Can divorce be happy?

My mom taped a map above my bed with Atlanta circled. “See? Daddy is not far away at all.”

Thirty years later, I became a divorced dad, and lived far away from my kids.

If you’ve survived divorce, you know how hard it can be. If you’ve survived: It can kill you. The health risks associated with divorce are similar to well-established public-health risks, such as smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day, getting limited exercise, being overweight, and drinking heavily, according to research by the University of Arizona that indexed more than 30 published studies of divorced adults.

"We thought there was some risk," David Sbarra, lead author of the research, said. "But we didn't think the risk elevation would be as substantial as other very serious public-health risks."

Does it have to be that way?

In other places, divorce is making people happier, as they are liberated from bad marriages and repressive cultures. Suicide rates in India are lower among divorced women, and there are parallel findings elsewhere. “Lower risk for divorced women has also been reported in China and may reflect changing perceptions of what is ‘an acceptable way of life’,” Bloomberg wrote of a study by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and published in the Lancet journal.

It seems natural to associate divorce with loss, and therefore grief. It seems almost obligatory. There must be healing, growth, therapy, rejuvenation. It is laden with the heavy baggage of secular humanism filling in for religion. We simply must atone. If marriage is disposable, if divorce is too easy, something in our society surely will break. So we mock celebrities’ brief marriages and castigate divorce with scandalized gossip. Who cheated? Who got dumped?

Marriage has to mean something. And when it fails, there must be a price to pay.

The guilt is what makes it hard. The women of India and China are not the only ones who deserve liberation from a judgmental marriage system.

When both parents in a divorce share a strong faith, the kids of that divorce often leave that faith, according to a new study from Baylor. They don’t stop loving their parents. They just don’t find solace in a dogma of marriage that doesn’t work. Don’t those kids deserve liberation, too?

I was that 5-year-old struggling to understand where his dad was. And then I watched my kids go through the same thing. I think I speak for divorce kids and parents when I say: That’s hard enough.

Marriage should be available to everyone, and it should be joyous - from beginning to end. Can we be open to that possibility?