Divorce was basically a four-letter word in the home I grew up in. It was something that simply wasn’t done. When people got married it was a covenant with God and that shouldn’t/couldn’t be broken. It might be the most important decision a person could make, with maybe the exception of becoming a Christian in the first place. Ironically, despite the absolute and life-long importance of this decision, many people get married in their early 20’s when they have very limited life experience.
Think of it this way. For convenience sake, let’s say that adulthood starts at the age of 18. Realistically, the human brain (on average) isn’t done developing until the age of 25. In fact, the part of the brain that takes the longest to develop is the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that is of primary importance in making rational decisions, responding to situations with good judgment, and understanding long-term consequences. Also, adulthood isn’t binary, you aren’t either an adult or not an adult, it is more of a spectrum as our brains develop and we acquire life experiences.
Anyway, let’s go with 18 for the hell of it for adulthood and let’s say we will live to be 80 years old. The median age for a first marriage is 27.4 years for women and 29.5 years for men… let’s keep that at 28 years for convenience sake. Oddly, research shows that the best age to get married if you don’t want to divorce within the first five years is 28-32, so maybe this is a weird market equilibrium.
So, remembering that an average means that half the people are younger than 28 we are still gonna roll with that. These numbers mean that people are marrying after being an adult for 10 years and having a fully developed brain for 3 years, or 16% of their adult life and 5% of their fully developed brain life. That means they are committing to one person (unless they have a more relaxed view of divorce) while only experiencing a very small portion of their lives. To enter into that type of very important commitment without a way to change course when we each inevitably change seems foolish.
Sidenote: One of the most interesting concepts that is common throughout sci-fi is how relationships start to change with longeviety. In some sci-fi stories marriages are contracts that last a specific number of years and many relationships are considerably more open to new sexual and romantic partners. I just find that interesting and see value in our society moving in that direction. There would surely be fewer divorces if marriage expired and/or it was common to allow more diversity within the marriage.
Now, I’m not saying people shouldn’t get married young if they want to. Get married, have babies, do what makes you happy, but don’t put your head in the sand. Love feels awesome, each of us feels like a special flower immune to relationship-ending struggles or personal growth and changes that pull us apart. Life feels like a Disney movie when you are with someone you love, but that isn’t reality and we should face our future problems head-on, and that means talking about divorce in very real terms before marriage and throughout the marriage. Open, rational communication is key, particularly when it comes to important subjects like marriage, divorce, sex, finances, and all the troubles or desires that come with them.
What if one of you ends up $1,000,000 in debt? Talk about it before it happens.
What if one of you discovers that you have a major kink or are bisexual or fall in love with a co-worker? Talk about it before it happens.
What if one of you comes down with a gambling addiction? Talk about it before it happens.
What if one of you is in an accident and can’t work or walk or take care of themselves? Talk about it before it happens.
What happens if one of you is in a coma on life support indefinitely and will likely be brain dead for the rest of their life? Talk about it before it happens.
What if one of you no longer believes the religion that brought you together? Talk about it before it happens.
What is cheating specifically defined as (flirting, kissing, something else) and is it an extinction level event? Talk about before it happens.
And in what conditions would divorce be the best option? Talk about it before it happens.
Personally, I don’t think divorce should be viewed as negatively as it is. People can be great parents and friends while divorced. Removing the romantic and/or sexual component of a relationship can allow you to see the person more clearly and can strengthing the relationship while giving you both more freedom. Divorce can eliminate hostility and resentment, and it can save a friendship. I have several friends who have gotten divorced. The process varied from cordial to hostile but one thing they all have in common is that they are better off now than they were in the relationship. They are happier, have found new partners, and have been able to stay true to themselves instead of shaping themselves to appease someone else.
But, if someone has a religious or spiritual or ethical objection to divorce then they should be more cautious and take their time analyzing and possibly waiting longer before marriage. If, for example, when I took out a loan for my house I was told that I absolutely could not sell it or pay it off early, basically that I was going to live in this house for 30 years no matter what, then I probably would have been much more cautious about the purchase. It may take me many years to find a home and I may not ever find one that I agree upon. Even more so if the commitment was for life.
A life partner is MUCH more important than a house. I’m glad that there is a system in place for me to part ways with my house if we are no longer compatible, and the same is true for my partner. My partner and I have discussed many times, both before and since getting married, what would be a cause for divorce and how we would like to handle that. We are pragmatists, we realize that in the next 45 years (or 73% of our adult life) we are both going change and grow and that growth might not be in the same direction. What we want out of life and out of a partnership may change and we’d rather end things on good terms and remain friends, than force a relationship that is destined to make us unhappy. In the end, it comes down to the fact that we both love each other and want the other person to be as happy and fulfilled in this (probably) one life we get, even if that means it is without the other person.
Life is long and complicated. There is a crazy diverse amount of experiences that we can have in it. I certainly hope that I’ve found the partner that I will get to explore those things with. I want to climb mountains with her, build a home with her, have the flu with her, and grow old with her, but that may not happen, and that’s fine too. Because if we get divorced I know we will find someone else to spend some of our life with and we will be happy. Divorce is not a four-letter word and any of my friends who may go through it have my love and support, always.
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Also, I wrote a book about a cross-country bicycle ride I did!
“Wandering Oak: A Rite of Passage”