I was 11 years old when my parents got divorced. A lot of my memories of that time are still fuzzy, but this is one moment that always stands out.
It had been a couple of weeks since my mother had moved us to a new house and told us that we weren’t going to see my dad again. Being a kid, I didn’t really understand what was going on. All I knew was that I missed him.
After that day, I started behaving differently.
I began arguing more with my classmates. Nothing serious at first, just the normal ribbing and insults that happened between kids. But over time, I became angrier, more willing to lash out. After a particularly nasty incident, I was taken to the school counsellor’s office and my mum was called.
Despite what I was expecting, she didn’t get mad. She took me out of school early and drove us to some fancy restaurant that I’d never been to before. I ordered steak, feeling excited because it was “grown up” food.
Over the meal, my mum explained the situation clearly. She told me that she and my father were now broken up, but it was not my fault and that she would do the best she could to take care of my sister and I.
It hurt. A lot. But over time, with a lot of love and support, my pain slowly faded away. Although I don’t think it’ll ever really disappear, I’ve learned to live with it.
Unfortunately, my family is not the only one in Malaysia that’s suffered from this kind of pain. And we definitely won’t be the last.
How Many Divorces Are There in Malaysia?
In October 2021, Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Mas Ermieyati Samsudin announced that on average, five divorces are reported every hour in Malaysia.
“An average of 18 divorce applications are filed by non-Muslim couples a day while 121 Muslim couples file for divorce a day. This works out to an average of five divorce applications per hour. Even as we speak, there are couples who are filing for divorce. Isn’t this very worrying?”Datuk Mas Ermieyati Samsudin, Dewan Rakyat (12 October 2021)
Back in 2018, there were only 50,862 total divorces reported nationwide. However, that number has risen significantly over the past few years. According to official records, more than 76,000 divorce applications were filed by non-Muslim and Muslim couples between March 2020 and August 2021.
10,346 applications were by non-Muslims, with the remaining 66,440 divorce applications coming from Muslims.
Stop Panicking, Karen
It can be rather shocking to hear about these numbers. When the issue first came to light, many people were quick to make assumptions.
“Oh, it’s because the younger generation has bad morals!” they cry. “Back in my day, couples would stick together no matter what! Society has gone downhill! Kids these days are so sensitive, they aren’t willing to make sacrifices for the sake of their families!”
When I hear these kinds of complaints, my immediate reaction is “Please just shut up already, you Karens.”
Divorce sucks. It is painful not just for the couple, but for everyone involved.
Anyone who decries our nation’s increasing divorce rates by blaming it on “loose morals”, “feminism” or other stupid excuses needs to take off their rose-tinted glasses and take a good look at reality.
And if you can’t even do that, do us all a favour and just keep your outdated opinions to yourself for once.
Nobody Likes To Get Divorced
Do you seriously think that people really want to get divorced?
Do you think that newlywed brides and grooms will walk down the aisle on their wedding day thinking “Ooh, I can’t wait till I get divorced!”
We all want to have our happily ever after. Unfortunately, real romance is never as clean and simple as it looks in the movies.
In my opinion, divorce is just like surgery — even in situations where it’s absolutely necessary, nobody really likes to do it.
Normal people don’t go up to the doctor and say “Wow, I really want to get my body cut open and have my insides prodded!”, so why do you think people will behave like that for something as serious as divorce?
Are Modern Couples Too Casual About Divorce?
When we think of divorce, it’s common to imagine dramatic situations like domestic abuse or wild affairs. As such, seeing such high divorce rates can seem terrifying. However, despite what TV dramas might tell you, these issues tend to be involved in only a minority of divorce cases.
It’s not easy to explain all the reasons why a couple might choose to get divorced. After all, every couple’s lives and circumstances are unique.
According to a 2018 report by Deputy Women, Family and Community Development Minister Hannah Yeoh, the most common cause for divorce were “irreconcilable differences”.
Some of the examples given included things like differences in political opinion or husbands having a lower salary than their wives. In at least one case, a husband filed for divorce because his wife kept doing their laundry at night!
“Even I wash my clothes at night but this is (apparently) among the reasons why divorces are filed,” joked Yeoh. “I read out these reasons to show that these are among the trivial reasons used to file for divorces.”
In 2018, it was found that the most common reasons for men to file for divorce were irreconcilable differences (56.2%), unfaithful wives (11.8%) and meddling in-laws (10%).
For women, the most common causes were irreconcilable differences (38%), unfaithful husbands (20.5%) and irresponsible partners (15.2%).
The Reasons Behind the Rise
There are several reasons why divorce has become more common recently:
Reason #1: No Longer Taboo
Back in our parents and grandparents’ generation, divorce was seen as a big deal. It was considered shameful, a sign that you had failed your partner in some way.
As such, many people would force themselves to stay in failing relationships, choosing to live with the pain rather than go through the embarrassment of getting divorced
Nowadays, divorce doesn’t carry the stigma that it used to. It’s just a thing that happens.
