Divorce Wars

No, not talking about the latest celebrity scandal. No, not talking about chaos in the courtroom. Not talking about the ongoing legal scrapping and spillage that takes place between ex-spouses.

Sometimes for years.

I’m talking about men and women who categorize, who point fingers at the opposite sex and damn them as a group, who see them as incapable of holding up their end of the matrimonial bargain.

I’m talking about women who take each other to task (at times ruthlessly) over their handling of marriage, separation, divorce, and whatever comes after.

I’m talking about assumptions. Poor assumptions.

Yes, I’m generalizing (and thus categorizing, despite a distaste for doing just that). And yes, I’m talking about the divisiveness that keeps us from dealing with real issues. The blame game that acts as a distraction, as a means for deflecting accountability, as a coping mechanism and even a habit.

Does the blindness that results help us justify our own choices, shield ourselves from criticism, or to maintain our cobbled together sense of self in the face of crumbling relationships? Wouldn’t it be preferable if we spoke more openly about those relationships – shored them up before they tumbled, or at least gave it a shot?

Men and Women; Live and Learn

I write about men and women because it fascinates me. I write about relationships because I believe they are fundamentally important; relationships grow into family, and family is a jewel to be treasured for many of us, though we may come late to that realization.

I write these words knowing that family can also be toxic, that no one can walk in another’s shoes, that the reasons for our actions are often private and far more complex than they appear at the surface. That there are triggers which even we may not fully understand.

If I write a fair amount at times about marriage and divorce; it is a function of what I read, what I discuss with friends, what is going on in their lives (and my own) – at times wonderful, at others, problematic. I hash out my own emerging awareness on these virtual pages, in these participatory conversations.

I see through your eyes.

I learn through this process.

Older, Wiser – One Woman’s Viewpoint

As a divorced woman, an older mother, an adult child of divorce, a woman who has lived in more than one culture, who has pursued more than one career – I have my own history and my own present. I bring both to my daily living, to my viewpoint colored by victories, by failures, and the expansive gray area that stretches between.

My reflections also include the experiences of other men and women I have known.

When it comes to divorce, life may reset itself in ways that are respectful and manageable once the dust settles. Not without collateral damage of some sort mind you – but manageable, nonetheless.

When it comes to divorce, animosity may also spiral out of control; we salvage what we can and refashion our lives as best we can.

What surprises me through all this discussion is the judgmental stance of women; that isn’t to say that men aren’t judgmental but they do seem to be less so. Are they busier doing rather than dissecting? Are women more eager to pin blame on another, possibly to stem the spread of the “contagion” of divorce, or to insulate themselves from any likelihood that it will happen to them? Is this purely an impression, a matter of self-selection of voices and sources? What of the attempts to be upbeat following divorce – the positive positioning of its outcome, no matter what?

Never Assume

I share the desire to paint an uplifting future; we all need hope to dig ourselves out of desolation.

But I also believe in pragmatism, which includes recognizing our role in what went wrong, taking action to genuinely change, making better choices when we can, and dealing with the reality of our experiences. And the reality of others.

I consider it ridiculous to assume anything about another couple’s marital experience – or divorce experience – and the role of each in its dynamics.

I read women who place blame on other women for not being chipper enough – and then say that attitude is all-important, and that if attitude were improved, then all (good) things would follow.

I would debate that point – and suggest that many variables come into play: medical issues, age, where you live, family and other support systems, financial status, health of your kids, job situation, “ex” situation. And none of this is static; it’s all subject to change. And a bit of luck.

I read women who depict post-divorce life as a breath of fresh air, as a renewal of freedom, as better than life previously. We who process their words cannot know the extent to which this is a choice to emphasize the positive (rather than treading in the quicksand), or an overwhelming reality after unbearable disappointment.

Independence, Dependence, Romance Revisited

I might add that one or two years out from separation or divorce you feel very differently than five years out or eight years out, and I daresay that the 30-year old divorcée is in a different position from the 50-year old or 60-year old. You may indeed find that you are content, that you are enough. Or with time, you may want something more.

Another chance. A different sort of chance.

So why do we try to find a one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to marriage and divorce? Without knowing the circumstances, who are we to judge? As women, shouldn’t we be supporting each other through our discoveries as well as our dramas?

I love being a woman; I love sharing life with a man. It’s easier in some ways to be on my own. It’s easier in others when I am part of a couple.

I also recognize the particular emotional and societal challenges for men in our murky, mixed-up millennial culture. But I will say that I don’t see the men tearing into each other with accusatory rhetoric, waving their wagging fingers, or judging as a matter of course – when it comes to issues that warrant compassion and an open mind.

