Changing Our Divorce Vocabulary

changing our divorce vocabulary

by Tara Eisenhard~We live in culture that shuns those who make the difficult decision to divorce. As a society, we look down on these evolving families. We assume we have superior knowledge about their situations, and we make judgments about their choices. In essence, we feed the poisonous cycle of shame and blame which is responsible for so many toxic tales of separation.

One of my missions in life is to change the way our culture views divorce. I dream of a world in which divorce is recognized as a solution, not a problem. I long for the day when societal support prevails over shame and the hope of a new beginning propels families through a respectful transition.
In order to change minds, we need to change our words. When it comes to divorce, we use some pretty terrible terminology. My biggest offenders are as follows…

“Failed Marriage”

If two people don’t make it “‘til death do us part,” we say their marriage failed.  But, the truth is, if we take the vows literally, many people fail at marriage every single day.  Some partners are secretly unfaithful.  Some infidelities are known and unacknowledged.  Some marriages are treacherous traps of abuse and neglect.  Some couples berate each other for hours on end because someone left dirty socks on the floor.  And yet, such partnerships are largely regarded as being successful simply because the marriage is legally intact.  What about those other vows to love, honor and respect each other?

My suggestion is to replace the word “failed” with “complete.”  Let’s cast away the societal shame and pass up the opportunity to judge something we don’t fully understand.  Let’s accept the fact that sometimes it’s appropriate to end a partnership and make a new start.  A marriage that produced years of happy memories and healthy children was not an overall failure.

“Broken Home”

This might be the most offensive phrase because it relates solely to children and where they grow up. The idea of creating a broken home can send parents on a crazy-making guilt trip. The thought of living in a broken home can fill children with shame.
Along with “offensive,” I could also describe this verbiage, as it relates to divorce, as “ridiculous.” If parents orchestrate a respectful separation, then proceed to each provide a loving home for their children, doesn’t that mean the kids have two homes? Personally, I prefer to use the phrase “bi-nuclear family,” as coined by Constance Ahrons in her book, The Good Divorce.

“Easy Way Out”

I never understood this one.  It’s not easy to get divorced.  Getting divorced means divvying up the contents of your home, sacrificing time with children and slicing your disposable income. It often takes many years and several thousand dollars to finalize.  How is that “easy”?  Contrary to popular belief, the easiest and most comfortable thing to do is often to stay married.  It’s “the devil you know.”
People who go through a divorce should not be shunned but rather showered with support.  They should never, ever be accused to taking the easy way out.

“Single Parent” 

Unlike the phrases above, I realize this one is a title that many feel good about.  It seems it’s an accomplishment to be a Single Parent and those who bare the title are worthy of special acknowledgement from family, friends and country music songs.  In cases of widows, widowers and those who’ve been deserted by a partner, I wholeheartedly agree.  But I have an issue with those who put themselves in this category based on marital status alone.

As a child of divorced parents, I observed my mother being heralded as a single parent.  The phrase bothered me because it discounted my father, who was in fact very active in my life.  Although he and my mom didn’t live together, he was only a few miles and a phone call away.  He had stable, solid relationships with his children, attended our special events and even accompanied my mom to the ER when my sister needed to be hospitalized.  My mother wasn’t married, but nor was she alone in her position as a parent.

What do you think? Are you willing to remove these words from your vocabulary to build a healthier future for families of divorce?

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About Tara Eisenhard

Tara Eisenhard believes that families should evolve, not dissolve, through the divorce process. She is the author of The D-Word: Divorce Through a Child’s Eyes and the blog, Relative Evolutions. For more information, visit

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