Have you ever thought that divorce could be a gift? That the brokenness you may feel when realizing your relationship is over is the beginning stage of transformation?
Thirteen and a half years ago, I found myself facing the end of my second marriage. In reality, the marriage had died twelve and a half years earlier but I was unable to acknowledge that fact.
Unconsciously, my mantra was “Don’t be a two-time loser.” My first marriage ended after three years, when my husband put me in a headlock and threatened to break my neck while I was two months pregnant, holding our 14-month-old baby girl. Fast forward 14 years and I was faced again with the demise of another marriage. Blending my second husband’s five children with my two children had not gone well. Our parenting styles were different. Our family cultures did not mesh. I was bearing the burden of being the primary breadwinner for our blended household while my second husband’s income supported his first family. We separated five years into the marriage with what I thought was an intent to work on our relationship. My hope was that by the time our youngest child graduated, we could once again live together.
After seven years of separation, I finally woke up and realized that my husband had long since left the relationship. Despite my efforts to salvage the relationship, the conflict continued. Our lives were more separate than ever. Even when my 13-year-old daughter once screamed “Just get divorced already,” I ignored her pleas. My two daughters and step-children were stuck riding the emotional rollercoaster of this unhealthy relationship.
Needless to say it took a few more years to pull the trigger–to face reality. By this time, I had graduated from law school and was a guardian ad litem, an advocate for children of divorce. I realized I had deluded myself into believing by staying married I was benefitting my own children–teaching them not to give up, to work through difficult relationships, because family must stick together. A shocking disclosure from my husband opened my eyes to finally see the shell of our relationship. Yet, I still doubted. If this marriage failed, what did that say about me? What would people think? My religion emphasized the importance of family and staying married. But, here I was faced with a second divorce. I also knew what was ahead. The initial compassion from friends and neighbors would eventually turn to isolation. Invitations from my coupled up friends stopped because having a single woman around is uncomfortable and for some, threatening. This had been my past and I was not looking forward to this future.
But our past need not repeat itself if we heed the simple calls that uncannily appear. Joseph Campbell identified this as the “The Hero’s Journey” and the “Call to Adventure.” It is Luke Skywalker rejecting the call to travel to Alderaan until he returns home to find his uncle and aunt killed. Divorce is no different. We can heed the call to adventure by diving inward. To excavate and ultimately expunge the beliefs that we acquire along our life’s journeys that no longer serve us. To find the allies who can help us hold the sadness, guilt, blame, depression, and rage that burns within, no matter how painful.
My second marriage emotionally destroyed me. Yet, from this complete and utter emotional rubble, I was motivated to turn inwards so I could find who I was, what I believed, and where I wanted to go. I discovered that many of the beliefs that I held about myself and how I relate with others were no longer serving me. These beliefs and skills helped me survive my childhood but they were not serving well in adulthood. I clarified the values that are important to me and distinguished the values that were “imposed” on me. I discovered my self-worth. I learned to set boundaries and not take ownership of other people’s issues. (Okay, I still struggle with this one.) I learned the importance of self-acceptance. (Another one I struggle with.) I faced my anger, blame, victimhood, and guilt directly. I sat with the pain. In so doing, it transformed my perceptions about myself and how I interact with the world. Most importantly, I disengaged from relationships that were damaging. I realized the importance of surrounding myself with friends, family, and associates who support and accept me as I am.
I liken the divorce process to the life cycle of a butterfly. Initially, a pupa is born as a caterpillar. But, also within the caterpillar is the DNA of the butterfly. At some point, the caterpillar must transform. It builds its chrysalis around itself. The caterpillar turns to mush and the rebuilding process begins. A butterfly emerges but not without a struggle. It is initially crumpled. It must wait for its wings to harden. But in time, it spreads its wings and soars.
Divorce can be a gift. It is an opportunity for you to discover who you are, what you want, and where you want to go. You have everything you need within you, but you need not go it alone. Find professionals who can be allies in your journey. People who work with you to create a secure chrysalis for transformation from which you can emerge with hope, security, and confidence in your future. We are out there.