The XX Factor

Rethinking Divorce

The media spin on certain kinds of research often reveals more about our culture than the research itself. Take, for instance, the Huffington Post’s coverage of research showing that kids who are considered happy kids grow up to be happier adults, but also are more likely to divorce. Even though the researcher that Amy Lee interviews isn’t perturbed or surprised by this finding, Lee repeatedly insists that this is a paradox, and a “pessimistic” finding. But that’s only true if you start with the assumption that divorce is inherently a negative thing, and that’s an assumption that I don’t think it’s wise to hold.

I like to reframe divorce in this way: Stop thinking of divorce as a problem, and consider that it’s actually a solution to the real problem, which is bad marriages. Sure, terminating a relationship is a miserable endeavor, but it’s better than the usual alternative, which is an unhappy relationship. It’s quite possible that this research shows that happy people are just less likely to languish in miserable situations and more likely to take the necessary steps to extricate themselves from situations that make them unhappy. This is, in fact, exactly what one of the researchers tells the Huffington Post: “[P]erhaps having the strength to leave such a marriage is not a bad thing.”

This points to the intriguing possibility that part of what makes someone happy might be a willingness to self-advocate, to make bold choices and to change situations that aren’t working for them. Now, it may be that happy people may just feel more empowered to do this, or it might be that people who are willing to take charge of their own lives end up happier, or it could be a little of both. But it certainly suggests that one road to being happier is very likely teaching oneself to go ahead and make changes, instead of just passively accepting what happens. It seems intuitive, if you put it so bluntly, but not so much in practice, when people often find themselves encouraged to stay in bad situations (like bad marriages) because making the changes to end it will create temporary periods of greater pain.

Photo of cuple saying goodbye by IT Stock Freey.