Divorce’s Problems with Social Stigmas

  • The societal expectations for divorce involves grief, that is sometimes not actually present for people.
  • Research suggests that the reactions for ending a marriage are gendered.
  • Generalizations regarding marriages and divorces undermines the individualistic aspect of starting a relationship.

"The generalizations involved in breaking down what the ending of the relationship means for the individual undermines the individuality that it takes for two people to start a relationship."

When someone who has experienced a divorce mentions it in casual conversation, it can often create a moment of discomfort for the other party or parties.


Why does it create a level of discomfort that can often lead people away from discussing it in conversation? Aside from personal feelings, the maturity of the individuals involved in the divorce experience and their possible children should be the only ones who get to dictate the tone, in which the subject is discussed.

Social norms have a notion that dictates specific topics as taboo. One of the major reasons why divorce as a topic of discussion is tip-toed around is the notion that a marriage died and that no matter what, there will be two grieving individuals who are mourning the death of their union.

The complexity of grief

For some, this may be the case. However, it is not applicable to all. Grief is not something that everyone feels when a marriage ends. Sometimes, individuals celebrate the end of their unhappy marriage and throw a party. Sometimes, they end matters amicably and go their separate ways. Sometimes, they become best friends, and when one gets remarried, the other goes to their wedding.

The individualistic nature of couples divorcing makes it difficult for society to generalize based on previous experiences with divorce. The nature of social stigmas creates an atmosphere that pushes against those that have friendly breakups and welcomes an environment of tension.

Social stigmas are considered to be a “mark of disgrace,” according to “Cultural Sociology of Divorce: An Encyclopedia,” edited by Robert E. Emery. For individuals seeking a divorce, the stigma can often be gendered, creating different societal reactions and expectations to the news of the end of the marriage.

Gendered issue

Both men and women face social stigmas during the process of a divorce.  Even the term, “stigmatization,” refers to the way a society categorizes and devalues some of its members because of behavioral or physical characteristics. Many women find themselves blamed for the end of the marriage, according to Emery’s encyclopedia. The stigmas involving the need for women to be in a relationship are used against them, forcing them into survival mode as they do their best to maintain their own well-being.

For men, Emery states that they feel obligated to justify the cause of the divorce in any future relationship, especially to future in-laws if they choose to get remarried. There also is a stereotype that men tend to blame their ex-spouses for the end of their marriage, and while that may be the case some of the time, it is often only done to appease any future partner and their family of the permanence of the new relationship.

It also can discount what men went through during the difficulties of their unhappy marriage. Men can often find themselves placing blame, in order to hide aspects of the divorce that not only would they rather not talk about, but also still suffering through. For instance, men might find themselves on the short end of the stick when it comes to alimony or time they get to spend with their children, so it becomes easier to place blame on the ex-spouse, rather than the system that enabled the ex-spouse to have an advantage in the divorce.

Recent research

Even when marriages are at their unhappiest, many individuals prefer that prospect, than facing the social stigma of being considered a divorcee. According to a recent study by Slater and Gordon, published in The Daily Mail, one in 10 individuals said that they would continue to work on their marriage because being in an unhappy marriage was preferable to being divorced.

Given the social perception that men do not express their emotions and keep everything bottled up, it’s worthy of noting among the one thousand divorced individuals questioned for the study, the average time it took for people to feel their lives were emotionally ‘back on track’ was nearly four years.

Additionally, this study found that a third of those surveyed concluded that they knew that divorce would be viewed as a personal failure, so they attempted repeatedly to salvage the marriage.

Avoiding generalizations

These types of results highlight the inherent problem in the idea that everyone grieves for the end of their unhappy marriages and other types of social stigma. The generalizations involved in breaking down what the ending of the relationship means for the individual undermines the individuality that it takes for two people to start a relationship. Two people do not seek a divorce in an effort to make themselves sad and miserable, although it can occur. They do it, in an effort to make themselves happier in the future, because they realize that their marriage is not functioning properly and is actively making them unhappy.

Social stigmas surrounding divorce create a toxic atmosphere that the two individuals involved in the process may not have even put there. They might be sad, but then again, they may not. When discussing the ending of a relationship with one party in the relationship, it’s important to gauge their response to the end of their relationship, whether it is a divorce, a separation, or just a simple break up. Generalizations based on the societal idea of grieving or based on gender only further divide loved ones attempting to be there for ex-spouses going through the difficulties of the situation and those actually experiencing it.

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