Divorce can often be a tumultuous and heartbreaking experience. Not only do you have to grieve the loss of a relationship, but you have to transition back to the singlehood you thought you’d permanently left behind. To make matters worse, society heralds marriage as one of life’s biggest accomplishments and an expected milestone of adulthood. Because matrimony is idealized as a marker of true joy and fulfillment, divorce can feel emotionally painful and like a big personal failure.
But there’s nothing shameful about ending a marriage. Take the case of actress Jenna Dewan, 38, and actor Channing Tatum, 39, whose recent divorce has shown us it’s okay to untie the knot when it no longer feels right.
Dewan’s new book, Gracefully You: Finding Beauty and Balance in the Everyday, released last week, offers a glimpse into what the split was like for her: “I’d come to realize the dynamic I was in wasn’t serving me nor was it serving my daughter. First and foremost, I had to accept the realization this isn’t working and had moved into hurting.”
The two married in 2009 and have a 6-year-old daughter, Everly, together. After spending nearly a decade lauded as #couplegoals among fans, they announced their separation in April 2018 on Instagram and filed for divorce that November. “We have lovingly chosen to separate as a couple,” they wrote at the time. “We fell deeply in love so many years ago and have had a magical journey together. Absolutely nothing has changed about how much we love one another, but love is a beautiful adventure that is taking us on different paths for now.”
We don’t know too many specifics about why they called it quits, but research suggests their explanation about traveling different paths aligns with many people’s divorce experiences these days. A study published this year in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy found most people today aren’t ending their marriages over bickering matches or abusive dynamics, but simply over a lack of emotional fulfillment. The study surveyed 2,371 Danish people and found the most common reason for divorce is lack of love or intimacy, followed by communication problems, a lack of respect or trust, and growing apart.
Researchers believe these findings suggest that we’re finally starting to rethink the concept of marriage. We may be newly understanding it as a relationship that’s normal for us to end if it’s not fulfilling. “People may place increased importance on love, intimacy, communication, sympathy, respect, trust, and feeling connected with their partner,” they write. It’s okay to move on when those emotional or psychological aspects of the relationship are no longer there.
Sometimes you leave a marriage because something’s wrong; other times you leave just because that’s what’s right for you.
“I think everyone wants to hold on to what’s in front of them, but when you open your mind, saying, ‘I want what’s best for myself and my daughter,’ you have to be okay with however that looks,” Dewan told Women’s Health shortly after announcing the split. “I feel I’ve been on a wave of growth.”
These days, Dewan says she’s pretty damn happy: “Ultimately now I can honestly say that I’m living in a very joyful new place in my life, and I’m happy about it,” she told PEOPLE earlier this month.
Both Dewan and Tatum are both now in other relationships of their own, all the while maintaining a cordial and kind relationship with one another and co-parenting their child. Tatum is dating English singer Jessie J, who Dewan warmly addressed on Twitter (“Nothing but respect” with a heart emoji). Dewan is dating actor and singer Steve Kazee and is expecting a child with him, and Tatum is reportedly “very supportive.” “We're in a very positive energy together, trying to be the best parents to Everly. We support each other,” Dewan told Harper's Bazaar in an interview last summer.
Although we often associate divorce with drama and conflict, these two former Step Up co-stars offer a powerful example of how ending a marriage can be a rational, gracious, normal experience filled with dignity and personal growth. In their book Better Apart: The Radically Positive Way to Separate, divorce attorney Gabrielle Hartley and meditation teacher Elena Brower assert that, even in the most painful of splits, couples who choose to end their marriages often in time find they’re better apart.
“You may now officially dissolve your misconceptions about divorce: the battle, the negative legacy, the stigma, the loneliness, the gossip,” Hartley and Brower write. “In every aspect of your experience, what you choose to see is what you'll receive. Should you opt to view this moment as a rejection or a failure, you'll continue to experience that repeatedly throughout your process. Should you choose to view this moment as an opportunity to see through the lens of respect—both self-respect and respect for the others involved—respect will consistently reveal its gifts to you.