I went to Shabbat services alone last night; the girls are with their dad for Thanksgiving this year. The holidays are difficult without them, but I’ve learned how to acknowledge the discomfort and know joy despite their absence.
During our silent prayer, I thought about all of the people I know who are struggling to survive in their marriages right now, and what I wished someone would have shared with me when I was deciding whether or not to divorce.
Men and women courageously confide in me of their suffering within relationships. Every story I hear is different, yet their feelings are pervasive: they feel trapped, lonely and terrified of making the decision to end their marriages.
When I officiate weddings, I use the metaphor of bamboo (borrowed from Paulo Coelho’s book, Aleph). Bamboo grows underground for five years, cultivating a complex, interlocking root system that anchors the bamboo in the earth so it can grow up to 25 meters high. A marriage is similar. It takes years for two people to create a life together. It’s hard to tell them apart after awhile – when did they become one?
How do you even begin to undo that? How do you know where to start unraveling a vow that was intended to last a lifetime? How do you uproot a family bonded together, a home, a foundation for the children, holidays together, takeout on Tuesdays, someone to call when the car won’t start, someone to come home to after a long day, someone to vent to, someone to snuggle with, someone to love and someone to love you back even if it doesn’t feel much like love anymore?
How do you decide to walk away from the comfort of predictability into the uncertainty of a life of your own, on your own?
Throughout history, people have been released from captivity only to return, because, in captivity, they knew what that day and the day after would bring, even if it was unbearable, it was knowable. Humans want to know what's next -- it’s how we feel safe. It’s how we survive life. But life isn’t meant just to survive– it’s meant for living, staying wide awake, and taking risks.
Divorce and life after divorce is anything but safe -- it’s a total crapshoot, a question mark. It’s living in the uncertainty and trusting you’ll be ok even though you have no clue what comes next.
By the time someone is ruminating about ending their marriage, they’ve already made the decision in their heart; their mind just hasn’t caught up yet. Most often, the reason they haven’t left is that they’re scared of the logistics and the financial burden of separating, which works itself out once the decision has been made.
People choose to end their relationships for many reasons.
If you’re making the decision to leave your marriage for another relationship, it’s important to step back and understand that, most often, the person you are thinking of leaving your marriage for is a bit player, the torch carrier, guiding you out, but not meant to stay.
A question you may want to ask yourself is: if this other person didn’t exist, would I still want to leave? And, if the answer is yes, ask yourself if you’d rather be on your own for the rest of your life than be with your spouse, because, for some, that’s what happens. But, you won’t know your fate until it arrives. Do you still want a divorce?
If you’ve grown apart from your partner, have you tried to do your own work first? Go to therapy, study something new, immerse yourself in nature (there are many wisdoms hidden in the trees, rocks and animals), or become involved in your community. The more fulfilled we are as individuals, the more open minded and patient we are with those around us. You may begin to see your partner in a new way. You may rediscover each other. It’s worth a try…
If you’re in an emotionally, verbally and/or physically abusive situation and you have children – you must prioritize the wellbeing of the child(ren). Children need a safe, peaceful environment to thrive. Your primary responsibility is to your children, not to your spouse. Confide in family members and/or friends and seek the support of a therapist and/or the spiritual/religious leader of your congregation. You are teaching your children how to live and how to love. What do you want them to see and experience? How do you want them to act towards themselves and others? Living in separate households without hostility is healthier for children than being under one roof of duress.
No matter how amicably or un-amicably you may separate from one another, you will, over time, become strangers. The years and effort that went into building your life together will fade. Although, when you have children, your former spouse will have an undeniable presence in your life. I read once that if there’s even a molecule of love left between two people, they are forever connected. I believe that. Love exists – it can’t be destroyed.
A divorce is a transformation, a re-organization of roots.
Your communication with each other will be constantly evolving. You have the choice to be kind, diplomatically direct and honest for wellbeing of your children. It is your responsibility to maintain the peace. Remember that the frustration and anger that may arise is temporary, but the relationship with your children’s mother or father will span a lifetime – remain calm. If neither of you react, peace will be had. If only one of you reacts and one of you does not, peace will be had, it just might take a little longer.
In most circumstances, you will be obligated to share the custody of your children. Sometimes, you will welcome the break, and sometimes, it will be absolutely excruciating. It will feel like a death and you will grieve their absence in that way. Find something to believe in greater than yourself and it will keep you protected, especially when you feel the loneliness. Loneliness is a phase -- it passes if you stick with it and don’t distract yourself. However, if you latch on to someone else too quickly so you don’t have to feel it, it will hunt you down and take you prisoner. It will manifest in insidious ways, to your detriment. You need space, time and solitude to uncover your own seed – to reclaim your own identity.
Getting divorced is a labor, just like childbirth. You are rebirthing yourself. The way of life you’ve become accustomed to knowing every day will disappear and you will feel lost for a while, but you will rebuild and you will re-root.
You will know love in a new way, a transformed way. You will remain the foundation for your children and you will remain their home. You will sow deep, supportive friendships. There will be someone to pick you up when your car won’t start and to vent to after a long day. And, most importantly, you will be free. You will sit on a Friday night in grateful reflection, alone while surrounded by others, and you will know what it is to be alive and no longer struggling to decide.
It was worth the risk…