© D A Wolf



  1. says

    Wow. What a powerful, thought-provoking piece. I agree with you completely, I think men are–generally–far less judgmental of other men’s life choices. Women are way too critical of each other. And I think the current divorce backlash ripping through the zeitgeist is shaming and destructive. I do believe many women (and men) go onto more fulfilling futures post-divorce, but that transition irrevocably changes one’s life narrative and the narrative of one’s children. As toxic and untenable as my marriage was, I have wrenching sorrow for the effects on my children, the extent of which I can’t know and won’t know for some time. I think in some ways, aspects of my ex’s and my post-divorce life may benefit my daughter, but I think my son has been impacted in a more negative way. Very hard to come to terms with that.

    The world is more complicated and scary than it was 20-30 years ago when divorce was perhaps more “accepted”…perhaps why there is more judgment and discomfort around the whole topic now.

  2. Kim says

    I’m living a version of this now (being judged :)). In my experience, women are more judgmental. And I believe it is because they are scared and insecure. A feeling that somehow your choices are shining a spotlight on the choices that they have made, good or bad. Judging someone is the quickest way to create distance when you don’t feel comfortable in your own life.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Nice to have your input, Kim, and welcome. Perhaps we’re all more judgmental when we feel threatened. Divorce (and its aftermath) certainly shakes things up, and yes – creates distance.

      I think changing financial circumstances for some of us also causes a period of adjustment – making others uncomfortable. We may no longer have the funds to participate in what were previously routine activities involving adults and kids. Hard on us, hard on the kids (certainly); uncomfortable on the friends.

      But what about the strangers who are so ready to point a finger and blame? Any thoughts on that?

  3. Kim says

    To your question regarding strangers, I just don’t know. I was in a situation once where my 11 mth old cried an entire flight (2 hrs). I checked his ears, rocked him, fed him, everything, but what it came down to was the fact that the schedule messed up his nap time and he was just mad and tired and letting me know it. At some point, I just decided to listen to music as he was sitting next to me. I had run out of options. When I got off the plane, a woman came up to me, gave me a nasty look and said “I can’t believe you let your child cry” (like I could stop him) and told me she would “pray for me” because I was a horrible mom. Fortunately I had the presence of mind and confidence in my mothering skills to just say “thank you. I need all the prayers I can get.” She was just mean and acting superior or maybe helpful in her mind. I don’t know. My point is well-intentioned or not, judging people is mean and people justify it all kinds of ways.

  4. says

    I think there is a danger in being a spin doctor of our own lives. When I don’t share the frustrations, when I don’t show the chinks in my armor, I feel more isolated and alone. Positivity by itself scares me.
    As do pointing fingers. Our personal experiences are so particular. Compassion seems to me the only way to see a larger picture.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      That’s a great way to put it, Kate. Spin Doctor. And it’s become all so easy on the Internet – to create “variations” of ourselves. To tweak credentials, or invent them. We’re all in so much of a hurry, we don’t think to check – and do we really know who we’re talking to?

      We need to apply a certain amount of gut-check, common sense, and due diligence in those we trust, those we share with, what we say. Those pointing the fingers may be doing so for the fun of it, or to rile things up, or for other reasons we may not know.

  5. says

    Well, I am one of those that is part of the ‘divorce backlash.’ I am a marriage advocate. When people hear my views on divorce they often judge me by assuming I am judging them because of my beliefs. The people who come to my forums have a good chance of ending up divorced—their spouses have either filed, left or are threatening to file. I don’t know the circumstances of an individual’s divorce, but I do know that many people who are divorced are not that way by their choice. One statistic I read stated that 80% of divorces are unilateral—where one person does not want a divorce. I’m not going to judge them. And it’s not my job to judge the party who wanted the divorce either. I do make assumptions when I work with people—right or wrong I am human and assumptions are normal. But my assumptions are based on information they give, though I only see one side of the pancake.

    I make an effort to not make assumptions without information. Instead I have questions and I don’t automatically assume a person’s divorce was necessary just because that is how they feel. Another statistic—for which I’d love to find the primary source—says that 30% of individuals and 10% of couples would be interested in reconciliation counseling if it were made available. That seems odd since it is available—they just have to call a counselor. But I guess people want the courts to do it for them or maybe they want it to be required by the courts—I don’t know. Another commonly cited statistic is that of unhappily married couples who remain married, two thirds rated their marriages as happy married 5 years later; marriage has ups and downs.

    I think a lot of divorces are unnecessary and the marriages could have been salvaged. That doesn’t mean I think any specific couple’s divorce was unnecessary. Almost every rule has its exceptions. But with marriage and divorce it sometimes feels that the exceptions have become the rule.
    When my husband filed for divorce I legally had no leverage to stop him. And because we didn’t have children other people did not value my marriage as much as they would other marriages. They just told me I was lucky we didn’t have kids—something that I understood intellectually and yet it was not a comfort. The only power I had was the power if influence and fortunately it was enough in my situation.

