It’s a strange, lonely feeling, sleeping in a bed alone for the first time after so many nights curled up next to a spouse, said Joshua Alexander (name has been changed), a divorced BYU-Idaho student.
Divorce can be a difficult experience, especially as a young adult. As of 2014, 4 percent of millennials aged 18 to 33 were divorced, according to a Pew Research Center study. Divorce leads to great mental and emotional change for a person, but it does not make that person inferior to or different from their peers. Divorced people often come through the experience with greater knowledge, understanding and empathy than they had before.
It is estimated that 50 percent of marriages in the U.S. will end in divorce. Studies show 27.6 percent of women and 11.7 percent of men who marry in their 20s will eventually divorce, according to divorcestatistics.org, a website that specializes in divorce statistics.
Alexander and his wife were married for almost three years. Alexander’s ex-wife had an affair, which led to their divorce. He found out about the affair from one of her journal entries. He said her betrayal left him feeling angry and confused.
“It doesn’t make sense when you’re doing everything right for this stuff to happen,” Alexander said. “People who do love you, they don’t cheat.”
Every divorced person experiences divorce differently. It is not always easy to pinpoint the reason divorce happens.
“The assumption tends to be, if you’re divorced, there must’ve been some kind of major sin, and it’s simply not true,” said Steven Johnson, a junior studying communication who has experienced two divorces. “Sometimes marriages don’t work out.”
Johnson said this was the case with both of his divorces. He said he feels Latter-day Saint culture was a factor in his marriages ending in divorce.
“First, because I felt a lot of pressure to get married the first time,” Johnson said. “And then, when that failed, I felt completely lost and I just had to get back into marriage again because there wasn’t anything I could do otherwise, and so I jumped back in way too fast again, and again, it failed.”
Johnson said that feeling of failure destroyed his self-esteem.
“There were days that I would come up here to go to class, and I would get here, and I would just sob in my car,” Johnson said.
In an article for Refinery29, an online news source, Dr. Mark Banschick, a New York-based physician, psychiatrist and author of The Intelligent Divorce book series, said experiencing divorce is similar to experiencing a death.
“It’s the end of a dream of an intact family that’s loving and that stays together forever,” Banschick said. “And when there is a death, you have to grief. Grieving, it’s appropriate in divorce.”
Banschick said that when people grieve a death, they find support in their community, but when someone experiences a divorce, that community suddenly disappears, unsure of how to act.
“Grief requires community,” Banschick said. “And yet, people who go through divorce grieve alone. That, I think that is a terrible shame of our culture. That we don’t reach out to people who go through divorce and let them know they’re loved and normal.”
BreAnna Fryer, a senior majoring in university studies, and her ex-husband were married for a year and a half. She said her ex-husband’s attitude made their relationship feel more like a friendship than a marriage, which led to an unhappy marriage and eventual divorce.
“I felt so rejected, and obviously, rejection affects your self-esteem because you ask, ‘Is anyone going to really want me again, or are they going to do the same exact thing?’” Fryer said.
Fryer said she felt like she could not spend time with her single or married friends following her divorce, so she spent a lot of her time at home alone.
“The Church teaches how eternal families are so important, and I felt like I was never going to have one because I had a chance at it and it didn’t work and like I wasted my temple marriage,” Fryer said.
Following a divorce, individuals have to reorganize their lives to cope with being single again, which can lead to some uncomfortable feelings.
“These feelings derive from no longer having any sense of security that comes from being part of a stable couple and family,” according to an article for mediate.com. “Some feel panicky about being alone often for the very first time in their lives. They must find a way to accept their new identity as single persons and define themselves in relationship to the self rather than to a couple.”
Johnson said it took a long time for him to regain confidence as a single person.
“Being married, you experience things differently,” Johnson said. “You’re in a unit, and so you’re experiencing a church party, or a social event, all of these different events, you’re experiencing as a couple, and to go back to trying to experience things as a single person, you feel awkward.”
Johnson said he found it difficult to attend a YSA ward following his divorce.
“I’d had so many growing experiences, not only going through a divorce, but also being married,” Johnson said. “A lot of things you learn about yourself, about the opposite gender, that it’s hard to really communicate as well because you’ve learned to communicate in a different way.”
Johnson said that, in his experience, most people are not looking to date a person who has been divorced.
“It’s great to find somebody who that doesn’t bother at all, but it’s very, very rare,” Johnson said. “There are so many options here at BYU-Idaho that I don’t blame women or men for wanting to find someone without that kind of baggage.”
Johnson said he fears the judgement he might face reentering the world of dating.
“There’s that constant grip in my stomach of ‘How and when am I going to tell this person that I’m divorced?’ and how are they going to react?” Johnson said.
Some of these fears stem from negative self-thoughts or perceived negative thoughts from others, according to an article for Psychology Today.
Fryer said she thinks many people in the Church look at divorced people with unfair judgment.
“Honestly, I thought that if you got divorced, it was because there was something wrong with you and you were crazy and you didn’t know how to deal with problems,” Fryer said. “And so once I was divorced, I thought that everyone would think of me that way.”
While divorce is the end of a marriage, it is also the beginning of a new phase of life. Divorce can bring a new understanding of life.
Fryer said people should realize there is hope for divorced individuals to have a great future.
Fryer remarried in May 2015.
“Just because a really bad experience happened to you doesn’t mean that the rest of your life is going to be bad,” Fryer said. “There is hope for happiness.”
Fryer said she would encourage students who have not been divorced to be open-minded to the experiences of their fellow students who have been divorced.
Fryer said she found hope and strength in the gospel while going through the divorce process. She said her friends and family were there to support her as well.
“I’ve learned how to handle hard things,” Johnson said. “As hard as it was to get out of my car when I was sobbing and I just couldn’t face it, I had to face it, and so I did. I’ve learned that there are a lot of things I can do that I couldn’t do before.”