioned and raised since birth. They are considered selfish if they wish to walk out of marriage especially if there are children involved.
Therefore, they are expected to make adjustments despite all the misery they are going through and keep their partner and the rest of the family happy. Hence it becomes harder for the women to leave an unhappy marriage because the repercussions impact them more than men. They continue to stick around for the sake of their children, for saving the family’s reputation, and for the sake of society.
The traditional views characterised by ideas of sanctity and longevity associated with marriage, however unhappy and unequal it may be, get instilled in women right from a young age and this belief is further reinforced by seeing their mothers and other women in the family firmly holding on to their marriage.
Even if they decide to leave a marriage, they hardly get any emotional, physical or financial support required to initiate as well as go through the process. And once divorced, they begin to feel that divorce has done them harm, thanks to the stigma.
Loneliness, panic attacks, anxiety issues, and depression are only a few of the side effects of divorce let alone feeling motivated to get going and move forward in life.
When there are children involved
Divorces are also stigmatised because it affects children. Parents worry about how their children will react to a ‘broken home’ and how they would tackle the consequences.
While some agree on staying together for the sake of children, others call it quits. Deciding to stay together in a bad marriage just for the sake of children also comes with a flipside. Children get the wrong idea that by norm, all marriages are supposed to be equally unhappy and that they have to get along no matter what because that is what they get used to seeing around them. They grow up into adults with all these wrong perceptions.
Divorce does affect children and it is an inevitable part of the painful process. While it is natural for parents to be concerned, the relatives and the society play their part here as well. There is no dearth of unsolicited advice, opinions, suggestions, and ‘enlightenment’ from these sources who point out a plethora of instances in which people have screwed up their lives and that of their children on account of their decision to leave a marriage.
According to these ‘well-wishers’, children supposedly turn out to be anti-social, get low grades, inflict self-harm and exhibit psychological issues and violent behaviour, especially towards the opposite sex. Such is the extent of prejudice engraved in the minds of people that there is no end to the countless possibilities of how children might turn out to be if they come from a broken family.
For children, realising that their parents are in an unhappy marriage will be shocking and painful. But many children rebound faster getting back to their normal emotional track. They get accustomed to the new environment and grow up comfortable accepting the changes in their daily routine.
If the children are grown adults, it is essential to have frequent conversations with them regarding the new circumstances at home, the changing nature of the relationship between the parents and to make them understand how their future will be, while taking into account their temperament and their current state of mind, all this while holding on to them firmly.
This will help them to understand as well as accept the situation better while also ensuring their emotional security. It is important not to rush, not to cause panic, and not to make them anxious. It is okay to take time in dealing with situations that may arise unexpectedly like for instance, the sudden mood swings or tantrums of children when you rush to your workplace. It is important to keep calm and answer all their queries patiently.
Growing up in a tense, strained, and unhappy home surrounded by arguments, fights, abusive language and in worst cases, domestic violence, is a punishment in itself for children. It is unhealthy and impacts them negatively.
Children should be brought up in a happy and healthy environment that oozes positivity which benefits them in all ways possible, aiding not only in their physical growth but in their emotional and mental wellbeing as well. That is possible only when the people around them are happy and cordial with each other.
Therefore, before trying to condemn an instance of divorce as soon as you hear the word, all because you are genuinely concerned about the welfare of children, it is good to bring about a change in the perspective as it can be the other way around too.
This article in no way intends to promote or advocate divorce. However, it is better to walk away from a toxic and abusive marriage and raise the children in a healthy and productive environment rather than continuing to suffer and live in misery, allowing them to grow up witnessing the same.
The ‘religion’ factor
Fear of religion is another factor that is constantly invoked by self-appointed guardians of society. These self-labelled caretakers of the religion generally invoke fear in the minds of people by quoting religious scriptures and Hadiths by the Prophet. But what does religion actually say about divorce?
Islam doesn’t encourage divorce but allows it with specific conditions according to the laws set by Allah SWT. For whatever reason, if a marriage breaks beyond repair, a husband or wife is allowed to seek a divorce, the legal end of a marriage.
One must then abide by these laws for a peaceful and amicable separation. The religion has mandated to either ‘retain the wives in a fair manner or let them go in a fair manner’ and to not retain the marriage just to hurt or harm the spouse.
Divorce in Islam is a broad topic in itself. Divorces can happen and it is a difficult period not only for the couple but for the immediate and extended family as well. Praying to the Almighty and seeking help during the testing times is what one can do for relief.
We often see cheesy anniversary wishes exchanged between couples on social media, quotes about ‘growing old together’ and falling in love with the same person all over again.
But what happens when the couple is not able to grow old together? When the only thing that grows over the years is silent resentment and indifference? When the only option left for many is to contemplate a separation?
It is important to understand that a marriage doesn’t break overnight; it is a gradual erosion of emotions and intimacy extending over several years. It is neither the consequence of any one incident nor is it the fault of entirely one partner. For those trapped in a toxic or abusive marriage, it is better to face the fears and move on with life.
It is not wrong to take care of one’s own emotional well-being. Why are women still considered selfish if they choose to live the life they want? Isn’t it better to see women living happy, independent, content, and less stressed rather than stuck in a bad, loveless and unhappy marriage, trying to find reasons to live another day, again in misery?
It is high time we stop stigmatising divorce and normalise it. Women who make such tough choices deserve appreciation and support for standing up for themselves and choosing to breathe and not being shamed, taunted, and alienated from society.