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Women are still shouldering centuries-old divorce stigma

Women are still shouldering centuries-old divorce stigma
Why it's time for a change in the way divorced people are viewed by society
Amidst streamers and bunting for birthdays, today you might also find decorations for divorce parties in the event planning aisle.  
Mostly aimed at women, these wares are bright and cheerful, bearing slogans like “I do, I did, I’m done!”.  
They certainly paint a sunnier picture of divorce than what women lived through a century ago. Back then, divorce was nothing short of a scandal; a middle finger to social codes of respectability.  
It was proof you’d failed as a woman, both in pleasing your husband and keeping your family unit together.  

Times have changed


Camilla Parker-Bowles' divorce caused quite a stir amongst royalists. Photo credit: Agência Brasil
Today, divorce is something common and familiar. In the 1990s, Camilla Parker-Bowles gave high-profile representation to divorce in a way unprecedented by the royal family; the 2000s were peppered with big-name celebrity splits (Tom and Nicole, anyone?) It happens to our neighbours, friends, and colleagues—around 42% of present-day UK marriages will end in divorce.
"Don’t raise a glass to how far we’ve come just yet. It’s 2023, and women are yet to completely shake that centuries-old stigma"
But don’t raise a glass to how far we’ve come just yet. It’s 2023, and women are yet to completely shake that centuries-old stigma.

A broken home


The idea of satisfying gender expectations- in this case, being a good wife- still holds strong in modern society
The term “broken home” is still used to describe families with divorced parents. We see divorcees lauded as “brave”—a backhanded compliment suggesting that being single is something to fear.  
In 2020, newspapers applauded Davina McCall for “breaking her silence” on her divorce simply by speaking about it, as if it were something she should be embarrassed about. 
And who could forget the avalanche of media coverage around Jennifer Aniston following her split from Brad Pitt in 2005? According to the tabloids, her marriage broke down because she was too selfish and career-focused to fulfil her womanly duties: popping out babies. 
The common thread here, running right from 1900 to now, is the idea that being a wife—and satisfying the gendered expectations that come with it—is the good and proper way for women to live. And going against the grain still carries consequences.  
"According to the tabloids, her marriage broke down because she was too selfish and career-focused to fulfil her womanly duties: popping out babies"
Many folks report being judged and excluded by others post-divorce. One small study even named the social fallout from divorce as the most constant source of distress from the entire experience. 
For some, this means they lose friends. “I’ve been feeling stigmatised every time I have to say I’m divorced in any social situation,” wrote one user on discussion app Reddit at the end of last year. “Married friends seem to have put some distance [between us], as if divorce was contagious or something.” 
Yet divorce itself is often for the better. It might hurt initially, but in the long run, studies show that women are more likely to report greater life satisfaction following divorce than men.  
So how can we shift the shame around divorce, to help us reach the light at the end of the tunnel?

New beginnings


People with a more positive outlook on divorce are more likely to fare better psychologically
Ending a marriage may never be easy, but seeing it as a neutral or even positive decision made between two adults can help change perceptions around it.  
This starts with the way we speak to ourselves. It’s easy to internalise the idea that you’re a failure when your marriage runs its course, but according to research from the University of Arizona, if you instead accept divorce as part of life’s ups and downs then you’re more likely to fare better psychologically.  
People with this attitude were more likely to accept their negative feelings and treat themselves with kindness. Better still: the researchers found that these are skills that can be taught. With time and practice, we can learn to be more sensitive and empathetic towards ourselves.
"According to research from the University of Arizona, if you instead accept divorce as part of life’s ups and downs then you’re more likely to fare better psychologically"
Those around us can take a leaf out of that book, too, and reflect on how they view and act towards divorced people. Social change takes a long time to happen, but it’s driven by the choices we make as individuals.  
If we can accept that divorce is perfectly normal, we only need to start treating it that way.
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