On divorce and the “you just didn’t try hard enough” myth

Guest post by Rachael
Divorce sucks greeting card from Etsy seller glamourGreets.
Divorce sucks greeting card from Etsy seller glamourGreets.

The reasons for my divorce are complicated and their own story, one that is between my ex-partner and myself. The Cliff Notes are that for a myriad of reasons, not being together as a couple anymore was the best decision for our family. There were issues on both sides, no one is to blame, and we had A LOT of very important, mature conversations that, frankly, should have happened long before a wedding. A few weeks after my ex moved out, our three-and-a-half-year-old kid looked at us and said, “Thank you for not fighting anymore.” I think that explains enough.

What I feel the need to write about are the reactions. I didn’t know what to expect from friends and family (and, as I was soon to find out, strangers). I had kept many of my relationship “issues” away from family — not wanting to harm our image as a couple should we work things out — so it came as a surprise to some of them. Though, for the most part, family and friends (especially) have been supportive, there is a certain rhetoric around divorce that really started to bother me.

“Marriage is hard. You just need to try more.”

I understand where this statement comes from. We live in a culture of seventy-two day marriages, marriages for money, marriages for fame. There is this idea that marriage isn’t taken “seriously” anymore, or that committed relationships in general aren’t taken seriously anymore. However, the “marriage is hard” argument has become overused, and when dealing with someone who has tried and tried and realizes that their family is heading down a dark path and divorce is the only way out, a very hurtful and damaging statement.

Marriage IS hard. It’s hard living with someone, communicating with someone, making your needs and desires known, sharing a life — talking about finances, the “boring, adult” stuff. All of that is hard. And marriage takes compromise. It takes each person waking up every morning and choosing to make the relationship work.

However, compromise is different than sacrifice. What I found myself doing was sacrificing fundamental parts of myself to try and make the relationship work. I don’t blame my ex for this, I did that to myself. But I somehow had lost myself in an effort to do the “right thing,” and all it did was hurt my partner and my son. And “hard” is different than “difficult” or a “constant uphill battle.” Yes, there will be arguments and disagreements, but every day shouldn’t be a battle. Every day shouldn’t feel like either walking on eggshells or trudging through a foot of mud.

Had I realized that earlier, I would have saved us both a lot of pain.

When I first started telling people about the divorce, a lot of response I got was that “choosing love” idea. But it takes two people for a relationship to work. It takes trust, communication, openness, and honesty — things my ex and I had lost or never had.

Divorce is an incredibly personal, difficult decision. And what it comes down to is that no one, but the people in it, knows the dynamics of the relationship. When we first made the decision, I had my week of crying, of freaking out, of feeling lost. But then I gathered myself up and started working towards making the best life I can for myself and my kid. Many people took my pragmatic, positive attitude as either not caring or the divorce being solely my decision. I know there are a lot of people out there who are disappointed in me. But if I’ve learned anything from becoming a mother, and now going through a divorce, it’s that I can’t control how other people act or what they say, but I can control how I react and how those things make me feel.

I’m learning that it’s okay for me to do what I know is best for my family, despite what others think. It all goes back to that old metaphor about putting on your own oxygen mask first. I don’t think that’s selfish. If I am going to be a good mom (and eventually a good partner again), I need to make sure I’m taking care of myself, too — that includes physical, emotional, and intellectual needs.

I know I’ll hold a stigma — maybe only for a little while, maybe forever — but I have learned more about myself, love, and relationships over the past four years than I ever have in my life. For that I am thankful.

And I know that if a friend ever comes to me in the same situation, I won’t fall back on “marriage is hard,” or “well, did you try?” or “love is a choice.” Instead, I’ll offer support. I’ll be someone to listen. I’ll help with a new budget, or childcare, or going out for drinks — whatever that person needs. The best response I ever heard was, “I’m sorry this happened to you. What can I do to be supportive?”

