Unfortunately, it’s even rarer.
A few days ago I went to the family court in my area for a case that was pulled last of all, which meant I got to observe the other cases. Among these others were a couple of joint petitions for divorce, in which both partners stood together before the judge and, having agreed on everything, got divorced. Simple.
But what struck me about these “joint petition” divorces, especially the first one, was how in sync the two people were. They were so in agreement with each other, so intent on helping each other move on in life… that they sat down on the bench together, carried each other’s jackets, held the door for each other… it was as if they were brother and sister.
After that first divorce (which involved no lawyers at all), I told the person next to me, “I want to clap my hands. That was so well done.”
We often think of breaking up and divorce as being bad, horrible things. And certainly, when a breakup happens against the will of one or both people in the relationship, it is traumatic. I think that many of us are afraid of that happening, so afraid of it that we never get to see this other side of things: that a good, peaceful breakup can be a wonderful opportunity to turn a new corner in life.
I feel the need specifically to say this because, of those marriages that do not end in divorce, many become bitterly plagued with resentment and fear… and even in cases of divorce, often one or both partners wishes it had happened sooner.
All over society, there is this implicit belief that a marriage must stay together forever. The judge in the courtroom I was in would ask these couples if they thought that the marriage had suffered “irretrievable breakdown” and whether there was “any chance of reconciliation,” as if the norm always has to be to fight for the relationship to stay together.
Now don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of reasons to stay together… convenience, love, children, security, etc. But we know all this stuff already… and I think that very often, people stay together when they shouldn’t, putting an awful strain on their lives and on the relationship.
This sense develops that being apart is the worst thing that could happen… that it would be FAILURE. This is the wrong way to look at it.
In every society I know of, if a person’s spouse dies early, the living partner is allowed to marry someone else. There is no stigma attached to the idea of a “second soul mate” or simply having another life partner. Did the first marriage “fail?” Well, if the living partner had to go on and marry a second time, in a way, the answer could be yes. But we never look at it that way… so no sense of failure is felt. In fact, people often say that “[s]he’d have wanted me to marry again.” So why can’t this be the case even when nobody has died?
We build up marriage as something that only death can stop – “till death do us part,” as the vow goes. Well, let’s reframe the meaning of death: the death of the relationship.
The high rate of divorce shows that people eventually do realize that there is no point in continuing a relationship that is already dead. The problem is, we don’t learn this before getting married (or even worse – in some cases we never learn it and stay in relationships that suck the life out of us).
And when it is time to break up, we don’t want to talk about it. So naturally, our breakups tend to be horrible, gut-ripping, traumatic experiences. The taboo against talking about [or even thinking about] breaking up leads to further lack of communication, which messes up any kind of relationship.
There is no guarantee that you will always be on the same page with somebody – you won’t. Even with your souliest soul mate, you will have your moments where you feel derailed. But the more open communication you have, the better idea you will have of how your partner feels about things and the quicker you can get on the same page.
And that’s the great secret with why breakups are almost always thought to be bad: when people are heading towards an eventual breakup, because of the taboo around breaking up, they communicate less and less. More communication would lead to a much better chance of separating smoothly.
It is completely possible to part ways amicably, maintaining full communication and respecting each other and actually helping each other transition. Moreover, in a truly loving relationship in which the partners care about each other, hopefully the desire not to “imprison” the other would lead one to say “if you ever do feel like our relationship needs to change, please do tell me.”
And there’s the key to getting a positive outlook on things: breakup should not be viewed as failure, but rather as change. When former lovers are able to stay friends, their relationship never actually ended; it merely changed, that’s all.
Change, of course, can hurt. There is no denying that. But when you are more prepared for the change and can see it coming, you can minimize the amount of destructive ripping and tearing that takes place… those agonizing feelings of “why?” that come up when your heart gets broken. Open communication with your partner helps to avoid sudden surprises.
If you’re in a relationship right now and you feel like it needs to change, you owe it to yourself and your partner in the relationship to explore those feelings deeper. Don’t hide from them; what you feel inside does not lie. Only you can lie, by not being honest with yourself – and as a result, your partner – through trying to stuff away what your real desires are.
An important note: this does not just apply to romantic relationships. This applies also to parent-child relationships (I’m thinking of adult ones specifically), siblings, friends, coworkers, and so on
And one final thing: it is true that you can’t control your partner’s decisions or thoughts. It is indeed possible that, even after you have made attempts to be open and encourage dialogue with somebody, they may not really respond at all. But don’t let that stop you, because that’s their choice, and they would make this choice no matter how you act. As long as you do your best, you won’t have any regret around trying.
That was a long trek from the original theme of this post: talking about divorce and marriage, and how divorce can be quite good when done right. But it’s worth it to draw this example out in order to illustrate one way we can take a more open-minded approach to managing our relationships.