For mental health professionals like Charis Wong of Kin & Kids, these new circumstances are a double-edged sword.
“In one way, people may minimise the sanctity of marriage, because divorce is a way out,” she said. “But on the other hand it reduces the stigma of divorce so people feel like they have options, especially if they are in damaging relationships.”
Reason #2: Girl Power
Alright, let’s get this over with.
Yes, I agree that feminism has made women more willing to get divorced compared to the past. No, I don’t think that this is a bad thing.
If we follow the same trend as my past conversations with annoying older relatives and acquaintances, this is the part where you ask me if I’m gay, to which my response will be “Even if I was, I still wouldn’t be interested in you, idiot.”
Having been raised by a single mother, I firmly believe that more women being willing and able to walk away from a bad relationship is a good thing
Professor Dr Low Wah Yun, a chartered psychologist with University Malaya’s Faculty of Medicine, pointed out that gender roles have changed a lot over the past few decades. The younger generation of women has become more educated and empowered than ever before.
Dr Low said: “Women are becoming more liberated and educated, so they are braver about speaking up and saying, ‘hey, I’m not gonna put up with this anymore!’”
Reason #3: The Pandemic
If we’re gonna talk about divorce rates in 2020 to 2021, we cannot ignore the fact that the past year has been very stressful, to say the least.
For some couples, the lockdown has almost been like a honeymoon period, giving them a chance to renew their relationship and spend quality time together. For others, however, being stuck in a confined space with their partners for months has been a living nightmare.
It’s not just a Malaysian thing, either.
In 2020, ‘Corona Divorce’ became a trending topic on social media sites worldwide due to the sheer number of relationships that had fallen apart during lockdown.
In Japan, frustrated wives turned to Twitter to rant about their “inconsiderate” and “demanding” husbands.
In Indonesia, divorce rates jumped from 800 a day in 2017 to 1,170 a day in 2020. That’s 50 divorces an hour!
And back home in Kuala Lumpur, international dating app SweetRing reported that around 83% of their new users had recently broken up with their partners due to long-distance separation caused by the lockdowns.
Even When It Succeeds, Divorce is Painful
My mother didn’t choose to get divorced on a whim. It was the culmination of many, many years of tears and arguments. Neither of my parents are bad people, but it was clear that they simply could not stay together.
In the end, my mother chose to leave because she wanted a chance to raise her children in a healthier environment.
Was it a necessary decision? She believed so at the time, and in hindsight, so do I. Was it an easy decision? Hell no.
Those first few years were some of the hardest of our lives. Being a single parent is hard. My mother struggled with juggling her work and raising her kids.
Honestly, my family was pretty lucky. After the split, my mother was still able to find us a place to live close to her office. Eventually, she even managed to find a cheap Kancil to drive around.
Think of The Kids
As a kid, I remember being mad that I couldn’t get a Gameboy or PlayStation like all my friends in school, but the truth was that even with her relatively important job my mother was struggling to make ends meet as a single parent.
But even worse than the financial issues were the emotional ones.
I was never the most extroverted child, but after my father left I began to struggle with negative thoughts and emotions.
When I went to a new school, I struggled to make friends. I became angrier and more willing to lash out. At some points, I was bullied. At other points, I became the bully. It was not a happy time for me.
Like many children in similar circumstances, I blamed myself for the divorce. “If I had been a better son, would my parents have stayed together?”
In hindsight, I really was being a bit of a brat. But at the time, I was simply overwhelmed with my negative thoughts and feelings. It got to the point where my mother had to take me to see a psychiatrist.
But even then, I was still one of the luckier ones.
Even if it’s necessary, divorces tend to leave permanent scars on the child’s personality.
Focus on the Family Malaysia chairman Lee Wee Min and psychologist Fauziah Mohd Saad of Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris are just two of the experts who are concerned about how Malaysia’s rising divorce cases will affect our next generation
“Children aged three to six usually feel confused and lost during the divorce process,” said Lee.
He added that older kids and teenagers also became more vulnerable because such kids are more likely to get caught up with a bad crowd and often “led astray”.
Fauziah said that children needed good role models to prevent them from taking the wrong path in life.
“Children need attention and they will not know whom to confide in or look up to if their parents do not have a healthy relationship,” she said. “This will cause them a lot of stress and they’ll possibly fall into depression.”
Not Every Marriage is Doomed to Fall Apart
It’s easy to get caught up in all the negativity going around nowadays. However, it’s important to remember that even though things may look dark, there’s always a silver lining.
The events of the past year have put our relationships to the test. But while many couples have broken apart, many more have emerged from the lockdown with a bond that’s stronger than ever before.
For every couple that split up due to the stress of confinement, others took the opportunity to cut away the barriers between them and learn more about each other — the good sides as well as the bad.
If you’re interested in learning more about these lucky couples and their lockdown experiences, be sure to check out: