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How to Cope With Divorce Stigma


We might be currently living in the 21st century and no one is forced to wear a scarlet letter, but for many divorced spouses, living with the after-effects of a divorce can still feel shameful. Surprisingly, even in today’s world of staggering divorce statistics, as many as 1 in 10 divorced spouses state that they remained in an unhappy marriage even when they knew their relationship was over just to avoid the stigma of divorce. When an individual divorces for the second time, they face even greater feelings of chagrin and perceived stigma.

Marriage is an investment in the future, with emotions, finances, family, and home all entwined into one commitment. When plans for the future fall through for whatever the cause, feelings of failure and embarrassment can become overwhelming. So, how do divorcing individuals cope with the distress of divorce stigma?

When Is a Divorce the Right Decision?

There are many reasons to divorce. In the past, most states had a fault-based divorce system requiring spouses to cite a reason for the dissolution of the marriage, such as a cheating spouse, cruelty, or abandonment. In today’s world, the overwhelming majority of states have adopted a no-fault divorce system that only requires spouses to claim “irreconcilable differences” or a marriage that is “irretrievably broken.” While some find this a sign of the shredding of the country’s moral fiber, the fact is that an irretrievably broken marriage has always been the true reason for divorce, even if it manifests in adultery or abandonment.

According to relationship experts, divorce may be the right decision when:

  • You’re living in a loveless partnership
  • You’ve been unhappy for a long period of time
  • Trust is gone
  • You’ve grown apart and no longer feel like partners
  • If you’ve been the victim of spousal abuse
  • If your relationship with your spouse is a source of depression or anxiety instead of joy and love

Only you know what happens within your own marriage, but when a relationship devolves to the point that you must end it in order to save your own physical or emotional well-being, then divorce is the right decision and not one that should cause shame or the perception of stigma.

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Dealing With Divorce Stigma

Some people feel free, energized, and optimistic after a divorce, but others may be plagued with feelings of failure and shame that they then perceive to be the way others see them. While it’s true that a minority of people in your life may not be able to leave their judgments and preconceptions about your divorce behind, the overwhelming majority of people report that they find it brave when a friend, family member, or acquaintance files for divorce and chooses to begin a fresh new life. 

If you feel like you’re dealing with divorce stigma, ask yourself if you might be applying your own feelings about the divorce to others who may actually be very supportive of your decision and might even admire your bravery.

Relationship experts recommend that those who feel stigmatized by divorce do the following:

  • Focus on making it a time for positive change
  • Take the opportunity to make a fresh start
  • Think of your divorce as a beginning instead of an ending
  • Channel your new freedom into furthering your career, education, physical fitness, travel, making new friends, reconnecting with old friends, learning a new language, or taking up a new hobby
  • Join a support group for the newly divorced
  • Treat yourself to a solo vacation to a destination you’ve always dreamed of

By looking ahead to a time when you’ll have new self-confidence, a new sense of independence, and individual achievement you can be proud of, you can see yourself as the hero/heroine of your own story and turn stigma into esteem. If you have any questions about your divorce or need advice, set up a consultation today!

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