Changing the Conversation—How memoirs, social media, and women’s voices have helped destigmatize divorce

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In a recent article for, essayist Heather Sweeney wrote, “Divorce is having a moment”— but she wishes it had come a decade ago when she was contemplating and then going through her divorce.

Even ten years back, Sweeney says, “shame and stigma” still caused people to keep quiet about their marital troubles and the decision to split. Sweeney and her ex tried three rounds of counseling before calling it quits. When she finally realized she had to end the marriage, she went through the whole gamut of emotions: anger, sadness, fear, resentment, and guilt. And she felt very alone.

When people asked her what happened, Sweeney said she was uncomfortable telling the truth about her choice: there had been no huge catastrophe, no shocking betrayal. Ultimately, she realized she couldn’t stay in an empty marriage any longer.

“Back then, it didn’t occur to me to tell people the truth: I wasn’t happy, and I wanted more out of life than my marriage was giving me,” she said.

In the essay, Sweeney, who is working on a memoir about her divorce experience, points to a couple of other recent divorce memoirs—both by women and both immediate bestsellers—to highlight the changing conversation around divorce and how it’s perceived and presented: Lyz Lenz’s “This American Ex-Wife” and Leslie Jamison’s “Splinters.”

Sweeney also focuses on the impact of social media on the divorce conversation.

In the article, Olivia Dreizen Howell, a certified life coach, divorce expert, and the CEO of Fresh Starts Registry, told Today, “I truly think we cannot discuss the cultural shift in the way divorce is discussed without talking about the rise of social media, especially blogging and TikTok.”

Social media may be a mixed bag, but one positive thing it has done, these experts argue, is to help evolve and transform the conversation around divorce. It has provided a platform that allows us to hear diverse perspectives, and, in an age when women’s rights are under attack from many corners, it has helped amplify the voices of women who are saying, I don’t need a “reason” to end my marriage—my unhappiness is enough. I can choose myself, joy, mental health, growth, fulfillment, and independence.

For some who choose to share their experience through social media, it’s a way to find a like-minded community and people who have been through similar processes.

In Sweeney’s article, Sophie Cress, a licensed marriage and family therapist, concurs that the discussion of divorce has changed substantially in the last ten years and that “social media and digital connectivity” have been pivotal in that shift. The discussion is “now characterized by self-empowerment, self-discovery, and a renewed sense of control.”

Today, it seems like every celebrity couple who decides to end their marriage announces it on various social channels, usually in a joint statement. These announcements—popularized when Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin revealed their “conscious uncoupling”—typically focus on mutual respect and love, an amicable split, honoring the partnership the couple shared, commitment to peaceful co-parenting, and a plea for privacy.

But it’s not just Hollywood A-listers, big sports figures, and high-profile business people that are going this route—in recent years, it’s become common for social media influencers, and even “regular” non-celeb couples, to share their decision to divorce on Facebook, Instagram, and so forth, says The Cut.

For people in the public eye, making a carefully planned and delicately worded announcement can be a way to get ahead of the story, avoid a tabloid frenzy, and control the narrative. While average couples may not have those exact concerns, doing so may feel like taking charge of the conversation and may ultimately help move the needle of cultural perception.

As Dreizen Howell told, “The cultural narrative about divorce is shifting to a more balanced and positive perspective—divorce is simply a life transition, and nothing you should be ashamed about—and this conversation has shifted in large part [due] to the women writers telling their stories.”

“The more I talked and wrote about my divorce, the more I realized I didn’t want to sugarcoat my reason for ending my marriage. Nothing catastrophic needed to happen. Being unhappy with a partner and the life you created together is a good enough reason to leave and start a new one,” Sweeney says.

Many divorce experts say that if we want to support each other and take the shame and painful secrecy out of the end of a marriage, we need to be mindful of the way we talk about it. The tone and connotation of the words we use (broken home, broken vows, failed marriage, heartbreak, betrayal, lack of commitment) and/or falling into outmoded gendered expectations can all contribute to stigma and feel disempowering for people experiencing divorce. They recommend reframing the conversation around words like transition and renewal.

California is a no-fault divorce state, which means neither spouse needs to prove any” grounds” or wrongdoing; if one or both partners want out of the marriage, they can obtain a divorce. Every marriage and every divorce are unique. Only you can know the real reasons when it’s truly over—and how you want to share or protect that news.

The veteran family attorneys at SFLG are here to help you navigate all the nuances of your dissolution and reach the best possible settlement so you can move on with your new life.

By Debra Schoenberg

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