Nothing makes me madder – or sadder – when I hear the phrase “failed marriage.” I didn’t fail when it came to ending my marriage. Our marriage didn’t fail, either. The marital relationship with my ex husband was simply over – it had run its course, taught me what I needed to be taught, and provided me with tools and insights on how I wanted to live the rest of my life. It didn’t fail, but acquaintances on down to random moms I meet say it did.
Thank you for my grade, but nope. I am hard enough on myself; I don’t need the big, fat “D” for “divorcee” and “F” for “failed marriage” planted across my forehead like a scarlet letter. Words hurt. And perhaps that’s the issue: language is so deeply connected to internal beliefs, to the subconscious.
Society, even in 2023, often sees a divorce as a failed marriage and doesn’t tend to ask the harder questions: Was the marriage over well before the final signature was signed on the Decree of Divorce? At what age did they get married and how did they change together, or separately, over time? And what exactly makes for a thriving marriage, or a “winning” marriage, anyway? Is it simply deciding to live under the same roof for the sake of the kids? Is it the actual number of years a couple didn’t rip up the marriage certificate in any tangible way?
I was recently at Target and I bumped into an old acquaintance I hadn’t seen in years in the loungewear section (Who else loves the Colsie brand?!). She looked at me with big eyes and said hello, introducing me to her kids I had never met. It was a pleasant-ish interaction, but I sensed some judgmental curiosity in the way she talked to me. I got the feeling she had done some “social media” snooping and that she knew I had gotten divorced a couple of years ago. She asked – as is so often asked of moms who pursue divorce and has therefore made the ultimate mess-up – “How are your kids adjusting?”
If I had known her better, I would have zero problems talking about my kids and their adjustment. I was, after all, talking about all the good things that had happened in my life: my re-marriage, my new stepson who has quickly become “big brother” to my two biological kids, my new job working for the nation’s leading nonprofit in sensory inclusion, and overall just feeling very grateful. I never gave any sort of energy indicating my kids were not adjusting. We said our goodbyes and I’m sure she thought nothing of this interaction.
But something about the way she had looked at me – how her face twitched as I talked, how her body language shifted – made me horribly uneasy. It was as if everything about her nonverbal communication was saying, “Yeah, but your marriage failed.”
So I took a deep breath and sent a text to a close friend and told her how that interaction made me feel. Her immediate response was to apologize on how that interaction went and to reassure me that I made the best decision for myself and my kids. She followed it up and flat out said “You were a great wife to your ex husband” and that made me tear up and also disarmed me. She herself is married and has been with me before, during and after the decision to get divorced. She knows how much time and thought were put into that decision, and she knows me. She knows I didn’t take the decision to get divorced lightly and that it actually took much bravery for me to follow through–heck, it was the bravest thing I’ve ever done! Being a divorced mom has made me want to hug every other divorced mom out there. It has made me want to grab a microphone and to emphatically say, “We didn’t fail at our marriages! Our marriages didn’t fail! There were beautiful parts in that relationship that just ceased to exist, and we took a step for ourselves and even for our kids, in bravery and respect!” My ex husband, now, even seems happier than I’ve seen him in a long time. It’s as if I granted him a gift when we turned in the marriage certificate–a start to a new, happier life.
When I see him with his new partner and new rhythms of life, I can tell he is happy and that makes me happy because a parent’s mental state directly impacts their kids, our kids. We’re adjusting to our new relationship title of co-parents, and I’m proud of us. Sure it took time and there are small hiccups, but we’re great co-parents now. We regularly text updates about the kids, share cute photos of them and then simply leave one another alone during parenting time because we have, luckily and gratefully, a trusting co-parent relationship.
So did my marriage die? No. It ran its course for the length it was to run. Like the closing of a book and the purchase of a new one. And here I am, sitting in the front row of this next course in life–and I can see my kids smiling and waving out the window watching me. I can see them watching a mom who made the best choice for her, and in turn them. I just wish society would stop framing it as though I’ve let the world down.
Meg Raby is a mom, children's author of the My Brother Otto series, and Autistic residing in Salt Lake City where you can find her playing and working with neurodivergent children as a Speech Language Pathologist and friend, or writing and planning big things in the second booth at her local coffee shop that overlooks the Wasatch Mountains while sipping on her Americano. Meg believes the essence of life is to understand, love and welcome others (aka, to give a damn about humans).