Support coach explains prejudice surrounding young, divorced Latter-day Saints

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Cami Sullivan, a support coach for divorced Christian women said that dating young and divorced can be challenging due to social stigma and church culture.

Sullivan said that many divorced members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints seem to face another complicated layer of prejudice. “LDS culture doesn’t look kindly at imperfection or the appearance of failure,” Sullivan said. “Too many appear to have a ‘Molly Mormon and Peter Priesthood’ family.”

In a study conducted by a research group at the University of Massachusetts, stigma is defined as either overt discrimination, or something that is internalized. They said that stigma not only acts against a person, but also affects how that person reacts to their expectation of their own place in society.

“Divorced individuals feel out of place at church,” Sullivan said. “No one wants to sit alone and sitting with a couple or a family feels very awkward and is a reminder of what ‘could have been’.”

Analysis in the same study examines the experiences of divorce stigma in women between the ages of 23 and 32. The study described that there are five categories pertaining to stigma and divorce. These include (1) self-stigma versus public stigma, (2) failure, embarrassment, and perception of blame, (3) religion and stigma, (4) nondisclosure and impression management and (5) contextual considerations.

Konstam and the other researchers explained that an individual who goes through a divorce can experience any or multiple of these categories. 

Sullivan shared examples of two of these types of stigma that she experienced when going through her own divorce: self-stigma as well as religion and stigma.

Sullivan said that she did not feel as though she belonged in a family ward after her divorce, but she also felt out of place in a singles ward, leaving nowhere that she felt comfortable.

“Shortly after I began attending my home ward after divorce, a well-meaning member approached me,” Sullivan said. “She said that she was so sorry to hear about my divorce and then added, ‘I guess that’s a good example of why it’s important to pray about who you marry’.”

The same study also explained some effects of experiencing stigma after divorce, saying, “stigma is associated with negative outcomes such as shame, embarrassment, compromised self-esteem, isolation and seeking psychological help.”

Konstam’s research said “the divorced come to be seen and to see themselves as a less desired kind. Reduced in our minds from a whole and usual person to a tainted, discounted one.”

Brayden Hughes, a recently divorced member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said that trying to date after divorce has been really complicated. He shared his experience with a woman who he was interested in and who was interested in him, but her skepticism about his divorce placed a wedge between them.

Hughes said he often feels as though his divorce often is just a permanent stamp on his dating resume.

“As a recent divorcee your confidence tanks,” Hughes said. “You ask yourself how could someone possibly want something to do with me and fear that people you have interest in will think something along the lines of ‘why would I want something that someone willingly gave up.’”

According to Hughes, dating after divorce, especially within church culture, is very different than what he experienced before marriage. 

“Dating before marriage was always super easy for me but dating after marriage is one of the most difficult things I have done in my entire life,” Hughes said. “Between the higher standards you have for those you choose to date, and the walls you put up due to experiencing divorce, this task just seems quite impossible.”

While many people think of divorce as something that happens later in life, research from the Wilkinson and Finkbeiner Law Firm shows that the average age for couples going through their first divorce is 30 years old and 60% of all divorces happen between the ages of 25 and 39.

The U.S. Census Bureau lists the divorce rates for women in the United States as being 36.6% for ages 20 to 24, 16.4% for ages 25 to 29 and 13.6% for ages 30 to 39 in 2011.

Hughes urged that it is important to stay on the positive side, explaining that there are some positives of divorcing young rather than later on in life.

“Experiencing a divorce while you are young is devastating. However, divorcing at an older age would be catastrophic,” Hughes said. “At the young age of 23, the chances of me finding a new eternal companion are so much greater than those who get divorced later on in life in my opinion, not to mention dividing assets and kids.”

A study from the National Library of Medicine said that there are a few things that hold people back from dating again after a divorce and that women with children have less interest in dating again after a divorce. 

The National Library of Medicine study also said that mothers do not remarry for reasons such as a limited number of eligible partners, their own financial independence and fewer opportunities to recouple because of breakdowns in their social circles after the divorce. Several mothers report not wanting to date or remarry “because the presence of children alone is enough to provide company and support.”

The same study, however, showed that there are many reasons young, recently divorced individuals should date again even if it is not the easiest option. 

“Many studies reported higher adjustment for divorced individuals who formed new romantic relationships than for those who did not,” the same study said. “Even though divorce is associated with loneliness, these feelings are likely to dissipate when individuals initiate new romantic relationships. In addition, new relationships might buffer against post-divorce stress by decreasing mental health complaints, increasing self-esteem and decreasing depression.”

Hughes also said it’s important to endure on the covenant path.

“It doesn’t matter if you are recently divorced, finding a worthy spouse to build a beautiful celestial family with is the single most important thing we can do as we endure to the end on the covenant path,” Hughes said. “There is no difference in the encouragement to find a spouse whether you have never been married or are recently divorced … the gospel of Jesus Christ brings you hope in a time of peril.”

Hughes’ advice to those trying to date after a young divorce was to make a list of necessities you have for your future spouse. He also said to be what you need your partner to be and “if you don’t have a plan, then you plan to fail.”

“Lean on the people who love you,” Angela Bradford, an associate professor of marriage and family therapy at BYU, said. “Make sure you regularly engage in self-care activities and develop compassion for yourself.”

Hughes wanted those going through a divorce to know that he has been there, and that as he has stayed close to Heavenly Father, he has found peace with his divorce and a righteous desire to move forward on the path to finding an eternal companion.

“As we keep our covenants and remain faithful to the Lord independent of the trials we face, he will bless our paths and put someone in your life to help you more fully experience the joy he wants for you,” Hughes said.

A divorce rate bar chart by age shows that divorces are more common amongst younger people. Stigma around young and divorced single members of the church is prevalent in LDS culture, but studies show that dating should still be a priority. (Created on Canva by Olivia Tillotson).
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