Women Aren’t ‘Selfish’ For Choosing Their Happiness Over Their Marriage

Chelsea Guglielmino/FilmMagic

When Tia Mowry, 44, announced she was getting a divorce last year, many people were shocked. She and estranged husband Cory Hardrict, 43, seemed like a solid, happy pair. This coupled with 14 years of marriage made their breakup feel personal and sad. Despite the initial astonishment of the public, Mowry has since moved forward, and seems to be in a happy, healthy place.  

Months later, her divorce has yet again become a topic of conversation, but the focus is on why she chose to call it quits. In November, Mowry was on the Today show with Hoda Kotb and Jenna Hager and revealed the moment she knew her marriage was over

“I feel like…when [people] look at marriage, success equals longevity. But, no, at the end of the day, are they happy? Are they thriving? Are they growing? I feel like that is what is most important. It’s not about staying in something because however long you are in that situation, that equals success. It’s about really, again, are you happy? Because life is really short,” Mowry said. 

Some on social media are now criticizing the actress for ending a 14-year-marriage that birthed two children in favor of her happiness. This is a debate I’ve heard before. Imagine living in a world where a woman becomes a villain because she chooses peace and happiness over marriage. This disregard for Black women, their needs, and their health is grating. 

I have been divorced for almost three years now and people said similar things to me when I was contemplating divorce. Said people made it clear that my happiness came second and as a woman, it was my job to keep my family together. It’s funny how we never ask men to be self-sacrificing and put their needs on the backburner. I obviously went ahead with the divorce and I stand on my decision. It was one of the best I’ve made in my life. Does it affect my son negatively in some ways? Yes. But it’s worth it because he has the healthiest and most loving version of me. I am less stressed, more free, and able to focus on creating an environment where we can thrive instead of expending all my resources forcing a marriage to work. As a primary caregiver, this is pivotal. 

My long-term happiness was more important than staying in a marriage that wasn’t serving me because my health and wellbeing matter as a Black woman. So does Mowry’s. For those who say it’s selfish to leave because it affects kids and their needs should come first, it is possible for kids from divorced homes to thrive. Many studies show that the conflict that happens during and after a divorce leads to negative outcomes and post-traumatic stress symptoms, but not necessarily from parents being apart. 

Also, instead of only focusing on data that says kids from divorced homes are worse off, let’s look at the “why.” Reasons statistics cite include kids being more likely to live in poverty, high levels of parental conflict, and them being less likely to further their education. These are things that can mostly be resolved by addressing issues like gender pay, racial bias, inequality, and increasing government support for people with children. Perhaps easier access to therapy for individuals and families could help minimize the conflict that occurs too. Point is, the issues that arise among kids from divorced homes can be addressed without two people who aren’t happy staying together. 

While I do agree that happiness is a fleeting feeling, not everything can be worked through. Sometimes people grow apart and when it’s because you’ve evolved in different directions, especially when it comes to core values, how do you stay together without sacrificing who you are? When core values conflict, it’s difficult to make things work long term and still be at peace with yourself and your partner. 

If your core values are still the same and you can manage to iron out your differences so the both of you can be true to yourselves in the marriage, then yes, I believe you should fight to make it work. A couple I admire who have been able to do this is Will and Jada Pinkett Smith. On a 2018 episode of Red Table Talk they discussed how they chose to make their marriage work and how divorce wasn’t an option. However, they had to reinvent their marriage so that they could both be their authentic selves and live life on their terms. This isn’t always possible. 

Admittedly, breaking up your family is one of the most gut-wrenching things you can do. But as a child who came from a two-parent home where I watched my mother stay in an unhappy marriage, I can confidently say her staying wasn’t best for us kids. It taught me what staying in a loveless marriage looks like. It also taught me that self-sacrificing as a woman does not guarantee long-term happiness. Seeing my parents’ relationship is partially why I sometimes struggle to understand what a healthy, loving relationship is. I believe it’s better for children to see their parents happy, thriving, and emotionally stable than to see them married. 

Can I add that abuse and cheating aren’t the only grounds for someone to leave a marriage? People in unhappy marriages are at higher risk of depression, high blood pressure, and heart disease. The negative health effects don’t end there. Married men are both happier and healthier than married women. Married men are also 39 percent more likely to outlive married women according to a statistical analysis spanning across 200 years. All this to say, a Black woman’s health being at risk is more than enough of a reason to leave. And since we’re always screaming, “protect Black women,” we should care about their wellbeing in every context.

Quite frankly, I don’t think women’s happiness should even be up for debate. The conversation shouldn’t solely be about whether women should stay in a marriage, because divorces are inevitable. Uninformed Twitter fingers and criticism won’t stop women from getting divorced. Instead, I think we should talk about how to create healthier environments for children of divorce. How to facilitate healing for everyone who is affected by divorce. How to improve the financial situations of divorced women, especially when they’re primary caretakers. And how to co-parent so that children feel love on all sides. 

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