They imagine two families pitted against each other and helpless, faultless children caught in a tug-of-war between their feuding parents. Indeed, neuropsychologists and linguists have conducted research that demonstrates that just as candy floss and ice cream are words that are universally regarded as positive, ‘divorce’ is a word with overwhelmingly negative connotations. They hypothesise that this is because candy floss and ice cream are words that relate to experiences that are almost never negative; those that consume them report their positive experiences to others, in whom the association between those two foods and a positive experience is then reinforced. In the same vein, those that undergo a particularly conflict-ridden and acrimonious divorce generally relate their experiences to all and sundry, thereby perpetuating the negative connotation attached to the term.
However, not all divorces are unpleasant experiences. For several couples, the process is a hassle-free, mutually conducted, albeit necessary endeavour that leaves both parties to the relationship happier. Sceptical? Read the following case studies about couples that experienced ‘good divorces’ before passing judgement on whether a ‘good divorce’ is even possible.
Karen and John were married at the ages of seventeen and twenty, respectively, after their teenage romance resulted in Karen’s becoming pregnant. Their Christian upbringing precluded terminating the pregnancy, and also required them to wed before bringing a child into the world. Karen gave birth to a healthy baby girl, John found gainful employment as a mechanic at the local garage, and they seemed to epitomise a content, middle-class couple.
Matters took a bit of a turn for the worse when John was laid off from his job for no fault of his own; the chain of garages he worked for was acquired by a competitor and they decided to make fifty percent of the staff at his workplace redundant. He sank into a melancholy state, and Karen noticed that he became more moody, started drinking more and seemed unwilling to look for another job. She tried to refer him to a counsellor (they couldn’t afford a psychiatrist as their health insurance lapsed one month after John’s being let go), but he flew into an inexplicable rage every time she mentioned the idea. They soon began to live off their savings, and John’s behaviour began to become increasingly erratic.
Karen later recalled that the ‘tipping point’ for her was when John returned from the pub one evening, clearly inebriated, and proceeded to lose his temper on the front lawn, in full view of the neighbours and, embarrassingly, her parents, who lived across the street. He used some exceedingly abusive language directed toward her, blamed her for all his troubles and even threatened to use violent force against her if she did not do as he asked. Fearing for her life, she took her infant daughter and sought refuge in her parents’ house. After repeated entreaties to John to seek professional help for his obvious alcohol dependency and anger management problems failed, Karen filed for divorce.
Two months later, she was a changed woman. She later realised that the stress of dealing with John’s erratic and unstable behaviour had not only resulted in her ageing prematurely but also impaired her ability to care for her daughter. The divorce was granted, and Karen found that with her parents’ help, she now had enough spare time to return to university and work towards her degree. She found that she was happier than she had been in years. As for John, he finally sought the counselling and psychiatric help he so desperately needed. After taking medication for his low self-worth and mild depression, he enrolled in Alcoholics Anonymous and soon found another, higher-paying job. He later realised that he had been harbouring a lot of latent resentment towards his ex-wife; he subconsciously ‘blamed’ her for getting pregnant and his then having to rush into a marriage that he was clearly unprepared for. He had done his best to be a father, but was unable to deal with the first major hurdle that life placed in his path. He was granted visitation rights by the court, and is a regular guest at his ex-wife’s home. Both parties to the divorce unequivocally agree that the divorce was the ‘best’ thing that could have happened to them; it made them both happier and improved the quality of their lives.
Several other couples have also reported ‘good’ divorces. Those that had arranged marriages only to find later that they were fundamentally incompatible, one couple in which the man was forced to marry by his conservative family unwilling to accept his being homosexual and another case in which the couple found that they were unable to cohabit without fighting; they were, however, perfectly happy remaining friends after their divorce and maintaining their intimate relationship.
Thus, it is clear that not all divorces are the messy, unpleasant, angst-ridden separations depicted in the media; many couples do, in fact, experience ‘good divorces’ and live far more fulfilling, happier lives as a result.