    I do believe in divorce reform. I think it needs to be gradual—in part because it may not be accepted otherwise. I wish there were safety nets made available when a couple goes to file. Yes, they could have got off their butts and gone to marriage counseling before then, but most don’t and if they can still go at the court’s urging, then it still may prevent a divorce.
    I think there should be waiting periods. Some states have them and others have none or periods that are so short as to be ineffective. And I’ve read that changes in how custody is granted may make a difference. Shared custody may lower divorce because women often file because they are confident they will receive full custody. I’m not sure how I feel about that one though. It seems as though it would be disruptive for a child to live half a week at one house and half a week at another, but I don’t know enough about how it would be set up.

    People make assumptions on both sides. Here’s one: Someone who files for divorce has thought it through and they don’t come to that decision lightly.
    That may be commonly true, but it is in no way universally true. My husband didn’t think it through. I deal with cases of infidelity and I find that many infidels who file do not ‘think it through.’ They are in selfish mode and not concerned of the impact on their children—who they believe only want Mom or Dad to be happy and they are resilient, so the damage will be minimal. And many are being pressured by their affair partner.
    I recently read a great article written by a woman who says that after 7 years she is just now starting to have regrets—even though she thought it through. “It wasn’t a decision made lightly, but I had no idea of the true complexity of unravelling a life that had been led in tandem with someone else for more than 20 years.”
    Here’s the link to the article.
    So many people think they are the case where divorce was necessary. But everyone can’t be the exception.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Thank you for this thoughtful response, RollerCoasterRider. Much to dissect and discuss – including many of the assumptions that you yourself bring up, as well as the distinction to be made between what is statistically convincing, what is commonly true, and what is not “universally” true.

      Personally, I can’t speak to the stats you quote, though it seems logical that most divorces are unilateral at some point in time, or the divorce wouldn’t take place. One partner may wish to work on things; the other attends a few counseling sessions by way of going through the motions, and legal proceedings continue through to divorce. I wonder how many marriages could be “saved” if we felt less pressure to marry in the first place?

      Like you, I am generally in favor of Divorce Reform, though to my mind, it depends upon what provisions of that reform you’re talking about. A spouse who is determined to leave, even in the proverbial “low conflict” scenarios, will leave. One way or another. (My opinion.) I think Divorce Reform must also involve greater consistency across the states, some way to remove the incentives for attorneys to drag clients through procedures that are pointless (caps on what they can make from a single divorcing client?), not to mention close loopholes in “standard language” to do with support, custody, visitation, etc. And so much more.

      I agree that those who divorce and don’t have children are often left (emotionally) swinging in the wind; their pain is no less, though what may differ is the extent to which their finances are crippled for years to come, for both parties. (Note – I said may differ.)

      I hope you stop by again. And I hope others continue the lines of conversation you have opened up here.

  6. says

    Lot’s to consider here, in the post and the comments. Recently someone shared a piece about divorce that I thought wise and worth reading (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/on-faith/post/divorce-is-a-death/2011/06/01/AGGqZEGH_blog.html), and it also made me realize that the journey of individuation is arduous and at times lonely, and that we either face that or we don’t, and that can happen in or out of a marriage. Sometimes I wonder if the journey of becoming our own true selves gets confabulated with, and at times becomes destructive to, our primary relationships with others.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Thank you for the link, Bruce.

      Ironically, I think death is easier to deal with than divorce – for some of us. With death, in some instances, you may still have open issues, but the actions of the other player have ceased. In divorce, not only are the repercussions felt long afterward, but frequently “grieving” becomes irrelevant – or at least – shares the stage with constant guerrilla warfare or emotional challenges precisely because the ex-spouse is still very much alive.

  7. says

    So much to chew on here. Yes, men are less judgmental of men than women are of women. It’s not just divorce. I think this starts very early.

    I wish it were harder to get married, a lot harder. You should have to pass a test, like the football test in Diner.

    I wish lawyers could be completely removed from divorce. We’d do better to make it a medical procedure, like drug rehab — you go to a clinic — and have a court ratify the result.

  8. Zoe says

    Unfortunately, not even counseling can save a marriage if the other person is determined to leave. We saw 3 counselors and the last one told us that there was nothing wrong in our marriage that we couldn’t fix. Well, 6 months later after 2 kids and 10 years, we were divorced and 2 weeks later he married her. I do feel that for second marriages there should be a waiting period of at least 1 year. The rate of second divorces is 60% and it is because too many think the grass is greener on the other side and rush into it.

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