Life is better when you’re one half of a couple, according to countless fairytale romances, psychological studies, and mothers who are worried about their daughters’ ticking clocks.
By the same Disney-inspired convention, divorce is often seen as a sign of great unhappiness and acrimony. Nobody says “I do” with the intention of one day heading to the divorce courts, and marital breakdown is fate that most people hope to avoid.
But a series of joyful “divorce selfies” show that the end of a marriage doesn’t have to be a miserable affair.
A photo of Shannon Neuman and her ex, Chris, grinning as they filed for divorce has been shared more than 36,000 times since it was posted last week.
The Neumans aren’t the only couple who were thrilled to untie the knot, and there are a collection of smiling #divorceselfies on Instagram.
These photos aren’t simply a glib reaction to an unfortunate situation. Although studies have found that married people are happier than single people, this does not mean that divorce makes people sad – and in fact there’s evidence to suggest the opposite.
In 2005, Warwick University researchers found that, though traumatic in the short run, divorced couples “go on to reap noticeable psychological gains”. Meanwhile, a 2013 Kingston University study found that women in particular are significantly happier following their divorce.
This boost in happiness makes sense to psychologists. In a paper, “The Psychology of Divorce,” by clinical-child psychologist and family therapist Donald T. Saposnek and family lawyer Chip Rose, the authors outline the many negative emotions associated with divorce, including alienation, loneliness, despair, anger, vindictiveness and helplessness.
But the period post-divorce can be significantly happier. “The stage following the divorce is one of exploration, redirection, and reequilibration,” they write. “It is a time of making independent choices, based on a single life. If the divorce was settled successfully, feelings of optimism, self-confidence, independence, and acceptance may abound.”
Lisa Pepper, family lawyer at Osbornes Solicitors, tells Quartz that when clients hear that their divorce has been finalized, the majority are relieved.
“Most people can see that being in a house where you’re either walking on eggshells or screaming at each other is not great for their mental health,” she says from London.
Pepper also says that amicable divorces, like those apparently pictured in #divorceselfies, are common. Around half of her clients have a polite relationship with their ex, while about 25% have genuine affection for each other.
Being on good terms with an ex-spouse has many benefits. Amicable clients save a fortune on lawyers’ fees, says Pepper, and also create a healthier home for children.
Divorce may not be a fairytale happy ending but it can be a positive beginning. Misery isn’t the only appropriate response to divorce, and there are plenty of ex-couples who would appreciate a congratulatory divorce card. Cheers to a happy life apart.