Common Misconceptions About Divorce

July 7th 2016

Laura Donovan

Divorce is more common than it used to be. But people who separate or get divorced are still subjected to misconceptions and judgmental comments — especially if they're famous — ignoring the complexity of modern marriage and the reasons people end them.

The underlying message seems to be that love is only meaningful if it lasts forever. The reality is that love and divorce are a lot more complicated than that. Not all divorces end with couples hating each other, and some couples look back on what they had as successful, even if it didn't last forever as they may have hoped. And even when divorce is hard, it's worse when friends, family, and acquaintances pass judgment on the divorcing couple or view them as failures.

Take, for example, Elizabeth Gilbert, who penned the best-selling memoir "Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia" in 2006. She recently faced criticism after announcing on Facebook that she and her husband, José Nunes, were splitting up after more than 12 years as a couple.

Gilbert famously met Nunes in Bali at the end of her yearlong spiritual journey chronicled in "Eat, Pray, Love":

Because Nunes and Gilbert's relationship inspired a best-selling book and blockbuster film, the split has led some to question the existence of true love, as "happily ever after" is no longer in the cards for these two people for whom many fans rooted.

"What are the rest of us supposed to do now that romance is officially dead?!" quipped Elite Daily writer Kate Ryan.

Many Twitter users expressed a similar sentiment.

There was a similarly visceral reaction last year when romance writer Nicholas Sparks announced that he and his wife of 25 years were separating:

In the face of such negative reactions, a lot of couples have started celebrating the beginning and ending of their marriages, using the increasingly popular #divorceselfie hashtag.

Many of these photos show that just because things didn't work out doesn't mean the relationship wasn't significant:

Writer Corbin Lewars revealed in a 2010 blog post for that many people express "disbelief" when she says she still loves her ex-husband. Even though they are no longer together, she wrote, there is still a lot of love between them and always will be:

"People either assume that we're going to get back together or say it's weird to be as close to an ex as I am. We aren't going to get back together, but we will be in each other's lives forever because we have two kids together. And after loving and growing up with someone for 14 years, not to mention going through childbirth twice, the death of a mother, and many other life changing experiences, how could I close the door entirely on the relationship?"

This does not, however, mean divorce is a picnic for those in the middle of one.

Many people experience mixed emotions during their divorce, and research has suggested that it may be harder on women than men. It has also been shown to harm your physical and mental health, as well as have short-term (though not necessarily permanent) negative consequences for children.

Indeed, many people are unprepared for the "sense of loss" that divorce brings, mediator Abby Rosmarin told Good Housekeeping earlier this year:

"People are often surprised by the sense of loss, even if they are eager to start a new chapter. Change is often unsettling. At the very least, people go from married to divorced (although there are many steps in between), and that alters one's self-concept and how others relate to you."

Singer Gwen Stefani recently opened up to Harper's Bazaar about facing the same struggles following her divorce from Gavin Rossdale.

"It was so insane, because not only did my family break up, but then my kids are taken away, like, half the time, so that was really like, 'What?! What did I do?'" Stefani said.

That's why you should reserve judgment about people who are going through a divorce.

There is a great deal of shame surrounding divorce, perhaps due to the judgment from others that comes with it. Nearly 50 percent of divorced people reported facing "daily judgment from people because their marriage has failed," according to a 2014 study by law firm Slater and Gordon.

"We find that our divorce clients are often struggling to come to terms with the impact getting divorced has on them emotionally, as well as the impact on their children, on their finances, and on their future; so to try and navigate the complexities of the family law system at the same time can be overwhelming," Slater and Gordon family lawyer Sarah Thompson said in a statement.

Rising above the struggles and tension of divorce. 

Lisa Kaplan, a psychologist based in Chicago, wrote in a 2013 piece for YourTango that people can have a civil divorce by choosing not to "ruminate or obsess about what could have been":

"Don’t incessantly tell others how awful your ex is or how miserable you are. Instead, have faith that everything will be all right, tell yourself so frequently, and start doing things that bring joy into your life, not pain."

In 2011, writer Priscilla Gilman told The New York Times that while she "definitely experienced judgment" for her divorce and was told by many people that she should make her relationship work for the sake of her children, splitting with her husband ended up being the best decision for everyone involved. “In the end, I actually think it was a very positive thing we did for the kids,” she said.