by Sukhmeet Kaur
Do you ever think twice about sharing your relationship status, especially if you are divorced? Or avoid the thought of ending your marriage because of the repercussions? Divorce is the formal ending to a marriage. It is not just a relationship status update or a legal name change, divorce related stigma allows for one to experience shame and guilt for an extensive period. Not only is the actual end of a marriage difficult but also experiencing the stigma that comes with it. A UK based study (survey provided to 1,000 divorced people), found that although the most common reasons people stayed in an unhappy marriage were children/finances, 1 in 10 people worked on their marriage because of the stigma associated with being a divorcee.¹
It is common upon learning about a divorce that questions such as who will take the kids, how will financial assets be split, who was unfaithful, come to mind, and often times asked to those involved. From my personal experience, the focus doesn’t stop there, judgements on the approach taken to end a marriage, the criticism of not seeing red flags earlier, the appropriate amount of time to heal from, and move on from, the change in options you have in life now that you are divorced, continue. Due to this ‘curiosity’ by others, one going through a divorce is then forced to think of a narrative to tell others to avoid perceptions of blame.
The degree and impact of divorce related stigma varies by gender, age, geographical location, culture, and religion. Women were found to be twice as likely as men to feel shame after a divorce.¹ A study around divorce related stigma in young adult women (ages 23-32), identified 5 categories pertaining to divorce and stigma: (a) Self-stigma versus public stigma, (b) Failure, embarrassment, and perceptions of blame, (c) Religion and stigma, (d) Nondisclosure and impression management Contextual considerations: “it would have been different if.”² Understanding and acknowledging the impact of divorce is essential as it has the potential of having massive impact for extended periods of time. There are steps that everyone can take to help break this stigma that still exists.
It is natural to be curious about someone else’s life, but please be mindful to not add to the stigma on divorce. Accept that when you are engaging with someone going through a divorce, they are amidst a grieving of their marriage and their intended future. If you are not sure, ask whether they need someone to just listen to them, or if they want advice, and respect their choice. If you are going through a divorce yourself, learn to set boundaries and know that this decision to end a marriage does not define you or impact your self- worth.
1. Doughty Steve (2014) How Divorce Still Carries a Stigma in the 21st Century: Half of Couples Who Split Say They Feel a Sense of Shame and Failure. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2589429/How-divorce-carries-stigma-21st-century-Half-couples-split-say-feel-sense-shame-failure.html
2. Varda Konstam, Samantha Karwin, Teyana Curran, Meaghan Lyons & Selda Celen-Demirtas (2016) Stigma and Divorce: A Relevant Lens for Emerging and Young Adult Women?, journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 57:3, 173-194, DOI: 10.1080/10502556.2016.1150149