Comments on On divorce and the “you just didn’t try hard enough” myth

  1. I’m 5 weeks into ending my marriage, and so grateful to see this topic addressed on my favourite safe place on the web – we can read the comments here! Thank you to the author 🙂

  2. I am not divorced, but I am someone who has been a part of relationships that failed. Much of what was discussed in this article I can relate to. Once you make that difficult change and acknowledge yourself in the process, there is joy and happiness around the corner. I am still grieving not having the family I wanted and in that I’m learning to love, accept and celebrate the family I have.

  3. ‘Try harder”? Total bullshit.
    It depends on how to conceive life, of course. But for me, life is a meaningless gift, and our only interest should be being happy by any means. I believe in selfishness in a big proportion. A husband that no longer satisfies you should be thrown away with absolutely no regrets, offence or questioning. Some people are more vulnerablle to society’s pushings, and tend to lecture others about their lives. I think they’re envious. If you’re writting this, you don’t believe so hard enought darling 😉

    • You bring up a really interesting point — I think some of the push back I get is from women who wish they had left their husbands, but never did. Also, one of my biggest supports has been my mom. She divorced my stepdad after 23 years and she constantly tells me how brave and smart I am for getting out early, when I saw that this wasn’t going to work out. I do think there is a certain amount of envy other people feel in the “freedom” of what I’ve done, of making a decision I felt was best for myself and my son. And, ideologically, I’m a much bigger bad-ass in my head. I need to work on holding my ground when confronted. As a friend told me recently, “Just act as happy as you are. It’s hard for people to be assholes when you have sunshine coming out of your ass.”

  4. Thank you for sharing your story.
    “I’m sorry this happened to you. What can I do to be supportive?” << This phrase works so beautifully in so many situations.
    I am a firm believer that relationships are between the two people in them and the choice to begin, grow or end them is personal and not up for public debate. It so hugely arrogant for people to offer judgmental comments and "side eyes" when things don't work the way they thought they would/should. As someone who had large doubts about continuing an engagement, I appreciate this post that highlights the hurt that intrusive and ignorant comments can have.

  5. Thank you so much for this! I amin a relationship where I am so unhappy, and I can feel he is too. I want to bring up the dreaded d word but he’s been through that before, and we have young children. The whole thing makes me nervous, but I feel like I should have seen all these concerns before our wedding day anyway… your take on divorce is so refreshing and I hope I can get myself to that point too.

  6. In case this thread is still open… This article was great. One thing I would add is that I hate it when people say the divorce was both of our fault. My ex-husband was verbally, emotionally, and mentally abusive. I tried hard to make it work with prayer, trying to get him to start going back to church with us, counseling, etc. But in the end, his behavior worsened. He exhibits traits of narcissistic personality disorder and made the divorce process an expensive, drawn out hell. But people tell me not to blame him; to identify my role in the mess; see how the divorce and discord is half my fault. The guardian ad litem in our divorce case said we both contributed to the high-conflict divorce because I wouldn’t just give him what he wanted. He said that if I gave him what he wanted, there would be peace, and that in divorces, both parents are bad if they can’t agree with each other. He ignored the bullying, controlling behavior of my Ex and actually encouraged me to just give in – in order to end the divorce case sooner. In the end, I’m glad I stood up for myself and my children. And my Ex is still acting a fool. But his behavior during and after the marriage was NOT my fault. The divorce was NOT my fault. His abuse was NOT my fault. It’s amazing how parents are good when married, but bad if divorced. I hate this stigma and the assumptions/judgments.

  7. My parents split when I was 6, and I don’t have many memories of their marriage. I remember things that happened during their marriage, but they’re snapshots of my life, not theirs. However, if their marriage was anything like their divorce, I am eternally grateful that they divorced before we were old enough to be paying attention. It was bad enough that I had to suffer observing my dad’s volatile second marriage – in my opinion, with information that I didn’t have until his second wife was dead, they had no business ever being married. At least I didn’t have to spend every day with them, and I wasn’t as invested in their relationship as I might have been if it were both of my parents.

    I believe that marriage is work and that love is a choice, but I also believe that people enter into a marriage with baggage, and usually acquire more as they go – and some people just can’t handle the baggage. Eventually, the effort of handling their partner’s baggage is in conflict with their self-care, and at that point, it’s not quitting to say that the partnership is not working. I would rather admit to my limitations than suffer, because I have seen the consequences of the alternative.

  8. I honestly feel that if you want to question someone’s relationship… do it before they are married. A friend of mine was getting married and a few of us spoke to both of them WAY before a date had even been set, just to say ‘are you sure, and either way I am here for you’.

    I don’t think I would do this if someone was getting divorced, because that is such a difficult decision, and an unhappy one (even if it is the best solution and they are unhappy). If someone wants to talk to you, they can reach out, or they have probably already talked to someone else. Weddings are often joyous occasions, and it’s easy to say yes (I have said yes several times, but only married once). When my other two engagements didn’t work out, there were a lot of snarky comments from people who didn’t approach me or talk to me at the time of the break up. That hurt, but haters gonna hate and all that.

  9. “not being together as a couple anymore was the best decision for our family” given once that there already was a family. But the best decision ever for your family would have been to not become one in the first place and, below, I show that you have ended up saying exactly that yourself
    “no one is to blame, and we had A LOT of very important, mature conversations that, frankly, should have happened long before a wedding. ” Given that conversations should have happened long before a wedding, both of you are to blame for not having those conversations! Even if every other married couple on earth duplicates the mistake.
    “It takes *** things my ex and I had lost or never had. ” This just returns the discussion to what was just said: if certain necessary ingredients were never there the marriage should never have taken place- for the sake of your child!
    “Marriage is hard *** It’s hard living with someone, communicating with someone, making your needs and desires known, sharing a life — talking about finances, the “boring, adult” stuff. All of that is hard. And marriage takes compromise” I think none of that can be generalized and that there are couples for whom it is never true: I never, in decades observing my parents, saw even one of those problems in my parents’ marriage. They were in love and I cannot recall ever seeing them argue. They respected each other; held all their money jointly and deferred to each other’s skills. I have seen the same in many other marriages. If you think I did not look well enough it may just as easily be that most people see what they want to see when reflecting upon bad outcomes.
    You end up saying it yourself: “Had I realized that earlier, I would have saved us both a lot of pain.”
    So, why did you and so many people deem it perfectly ok to not realize things before they make these big mistakes in life? One of those who had pain was your child who never had any say in any of it. How is that ok! You not merely entered into a marriage that was a mistake by not bothering to make sure you knew certain things and by not choosing quite simply to not get married; but you selected each other to be the only natural mother and father your child will ever have. By necessary implication you deemed each other fully fit in every possible way to be that parent. How would any person be worse off now if both of you chose to just not get married? You would not need to get divorced.

  10. I was never married but lived with the father of my kid’s since I got pregnant with my first child. I compromised all of me to try and make it work, when I read others comments about lack of boundaries, that too was me. I feel like a divorced person even though I was never married. I don’t want people to say that they are sorry this happened. I am not sorry. I am sorry that I didn’t keep my gut feeling saying I shouldn’t have moved in together when I first got pregnant, but I wasn’t ready then. I did try, but it takes two in a relationship. I am happy to say that in the few months we have been a part the kids are doing so much better. My daycare has commented on my kids improving their language skills and my eldest improving his social skills, they have become more creative. I know some people don’t agree with my decision but every day I am living without him is a day I don’t feel like I’m in a lonely relationship anymore! I think people should be congratulating divorced people on not settling for a life that doesn’t work for them and opening the door for the endless possiblitzes of a fresh start. Congratulations to all of you for having the balls to stand up for yourself! You all are awesome.

Read more comments

Join the Conversation