I've been in the presence of a number of couples recently who have celebrated big milestones in their marriages: 20 years, 40 years, 50 years, 60 years, and one couple 70 years! That absolutely is something to celebrate. It is an amazing accomplishment and worth recognizing.
However, the other side of this coin is that we talk about divorce as "failure". We failed to fix our relationship, we failed to stick it out, we made mistakes, sometimes even in the choosing of our partners in the first place, we married wrong, we don't know how to commit, etc, etc. Maybe for some people this is true. But more and more, I am seeing that this is, more often that not, a misunderstanding of many (most?) divorces. Relationships change and people change. That doesn't mean it was a mistake to pick your partner. It means that what was once a good choice is no longer a good choice. There is good in growth, there is good in change, much of the time. But sometimes that growth, that change, means that you are no longer the best partner for the other, or that they are no longer the best partner for you. It takes courage and strength to imagine your life other than what it is, to step into something else, to make a decision that changes everything that you are, have been and will be, not only for yourself but for children, often. It also sometimes involves needing to rework one's image of oneself. No one enters marriage expecting to go through a divorce. Having to adjust what we believed ourselves to be is hard. Not that any part of divorce is easy. It is expensive in terms of finances, but also emotionally, spiritually and in other ways. It therefore is not an easy choice to make. Those who choose to walk through the fires of divorce are daring to see beyond that pain to a new and different future. Do some people make this decision selfishly? I'm sure there are a few. But for most of us, for the divorced folk I know, awareness of the childrens' needs, of the impact on so many others was an extremely important part of the decision to divorce.
It isn't a failure to recognize when something is no longer bringing life but is creating more pain and despair. It isn't a failing to recognize when something is done, ended, or when something needs to radically change to be best for everyone involved. It isn't a failing to choose life in a situation that is full of death, loss, and brokenness. Sometimes even when relationships are difficult they can be healed. But it can be wisdom to recognize when something is beyond healing, or when that healing has to look like the relationship being different than it was. Sometimes it is dangerous - dangerous for one physically, emotionally, or spiritually, to stay in a specific marriage, and sometimes it is dangerous to choose to leave as well. In those cases especially, the courage to say, "I can't stay. This must change" should be honored and respected rather than criticized as a "failing".
Perhaps it is not unreasonable to suggest that, for some, instead of a divorce anniversary being a day of sadness and shame, that it be a day of celebration, when a person found the strength to step into something new, to dream of a different possibility, to open themselves to a new phase of their journey.
Should we continue to celebrate long marriages? Of course. But it is not a bad thing to celebrate new beginnings, in the form of endings, either.