The promises of wedding vows made with the best of intentions get tested when life — past and present — shows up. We are dynamic individuals growing and changing as we navigate life. Sometimes, a relationship cannot sustain under the pressures of change, struggle, illness, betrayal, and differing desires to make a marriage work.
Much is invested in preparation for the wedding while the statistics of divorce are a stark contrast to wedding day bliss. Many marriages do not survive today. Some statistics have that number between 40-50% for first marriages and the odds of divorce increase for second and third marriages.
When a marriage is in crisis, love is stretched. Faith is tested. Dreams feel like they become more distant.
Family of origin and faith backgrounds influence the levels of complexity and pain when divorce is on the table for discussion. The desire to love and be loved, to feel connection and belonging is part of our physiological make up. The drive to protect ourselves from loneliness and feeling misunderstood is a fierce force, so when divorce becomes a reality the body, brain and soul often go into survival mode.
If you’re going through a divorce…
The ending of a marriage can mark a journey into grief and loss. The wounds of grief and loss may not be seen, but care is required as this emotional upheaval can drain the body’s reserves just like a physical wound.
The brain is working on overtime to recalibrate a new ‘normal’ so making sleep, nourishing well, social support and activities that fuel calm and creativity a priority is crucial. Individual and group therapy and other avenues of deep soul work are important to make time for so that healing can happen and hope can take root again.
As common as divorce is today, few want divorce to be a part of their story or to be known as someone who seemingly “failed” in this aspect of life. When a relationship fails, it is a hard fight to not to internalize failure into a permanent fixture of one’s identity.
Fight for this truth: Your worthiness to receive love and belonging is not something that is up for negotiation.
Divorce has the ability to elicit a great amount of shame, depending on how we respond to it. Many who are divorced feel like they are marked for life — branded with a story that may repel their innate desire to experience love, belonging and maybe even marriage again. Push back on the lies of shame — regardless of the messages received from the world. Fight for this truth: Your worthiness to receive love and belonging is not something that is up for negotiation. A broken heart does not have to become a hardened heart. Rise from the fall, learn from the mistakes and claim the power to author new endings in a continuing story of love, loss and growth.
If you know someone going through a divorce…
There are a multitude of reasons why a marriage ends. Marriage is hard, messy and challenging in ways that are difficult to always be prepared for. The courage to end a marriage may not be understood by anyone but the couple, which can be a lonely and uncomfortable journey. It can be confusing and frustrating for those outside of a relationship when told news that a divorce is the next reality for a couple.
Divorce triggers vulnerability in all of us, and watching the ending of a relationship can tap into fears about our own relationship concerns. We want our community of friends and family to be the exception to the sobering divorce statistics. So, when we know someone starting down the path of divorce, it is sometimes a dose of real life that we may not be ready or willing to swallow.
Friends and loved ones often look for reasons to try and make sense of why someone is getting divorced. Sometimes these reasons are obvious: Betrayal, abuse, addiction, abandonment. Sometimes they are more subtle, personal and intimate: The wedges of distance, hardening of hearts, breaches of trust can go deep and wide.
Be wary of culture’s voyeuristic tendencies to get all the details behind the demise of a marriage. Wanting to know the details of someone’s divorce story is not a right, but a privilege which has to be earned.
Offering respect, privacy and kindness can be an incredible gift to a loved one who is hurting deeply.
Caution against the knee-jerk responses which judge, criticize or create empathic failure. Many of those going through a divorce are doing enough self-judging and self-criticizing on their own. And not having experience with divorce does not mean relating with divorce is impossible. Everyone can relate to hurt, disappointment, uncertainty, shame, despair, fear and loss. Offering respect, privacy and kindness can be an incredible gift to a loved one who is hurting deeply.
Endings bring forth the opportunity for new beginnings. When the time is right, daring to risk again in love and relationships will require an immense amount of strength and support. Love is brave business and taking the chance to try to find love again — without the certainty of the outcome — is also the business of being human.
For more resources on divorce:
Adult Children of Divorce: How to Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Break-up and Enjoy Love, Trust, and Intimacy by Jeffrey Zimmerman + Elizabeth S. Thayer
Daring Greatly + Rising Strong by Brené Brown
Image via Candace Molatore