What comes to mind when you think about divorce? For me, it was always fear. Just the word “divorce” made my shoulders tense. Anytime it had come up in years of marriage counseling, I was always quick to jump into “No, we are NOT getting a divorce. That is not an option for us.” It felt too paralyzing to even consider. But why?
I was raised to measure marital success only by the metric of longevity. I would feel so much pride telling someone I had been married for 10 years. Our marriage officiant even joked about having a perfect record; meaning no couples he married had ever gotten a divorce. When thinking of successful marriages only within the frame of longevity, it makes sense to see divorce as a failure—and failure is scary.
When thinking of successful marriages only within the frame of longevity, it makes sense to see divorce as a failure—and failure is scary.
I work in healthcare and have always had this fixation with Marie Curie—one of the most brilliant female scientists who essentially gave her life to learn, grow, and teach. She said, “Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.” If Marie could bravely seek to understand radioactivity, surely I could try to understand divorce. Divorce doesn’t need to be feared as the ultimate relational failure. Divorce can be incredibly painful, but it can also be an end to a destructive cycle. Releasing dysfunction can feel liberating and freeing.
But through my marriage troubles, I was still paralyzed by fear. So, I tried harder to fit into my expected role as a mother of two young kids, a supportive wife, and an attentive friend, just to keep the status quo. Like many women who are internally crumbling and not ready to talk about it, I dove into reading. I needed to hear other women’s words about grief, fear, and living a life different than they had imagined. I flew through Oriah’s The Invitation, where she beautifully explains that “We betray ourselves when we deny the change that terrifies us when we maintain the external illusion that all remains the same.” In my fear, I was betraying myself. And then chose to numb some of those fears by having an affair—the ultimate betrayal I made to myself.
I would have never anticipated making that choice in my life. Like many people who find themselves on that path, I felt unsure of how I had even gotten there. The refusal to even consider divorce or make a temporary change felt too scary. Somehow that helped me justify some of the painful mistakes I made with a playground dad at the time.
So, where does one go from there? I still felt afraid of divorce, but I felt more afraid of continuing to lie and hide. I’m a health practitioner, and I knew full well the effects of chronic stress on the body. I couldn’t sleep, I was continually having anxiety-induced diarrhea in the middle of the night, I weighed less than I ever had as an adult, and I was watching my body completely break down. I couldn’t pretend everything was fine for one more minute, and I decided to let it all spill out.
I couldn’t pretend everything was fine for one more minute, and I decided to let it all spill out.
It was obviously a painful season in my life and for my former husband. Over time, he was kind. He was growing. I was and still am incredibly proud of him. But I was also no longer so afraid of divorce. I was more afraid of continuing to try to fit into the role of a wife. I needed to experience some growth alone. So after much effort, counseling, highs, and lows, we chose to get a divorce.
Lots of advice came streaming in; that it’s better to stay together “for the kids.” But does it really benefit kids? Or does it show them that to be married is to struggle? We asked ourselves: would we want this marriage for our children?
When we can fully realize that marital success is meant to be about growth, then we can feel good about releasing a marriage when that is no longer happening. Divorce can be a very transformative and healing event. It can be a letting-go of all the painful coping mechanisms. Dr. Shefali Tsabary, author of The Conscious Parent, talks about cycles changing in nature and how we can allow things to be shed to make space for new things to grow. We can talk about this with our children. Depending on their ages, they can understand a lot about growth, letting go, and cycles ending and beginning in a new way.
During our divorce, I heard so many secret admissions of others having affairs, struggling in their partnerships, separating for a season, and never telling anyone. So many women confessing, “I’ve never told anyone this, but …” and it made me realize how much we struggle in isolation. The shame of talking about divorce, separation, or mistakes keeps many people stuck in fear.
I heard so many secret admissions of others having affairs, struggling in their partnerships, separating for a season, and never telling anyone. So many women confessing, ‘I’ve never told anyone this but …’ and it made me realize how much we struggle in isolation.
Perhaps if we all spoke a little more openly about our mistakes or our deepest fears, we could start to shift these stigmas. My former husband and I wanted to make our kids proud of how we handled our marriage cycle ending. Accepting my own mistakes and failures and still choosing to love and value myself is something I want my children to see. I want them to know that even our biggest failings can be a call to evolve, transform, and become more of ourselves. I want my children to desire growth more than the appearance of perfection—more than a long marriage.
Perhaps by showing children (and ourselves) marital success in terms of growth, freedom, and authenticity, with less weight on longevity and anniversaries, we can feel less afraid of divorce. A cycle ending can be beautiful and sometimes the best thing for a family.