That title is a bit of a misnomer. Let’s be honest- I can’t tell you what divorce is like for everyone who experiences that sad undertaking. I do, however, think it could be helpful to hear some of my experience. I only have a little advice which I’ll tell you now in case you get bored with my story:
1. Learn as much as you can about the reality of marriage and the faults of the person you want to marry before you get married. Make a conscious choice and not an emotional leap.
2. If it’s too late and the divorce has happened (is happening) make forgiveness your priority. Forgive yourself and your spouse completely. Unless you don’t really want to enjoy your life. If that’s the case, skip forgiving.
In the midst of it, divorce is like having a limb chopped off. It’s likely that for many, that feeling of disastrous separation from a part of yourself does not go away. Even if the limb were riddled with disease and barely operating in its intended function, it is still horrible to have it removed. It was, after all, yours. The empty space serves as a constant reminder of what could have been.
I get too metaphorical, I’ll now go narrative.
It was July 7th (some years ago) the day that my former husband told me all of his news- the most central was his choosing to walk away from God, whom he could no longer believe existed. The divorce part was almost an afterthought of his realizations and decisions. I don’t blame him for not seeing things the way I saw them. To him, I believe (and he may read this and correct me) we had become like roommates and our separation seemed a matter of course. It was not so for me. For me, he was my husband and unmarrying was a matter of purposeful destruction…
This is not to say that I didn’t have plenty of doubts. Marriage is hard. I don’t have to air our daily struggles to express this reality. Sometimes I obsessed over the difficulties, sometimes I felt a blissful distance from them. I rarely talked openly with friends and this is one of the hardest things, I think: Where is that line where you honor your spouse by not talking about your private matters with Outsiders, and yet are able to somehow process all of that tangle of relational intensity. Did I deal with that argument well? How do I make sense of that interaction when I’m so emotionally triggered I can’t see straight? Who could I talk to that would not take sides, but would lovingly help me see more clearly?
I am relationally oriented to the extreme and so being all-in was everything all the time. I remember reading this article which satirized the Christian belief that divorce is not an acceptable route. The couple in the article were miserable with each other and the slant of the article made their perspective foolish. As I read, I was torn because my values are hardwired into my core and yet, like most people, I don’t enjoy misery. I won’t tell you what to think on this matter, but I am much (much) more passionate now that people know what they’re choosing before they get married. Because even for The Happy Couples, marriage. Is. Hard.
Back to that summer day, I’m pretty sure I was in shock. We spoke kindly and afterwards decided to go see a movie together. I don’t remember how long it took things to sink in for me, but I remember feeling a growing sense of betrayal and abandonment. I had already planned a trip to North Carolina for a few months for a photography internship, and so I kept that plan in place. Three weeks between The News and my departure and I felt like a tropical plant in the desert. I shrunk fast and mentally stayed curled up on the guest room bed.
I don’t want to make myself a martyr. I know he felt he was making things right by undoing our ties. He was freeing us both in a way I wouldn’t have chosen. It took me several more months to accept that his course was set and I remember the very day that I finally understood. I had sent him a rather angry email about some hurts I needed to get off my chest (even now I cheer for my sad little codependent self, being so honest regardless of his response) and when he responded he mentioned that he had started dating. This was a shock. All things considered, I needed the shock. I read his email and then got on my face and said to God just what I’d said to him when my daughter died, “Please take this. If I keep it, I will let it make me into a bitter and twisted hag. Please take this and walk me through how to do this in a way that will truly be good.”
When I say that forgiveness is the job of the divorcee, I say it with all the grace of a person who did not do it alone. Whatever broken, horrible thoughts I placed into God’s hands, he gave me back abundant love and mercy. He gave me a continued love for my ex-husband which has completely let go of the tie we once had. He is my brother. God gave me friendships which helped heal specific wounds and he gave me direction which has led me only closer to His near presence.
Here’s the truth of where things stand today (lest you get too depressed by the story) I am free. I can’t warn you away from divorce with a shake of the finger and a cautionary tale of my decline. Divorce is death, that is a fact. No matter who you are, it’s a death. But just as there is beautiful life available on the other side of death, so with divorce, and this because God is good. Although humans are as resilient as they are stubbornly self-destructive, it is only God who can make something good out of the bad. And this he has done.