Unless you live in a cave, I don’t need to tell you Katie has filed for divorce from Tom. In fact, I don’t even need to tell you their last names. We’ve been privy to the intimate details of their love and lives since they began dating. Now that a divorce proceeding has begun, I’m sure we’ll also be privy to every angry word, marital indiscretion and tear that will be shed.
For those of us who’ve lived through our own divorce (and given the unfortunate statistics, we are many), the one thing we know for certain is there will be tears and heartache. Divorces, no matter how “amicable,” are painful and traumatic. They force us to face painful truths about the people we promised to love for time eternal and ourselves. They upset the apple cart of our lives and make terrifying messes of them. They make us feel like failures, fill us with shame and doubt about ourselves as loveable human beings and throw us into a void of uncertainty. In short, they ravage our lives like an emotional hurricane.
If there are children involved, we struggle to know what’s in their best interest. Do we stay in a loveless and perhaps abusive relationship for the sake of the children or is it in everyone’s best interest that we dissolve the marriage? Women are often paralyzed by fear and the economic uncertainly they may face through a divorce. Men are often terrified of being emotionally and physically alone.
As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I help people navigate their way through this often paralyzing and seemingly devastating process. My role in this regard is not to hand my patients a prescription instructing them to stay together or call it quits, but rather to help them process the pain, disappointment and betrayal that exists in their marriage. The goal is to help them reach a clear understanding of what they want to do and why they want to do it.
To accomplish this, we need to get clarity on some basic concepts about the role and value of marriage as an institution and its place in our lives. For example, as a man who went through his own traumatic divorce and recently re-married, I hold the following beliefs to be true:
- Physical and emotional abuse is unacceptable. Marriage must serve to promote the human dignity of all, not degrade it.
- Marriage serves an incredibly valuable function in our society. It’s an institution worth fighting for and one that should be available to every human being who is willing to work for and advance it.
- Marriage and the people in it are dynamic and must remain open to the evolution that occurs as part of the human experience.
- Fear is something to be worked through in a safe and contained process, not avoided.
- The fact that a decision is hard means it’s important. A struggle signifies there are real issues to be resolved and matters of great importance at stake.
If you too are considering a divorce, I encourage you to engage in a similar process. By getting clear on a few basic principals and beliefs, you can anchor yourself during divorce’s emotional storm. In this regard, think and write about the following:
- What does the institution of marriage mean to you?
- Has your own marriage veered from this meaning? If so, how?
- What would need to happen to bring it back in line with this meaning? Is this possible?
- Are you compromising your integrity or safety, or the integrity or safety of your children by staying in the marriage?
- What kind of role model are you being to your children by staying in the marriage or by ending it?
We must all live our lives by guiding principals. This is especially true when the winds of uncertainty gust and the rains of disappointment fall around us. Divorce is traumatic and life-changing. It stabs at our hearts and wreaks havoc with our souls. Know there is protection from the storm and a new life at its end. Trust yourself and your instincts. Honor yourself and your life. You deserve to be happy, healthy and to thrive in your relationships and in the world.