I haven’t written much about my ended marriage to this point. I have to raise a child with the man that used to be my husband, which makes it hard to be candid. And I refuse to write about it if I can’t be truthful.
Often, when I’ve mentioned that I was going through a divorce, people would say, “Well, is it amicable at least?” As if this devastating blow to the image of life I had held since childhood, might be softened by an agreeable separation.
“No,” I have to reply. This always makes people uncomfortable. No one knows what to say after that.
I’ve considered answering with, “I’m not even sure what that word means anymore. If you’re asking if we are avoiding screaming at each other in the streets then, yes—it’s amicable.” But this just seems mean given the that innocent bystander to my pain, is simply inquiring about the deeply personal nature of a relationship between two people that lasted more than a decade.
Why do we even ask that question? Is it amicable?
Maybe some people get to model an amicable divorce, but I am not one of them. And when acquaintances or strangers point this out to me, I feel like I have to explain. Most of all, I want them to know that I am not the sort of person that gives up on a marriage. If it WERE possible to have an amicable divorce, then I would probably still be married.
The other thing about the amicable question is—do you really want to know? I mean, do you really want me to explain the relationship? Can you imagine if, when you learned someone is married, your next question was, Are you getting along with your spouse today?
Maybe I’m overly sensitive. Of course I am! There are days when my entire body feels like one giant, exposed nerve. Like every interaction prods into the deepest part of my psyche.
So now that you understand how absurd the amicable question is, let me offer some suggestions of what might be more helpful to someone who is facing or recently undergone this dissection.
I’m sorry for your loss. This is a phrase we associate with losing a loved one to death, but I can’t think of a more appropriate sentiment for the death of a marriage, which is really the death of a dream. It is a deep, deep loss. As I’ve been processing it, most of the feelings that keep showing up are grief and disappointment. The benefit of this phrase, is that no matter the position of the affected person, whether they wanted the divorce or not, whether they see themselves as better off or worse off or both, whether it’s amicable or not—they have suffered a loss. It communicates compassion without inflicting assumptions.
Understand that divorce takes a long time and it takes effort. When I first set out to get divorced, I learned that the average divorce takes two years to finalize. I thought mine would go more quickly because once we figured out a custody agreement, our estate was mostly liquid and easily divisible. Not so. We came in right around the average. When people learn this, I often hear a comment about how EASY it is to get married and how there should be more of SOMETHING in place to complicate that end of this procedure. I got married when I was 20 years old so I am fully aware that I was young and knew almost nothing back then. But this comment ALWAYS rubs me the wrong way. I think it’s because there is an implied assumption that I made a mistake in marrying the person I did. That kind of feels like salt in the wound at this point. Plus, the outcome of more than a decade of life has more variables than a little pre-marital counseling could deflect so let’s not distill it down to that.
Also, there is no divorce fairy that puts the settlement together. It takes gut-wrenching, disgusting, prolonged effort to see it through, even with an attorney.
People going through divorce are going through a lot. For the first year of separation, I really looked like I had it together. I was doing the working mom, volunteer church service, regular exercise thing like nobody’s business. I was also running from my pain. Eventually it caught up with me. I hit a wall and had to start saying no to lots of things. I just needed space and time to feel all the feelings. To let them rise to the surface. I’m still in that space almost a year later and that’s with a year of a life coaching program, plus regular journaling, plus more than six months of individual psychotherapy. There is A LOT to work through so please be kind. Please don’t judge. I’ve never been through anything more humbling… or more liberating.
People going through divorce need light. Please be patient with them as they search for it. I have found that there are people and things in my life that used to work for me but no longer do. And I simply don’t have the bandwidth to accommodate things that aren’t working right now. I have taken on new hobbies. I have relaxed with some things and become more rigid with others. I have changed my spiritual practices. But mostly, I am looking for light. I lived for so many years without love, or maybe more accurately, with such a contorted form of love that it nearly destroyed me. This was the dark angel. It caused me incredible pain, but that pain ultimately opened me. The best light I find is by connecting with people in meaningful ways. It’s when I feel heard and seen and accepted and loved.
I have been blessed with so much warmth and love through this process and it’s still unfolding. It’s humbling. Learning—really internalizing—that there are people who love me and accept me—has been so healing. It’s how I’ve come to understand the nature of God’s love for me. The nature of true love. Namaste.
“When her pain is fresh and new, let her have it. Don’t try to take it away. Forgive yourself for not having that power. Grief and pain are like joy and peace; they are not things we should try to snatch from each other. They’re sacred. they are part of each person’s journey. All we can do is offer relief from this fear: I am all alone. That’s the one fear you can alleviate.”Glennon Doyle, Carry On, Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed