This month’s interview is about changing the social stigma of divorce. I am interviewing a beautiful 40-year-old woman. She studied criminology and works as an outpatient counsellor. In a world without corona, she likes to eat with friends and family, dance, learn to make snacks that she also likes, and she enjoys watching horror movies and documentaries about serial killers. She got married at a young age and divorced after 15 years of marriage.
I am very curious about your perception of marriage before you got married. How did you feel about marriage? What are the ideas and expectations you grew up with?
As a woman I was aware that I had to leave the house married. I was not allowed to date boys. My uncles said to me “I’m going to find you a boy”, but I didn’t want to. I said I would find him myself. If I compare my upbringing with my brother, he was allowed to do everything. He could party and hang out until late.
I honestly had no expectations of marriage or a picture of marriage. I was a teenager and still attending school. I was busy with that. I had a boyfriend and when I got caught, I was forced to marry him. I suggested moving in together, but my mother said “no, you are going to leave the house as a married woman and what you do after that is up to you.”
So, you had no expectations of marriage? I find that notable because I had an image of marriage at that age. A very romantic one, haha.
No, haha. I was not thinking about getting married. I was a tomboy and grew up with boys around me. Lots of cousins and brothers. I loved to play football and cycle. I had more boys as friends than girls. I was not concerned with heels, dresses, or make-up. That didn’t interest me at all. At school there was often a fight between girls about boys and for me there was just more than boys.
Eventually you fell in love and had to get married. After 15 years of marriage, you have chosen to get a divorce. How did you feel when you realized that you were getting divorced?
I had often tried to give my marriage another chance. I’ve put off the divorce so many times and the reason I didn’t go through with it was “what will people think?” That is so imprinted on your mind. Then things were said like “you have children, you are going to be on your own, or the children will grow up without a father.” That’s why I kept putting it off. And then it went well for two years and then not. At one point I wondered when I am twenty years from now, would I be happy? And my heart said no. After that I had a tunnel vision. I am going to say it to him and my parents, that is step 1. And I will stick it out. I am not going to listen to the voices of others.
I had done everything that I could do. I ran out of energy. I had reached a stage where I could not say anymore, if I do this, then maybe it will work. I have exhausted all options. Everyone reaches a turning point. For me, that was when there was a physical moment. That only happened once, but that was a boundary he crossed. I was done with it and could not justify staying any longer. The moment when we actually got divorced felt like a relief to me.
In some cultures, a divorce is seen as a taboo and something bad. How did your environment react when you said you were getting a divorce?
My mother ignored it. She listened to it and then talked about other things. I have always been articulate and in people’s eyes he was a sweetheart. Many people including my mom blamed me for the divorce. I behaved the same indoors and outdoors, while he acted differently outdoors than at home.
Relatives and friends reacted in astonishment “huh, how? Or “that’s not possible…”, but I also noticed that they didn’t know how to respond. Or that they did not dare to talk about it. Some people also pretended not knowing anything, even though they had already heard it from others.
How is your life now? What has it brought you?
Happiness, peace, and no stress. I can do whatever I want to do. I can be myself. On the other hand, it is also tough, but what you get in return, is worth it.
What prejudices have you faced after your divorce?
My children are not going to end up well because they have divorced parents.
If something is not going well with the children, my mother immediately says, “it is because you are divorced.” For example, when my children are doing mischief, sometimes it crosses my mind, “is this my fault because I have been separated from their father?” Fortunately, I have people around me who say to me ‘act normal’. But these are the moments when I have doubts.
Why do you think she reacts like that?
According to her, I had no reason to divorce. I had everything, a house, children, a husband. What more could I want?
Another prejudice was that I got a divorce because I had someone else. My ex-husband thought this was why I wanted a divorce. He also had someone in mind and designated him as the one who forced me to say that I want a divorce.
What do you think should change around the taboo on divorce for women?
First of all, discussions are allowed and are good. It’s okay to talk about divorce and ask questions about it. People don’t have to act as if it’s a forbidden topic. Of course, first ask if the person feels comfortable talking about it.
Family, acquaintances, and friends should support those who get divorced. If you have not been through a divorce, then you do not know how difficult it is. It requires a lot of mental strength. You must stay strong and persevere. People also need to learn that when you support someone you don’t immediately take sides. I have also had times when I felt the need to talk about it and people immediately said out of panic, “but I am not going to pick sides.” I really thought to myself no one is asking you to pick a side.
The interpretation of a divorce must also be changed. Divorce is part of life. No one knows in advance whether a marriage or relationship will succeed. It is nice when people stay together for a long time, but I also think that you should not maintain a marriage at the expense of yourself.
What parents need to understand is that their support is particularly important. Even if you do not receive support from others, the support of your parents weighs heavily. And I have missed this.
S: Parents need to put aside their ideal image for their child. They may of course be disappointed or sad about the fact that their child is getting a divorce, but at such a time it is indeed much more important to support the child. In the Asian community, it also has to do with loss of face and the fact that so much value is placed on what other people will think. But the most important thing is that your child is happy and if he / she is not happy with their partner then parents should support their child with the divorce. They don’t have to agree with it.
How do you feel about marriage now? If you were to give advice to your younger self, what would that sound like?
Do not marry young.
Under 25. Everyone from my school days married young and everyone broke up. Even the most in love couple that everyone thought would never break up broke up at a later age. When you are in your twenties, you are still developing a lot. And it is good if you experience this phase as an individual, because of that you get to know yourself better. You then learn to look beyond falling in love and will choose a partner based on compatibility. Apart from a partner, you have to learn how the world works and what it means to be responsible and independent.
What do you want to say to women who are now thinking about getting a divorce or not?
It’s going be tough, but it’s worth it. See, if both partners agree that divorce is best, it gets a little easier. But if only one of the two wants to get a divorce, it will be tough. Keep reminding yourself that it is worth it because after that you will get rest. By the time you choose to get a divorce, you’ve already been through so much. Such a decision does not come out of the blue. You are going to hear the voices of family, friends, and others and face prejudices, but you should ignore them. If you know what it’s good for, just keep going!