Breaking Up Together: A Tale of Divorce
Divorce – an event that may conjure up heartbreaking memories when we think back to the dissolution of our parent’s union, or our own, or it may contain fears for our future. This construct is often categorized in our minds under the pretense of a “loss of love”, and for some, it is perceived as a failure, although it affects 40-50% of all marriages, to be exact.
This resounding number echoes into the chambers of our hearts where we hold the meaning of marriage up as a symbol of love, commitment, and partnership. If 90% of people in Western cultures marry before the age of 50, why does it feel like most of us get it wrong?
Although the divorce rate has decreased over the last decade, we often think of divorce and the resounding idea of failure together. If ‘marry’ means love and certainty, then in the dichotomy of our lives, ‘divorce’ must mean isolation and fear. This idea separates us from the ability to see divorce for its healing, growth-rendering, or relieving benefits. For these elements to come to fruition, however, it requires a set of skills on behalf of both partners that are common to healthy marriages: cooperation, communication, shared goals, and self-care.
A Marriage Story
As we examine divorce, let us do so in context. A Marriage Story (2020), a film adapted from its original novel format, tells the tale of two people ending a marriage while struggling to keep their family together. The story follows Charlie and Nicole as they navigate the predictable elements of divorce: initial announcement to the other partner and significant others, separation of families and entities, and navigation of the legal system. The story also conveys the unseen parts of divorce: loss of identity, detaching with love, unpredictable waves of emotion (e.g. guilt, regret, anger, etc.), and a general crisis of transition. Perhaps the most significant lesson in the film is the realistic portrayal of the outcome of divorce: it is not all happy endings and rejoining, but rather a diffusion of a relationship that leads to a redefining.
The Mechanics of Divorce
The Oxford Dictionary defines the act of divorce as to “separate or dissociate (something) from something else”. The essential ingredient of divorce is loss, which affirms the belief of what we lose when we end a marriage. We divorce another person, and by definition, we dissociate ourselves from what they represent – a painful separation of ideas and beliefs built collectively. Charlie and Nicole lost each other in the process of life, responsibilities, and miscommunication, as well as lost a part of themselves that was invested in a future with the other person.
When we deal with divorce, not only are we experiencing the loss of companionship of another person but also we must face the part of ourselves whose light has incrementally diminished; a light from which the other person held the matches. These are the messages we internalize when we believe we have failed at something such as divorce.
So, what is gained in this painful process? Short answer: a renewal of purpose.
The Key Ingredients
As we contemplate the renewal of purpose for a relationship, we must factor in several fundamental questions: “Who else is involved in this separation (e.g. children, pets, roommates)? Will we have to maintain any shared responsibilities? What do I want this relationship to look like after divorce? Is this someone I can still see as a valuable relationship in my life?” Once both partners have circumvented the realities of ending the marriage, the renewal process begins. A Marriage Story elicits a series of lessons that arise as its main characters navigate through the shift in relation to one another.
Find a neutral party that will mediate the process.
- Divorce/couples counseling is a common tool utilized by partners dedicated to understanding the nature of their divorce, reconciling differences that make communication beyond separation difficult, or are committed to accepting the new roles granted by divorce.
Begin with gratitude.
- Engaging in real reflection of the other person’s strengths and positive qualities helps partners to remember not only the other person’s humanity, but also why they chose them in the first place. Although this therapeutic exercise is not reparative in nature, it assists partners in appreciating the qualities of the other person that prevent dehumanization.
Communicate personal and shared goals.
- As it is important in a marriage, it is also important to have an idea of what your personal goals might be following a divorce, as well as shared goals between partners that makes the process more communicative and seamless. This might look like communication over shared responsibilities, assumed roles, division of time with dependents, and time spent together after the fact. In A Marriage Story, Charlie and Nicole were not only parents but coworkers, so identifying the process by which they could work amicably and effectively was a crucial part of their healing.
Win or lose, both partners are still figuring it out together.
- Court proceedings, trials, and separating physical materials are often points of contention as lives begin to separate. There might be real outcomes over “winning” a portion of financial battles, custody, or property, but at the end of it, partners are still left to depend on and figure it out together. This can be a real trigger for those struggling to cope, and individual therapy is a tool to help aerate feelings of abandonment, rejection, sadness, etc.
Separation is just another form of love.
- Divorce is both a lesson and a labor of love in many ways – we are all imperfect persons bravely choosing to co-exist alongside another imperfect person, and sometimes the paths do not remain steady. Detaching with love, in gratitude and appreciation of the other person’s contribution, is just another way we find that we renew our purpose with each other.
If you’re contemplating divorce or struggling with the aftermath, or know someone who may benefit from speaking with a neutral other, please visit our site or reach out directly for more information on how we can help you to navigate this difficult process.