I’m Ready To Sign Them Papers: What Is a Good Reason to End a Marriage?

August 24, 2012  |  

“Would you leave your husband if he cheated on you?”
If it was only once, I’d stay.”
“And if he hit you?”
Oh, no. I am outta there. You hear me? Gone.”
“Only if it was once?”
If he hits you once, he’ll hit you again.”
“If he cheated more than once?”
I don’t know if I could stay, but I don’t know that I’d leave right away. We’d have to talk about it, go through some counseling. Work it out.”

This, my friends, is a composite conversation of overheard chats between women and a few I’ve had myself. I wondered about this discourse recently as the blogosphere swelled with commentary about Evelyn Lozada’s divorce filing from Chad Johnson. Upon learning that the couple was calling it quits after Johnson allegedly head-butted Lozada (she had reportedly confronted him about finding condom receipts), the Internet was replete with discussions on domestic abuse, the sanctity of marriage, and whether the boisterous “Basketball Wives” cast member had it coming.

Then there were the ostensibly apt Kim Kardashian comparisions: Lozada and Johnson’s union of 41 days trumped Kardashian’s 72-day marriage to NBA player Kris Humprhies, knocking it from the top spot of the shortest reality TV-boosted marriages in recent pop history. While viewers and Twitter pundits love the tabloid fodder for all its gloss and DVR-worthy glass throwing, I thought about how we common folk assess the value of marriage in our own lives.

“Quit comparing Evelyn to Kim Kardashian! Evelyn was abused ,” one Facebook friend chimed. It appeared that in the court of public opinion, Kardashian, who was fervent in her denial that Humphries ever abused her, didn’t have a “good enough” reason to leave her marriage after less than three months. As she told Oprah Winfrey in June, “You know when you just have that feeling that he’s the one? When we moved in, I had the feeling he was not the one.”

What if you know that he’s not the one for you? Some folks may not subscribe to the concept of kismet, while others don’t discount the “knowing.” (I’ll say that I’ve never talked to a long-term married couple about relationships without hearing a “When ya know, ya know” thrown into the conversation.) The reasons why a woman lets a relationship get to the altar without “knowing” that her betrothed is “the one” are as subjective and varied as the very concept as everyone having a “one.” In Kardashian’s case, she is a woman who is ready to drop an “I just want my fairy tale” in front of any interviewer and camera keeping up with her. Kismet conversations aside, perhaps when Kim realized that a multi-million dollar wedding did not make a fairy tale and that she would actually have to live with this guy, she decided to salvage her life from her hefty decision, schadenfreude-subscribing naysayers be damned. It all depressed her, she said. Leaving a marriage, no matter how brief and no matter how famous the couple, surely can’t be easy.

The alleged head-butting incident that led Lozada to seek a divorce lawyer caused a problematic chatter all its own. Never mind the 41-day marriage; some folk rendered the abuse karma for Lozada’s reality-flavored TV ruthlessness against other “Basketball Wives” cast members. Reminiscent of the dialogue surrounding the Rihanna-Chris Brown drama of 2009, the competing public narratives of  “Did she incite him?” and  “Why are we blaming the victim?” came to the surface once more. As the divorce news hit, I was expecting to hear digital applause, because a woman should leave an abusive marriage, right? Or is her filing just plain bad for the preservation of a holy union? Should she have stuck it out? Reading the comments of I-told-you-so finger waggers, I wondered this: How sacrosanct can a marriage be if your husband is head-butting you?

Going to the altar without being sure of your lifetime commitment (sans the clichéd cold feet and jitters), as with Kardashian and likely many other unnamed, non-famous women, is not ideal. And, not that the following is true in Evelyn’s case (because not one of us knows what really happened), it’s unlikely that abuse will cease just because your man puts a ring on it.

When does staying together trump the acknowledgement of our human foibles, the very ones that can often leave us dangerously in lust or committed to the hope that things will get better once we jump the broom? Does preserving the sanctity of marriage mean that you must stay bound not only to the man you married, but also to a poor choice?

I’d be remiss not to mention the idea of staying together for the kids. While neither Kardashian nor Humphries has children together, Johnson and Lozada each have children from previous relationships. Is staying together for the kids good for anyone, the kids included?

One thing I’m learning through pop culture watching, eavesdropping and chatting with my girlfriends is this: While marriage tethers a couple through “for better” and “for worse,” one woman’s “for worse” may constitute another’s absolute deal breaker.

Readers, I’m asking you like I’ve asked my friends: What reason is “good enough” to leave a marriage, and who decides that? How soon is too soon to dip out if you realize you shouldn’t have married him in the first place? What determines due diligence in keeping a marriage together? How bad does the “for worse” have to be before you bounce?

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