I hear these words and my heart breaks.
I highly value and cherish the blessing of marriage. What more beautiful thing can there be in the world than two people choosing to commit to love, cherish and honor one another for the rest of their lives? To commit to relationship at its very best and its most challenging? How amazing to have someone say in a ceremony (religious or civil) and publicly they have chosen to elevate you in their lives above everyone else. It is tragic when these initial sacred intentions are torn apart by so many varied and sundry things. Things that should never have a presence within a mutually loving and nourishing relationship.
Probably one of the most painful experiences of a divorce is the experience of being the one to pull the plug. To be the one to say it is over and to begin the process of untangling yourself from one another. The next most painful is how people will react when they hear your have embarked on the process of divorce.
If I have learned anything from working with clients who are going through the process of divorce, it is who turns out to be supportive and who is not.
It is often a surprise, shocking, painful, and clarifying. All at the same time.
1. People will take sides.
Remember when you were getting married? In most ceremonies, each partner’s family and friends clearly state who they are there to support and represent, going as far as sitting on opposite sides of the ceremony.
Over the course of your relationship, each of you intentionally cultivated relationships with your partner’s loved ones, friends and acquaintances. At the first sign of a separation and pending divorce, people will again take sides and you will be surprised at who falls into each camp.
That beloved sister-in-law, with whom you shared the most and thought loved you, might abandon you. Your best friend, who has been through everything with you, might judge you. That high school friend you just recently reconnected with might be your greatest support. That friend who you shared your situation with might be going through the same thing.
2. People will say hurtful things about you and to you.
One of the ways people take sides is by being supportive of your partner in ways that will make you feel cut off and question yourself. You might hear people who you thought knew you saying to your soon-to-be-ex, “He/she wasn’t really good for you anyways”, “I’m so glad it’s ending for you”, “You’re better off without them”, and “They were (insert negative characterization here – difficult to get along with, critical, mean, etc.).” You will inevitably end up asking yourself, “Is that what they really thought of me?” and “Am I really like that?”
What you have to remember: it is human nature to want to demonize someone in order to make it easier to walk away from them relationally. It’s easier to cut you off if they can say something mean or negative about you.
This is not about you. It is about them.
All of you is glorious – the not so beautiful parts of you are beautiful too. This is how love sees us – whole. We can all be critical, mean – whatever. But, we are not all those negative things all the time. In fact, most of the time, we can be gracious, kind, thoughtful, loving, and generous. We are whole human beings. We just do the best we can and pain, hurt, disappointment, fear, and frustration can make it difficult to be our true selves; inviting us into ways of being that are against our better judgment.
This is true for everyone.
But, don’t forget who you are at your core; that part of you that wants to be the best you can be and are most of the time.
Stay connected to people who will speak truth into your life about who you are at your centre. Hang on to those people who will hold an undistorted mirror up to you reflecting back all of who you are, not just what they or you want to see.
3. People do not have all the information.
Many times, we are private about the negative things that happen in our lives. There is a culture of silence around the most important things in our lives – illness, the first trimester of a pregnancy (“just in case” goes the argument), mental health, financial struggle, and spirituality. Just to name a few. We don’t share until the proverbial “shit hits the fan”.
It is healthy to be private about sacred things in your life. Those closest to you will know what is happening and know how you came to the conclusion your marriage has ended. Those who don’t understand will question your decision and, most often than not, berate you for it.
“This is a total surprise to me.”
Of course, it is!
“I don’t understand.”
Of course, they don’t!
Because they don’t have all the information.
And, they don’t need to.
There is no need to explain or defend yourself to people who ask for reasons. Bear in mind their questions are about them – their confusion, their lack of information, their need to have certainty in their lives. And most will want more information just for the sake of having more information and not for the purpose of supporting you.
You will never need to defend yourself to those who have walked with you in your journey of desperately trying to save your relationship. Or, to those who have seen the despair move across your face as you realized you have exhausted all your ideas of how to fix things. Or, that person who listened as you prayed begging for God to break into your marriage and save it by some miracle.
The people who love you will ask you the challenging questions, help you examine your feelings and thinking. But they will also accept and support whatever decision you make even if they do not agree with you. Lovingly, gently, honestly….
Learn to discern the difference between wise loving counsel and those who are just interested in drama and information for the sake of having information.
4. You will be living your decisions, not others.
People will have a lot of things to say about what you should or should not have done and what you should do now or why you shouldn’t be doing whatever it is you are doing. They will have ideas and suggestions. Only you know what you have tried, what hasn’t worked and what you knew better than to try because it wouldn’t have worked. You are the one who has struggled through long sleepless nights trying to find a way to avoid where you are now. But, people will give you their opinions anyways as if you haven’t already thought through all the alternatives.
The thing to remember is you will be the one living your decisions and you need to be clear about the possible ramifications of those decisions. Whatever happens, you need to be willing to live through the consequences – whatever they may be. This includes potentially regretting choices you may make during this time. Ultimately, they are your choices to make and no-one else’s.
This is where a therapist or a wise friend, who will help you look at all your options as well as exploring all the possible consequences, can be helpful. It can be easy to be myopic and hope thing will turn out in a particular way. However, before a divorce is final, you will be dealing with another person (your soon to be ex) and their responses to everything. These responses can be unpredictable and surprising. You will need to react or respond as best as you can. Having someone to be a sounding board can provide you with options you hadn’t considered, help you slow down your thinking and prevent (as much as possible) you from making decisions based in fear and hurt.
5. The marriage ended long before you decided to ask for a divorce.
The person who asks for the divorce has traditionally been understood as the person who is ending the relationship. However, the death knell of a marriage rings far earlier than the moment someone sits in my office asking for help to end it.
An intention to divorce is only an acknowledgement the marriage has ended – regardless of whether it was mutual or not. At the announcement of a divorce, the process of separating two intimately intertwined lives begins. It is the transitionary space between acknowledging the ending one life and the beginning another. During this time, there are a lot of decisions to make and much pain, hurt, disappointment, loss, and fear to work through.
I don’t know why you decided to end your relationship but, it didn’t happen in my office. It happened in your home as you were working hard to live life together. Something happened to create a break in the connection between you and your partner. Repeated infidelity, abuse, disconnection, refusal to address issues, immaturity, irresponsibility, selfishness, neglect, jealousy…. The reasons are endless.
Whatever the reason, it takes two to make a relationship work and both of you played your part in maintaining it. And, both of you played a part in it ending and, often, not in equal parts. As the person asking for the divorce, you just happened to be the one to name the reality that has existed for some time. By asking for a divorce, you have given language to the situation.
Saying things out loud (naming them and calling them what they are) is powerful, painful and liberating all at the same time. You named the elephant in the room and there is no longer any hiding from it. You didn’t create it on your own, you are not solely responsible for it. You have simply taken on the mantle of courage needed to say, “This is the state of our marriage.” Once something is named, it is actionable and change becomes possible.
In the end, my hope for my clients, and for you, is that you will be able to look back on this difficult time and be proud of how you handled yourself – with grace, dignity and as the best human being you possibly could be under the circumstances.
Dealing with other people’s responses and opinions is very difficult. Moving from what is known and familiar into the unfamiliar and unknown is always a frightening proposition. Doubts brought on by other people’s voices are compelling invitations to remain where we are despite the pain. Other people’s opinions can strongly encourage you to doubt your personal knowledge of your lived experiences. Be clear about where your thoughts and experiences end and where the opinions of others begin. Find people who can show you clearly where that line is.
I am a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist who specializes in helping individuals, couples and families with anxiety, depression, relational issues, and trauma. Life is tough. Relationships are even more so. There are so many things which can throw us off course from our intentions to live well and with joy. I help people wade through the options, find resources and make their own decisions within a compassionate, non-judgmental and safe environment. I help you find solutions.
Contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 610-551-8203 to book a free 30 minute consult to discuss the ways in which we can work together to get you back on track.