A Graceful Exit: Divorcing in Love
Whenever I told people that we were separating, the overwhelming response was, “OMG what happened? You guys were SUCH A GREAT COUPLE!”
The assumption was that there had to be “something” that “broke us up”. But the truth was, after over 20 years, whether we wanted it or not, our paths had diverged.
It was the clearest moment when I knew that it was over. I wanted something. He didn’t want it. There was a passive power struggle (we were both peace-keepers). And the realization hit me that we actually wanted different things in life now. Our children were nearly grown-up. Twenty-two years ago, we wanted the same things in life. And perhaps our paths had started separating years before. But we weren’t willing to look at it because we both believed strongly in the institution of marriage.
It was normal to have ups and downs, right? We were taught to take the good times with the bad, right? These sayings had kept these thoughts of separating at bay for a long time… But they just weren’t making any sense any longer.
Note: Although I am now talking about this easily and objectively, I don’t want to pretend that it felt easy at the time. There was still sadness, anger, emotional pain, and real grief after we were actually living separately. We aren’t robots. We had been in love, emotionally connected, and pretty dependent on each other for a long time. This is no small thing to separate from.
The End of “Till Death Do You Part”:
I realized that, besides not wanting to hurt my husband, it was actually my pride that was my greatest obstacle to leaving.
I was known as a spiritual teacher. I did marriage counselling. I taught tantra. What would it look like to others if I ended my marriage? Would I be considered a failure? Would everything I taught suddenly not have merit? This was a massive hurdle for me to overcome.
As I wrestled with this, I picked the brains of people I respected. I researched writings on marriage. And I prayed a lot.
The ultimate answer that came was that separating was not a failure. It was simply the natural response to what the truth was between a couple. That’s all. The idea of “till death do you part” had nothing to do with what was real between the couple. Historically, it actually began as an financial agreement between two men for the caring of a daughter.
There was a time, in some cultures, when a young man would ask a father for his daughter’s hand in marriage. If the answer was yes, the father would give land, money or some kind of dowry to the young man (because women couldn’t own anything) with the promise that the young man would take care of his daughter until his very last breath… makes sense. And then, at the wedding, it was (and still is) customary for the father to “give” his daughter away… Hmmm.
Many cultures have some version of this where a promise had to be made so that the legal and financial union must stay intact for life. (On the positive side, this could have been since women were not able to work and therefore couldn’t be financially independent. Or, on a darker note, maybe it was due to a sense of ownership of each other or imposed for the need to control by the church and state.)
The quality of the relationship was often not important at all. Difficulties, violence, control, cruelty, manipulation, sadness, depression, and extra-marital affairs were all normal – which makes sense – because although there might have been love in the beginning, it certainly wasn’t the quality of the love that was going to keep them together. We were legally bound for life. It wasn’t until the early twentieth century that divorce even became legal in North America. And in many cultures and religions today it still isn’t allowed.
So, soon, I began to realize that separating wasn’t actually a failure. The idea that the end of a marriage is a failure came from a previous time and an old system where you weren’t allowed out of the agreement. Leaving could have meant being destitute, disowned and the end of any kind of “decent” life. Being able to survive, even an abusive relationship, definitely became a sign of strength and a real test of personal endurance.
But times are different now.
Staying Together While Separated:
We chose to stay living together for a year although we had agreed that we were separating. We had two of our own children plus four more teenagers living with us. The other teens were our kids’ friends who couldn’t live at home for many reasons and had chosen to move in with us. So, if we actually physically separated at that time, we had 6 teenagers to split between us or find homes for. So, since they were all at the end of high-school and ready to leave the nest in a year, we chose to stay and enjoy our family of eight and see how it went.
During this time, I had two main goals with our separation. One, I wanted to really honour the 20 years we had together. And two, I wanted to be able to share my struggles that I hadn’t been able to share before… partially to have healing between us and because, who are we kidding, I just really wanted him to know.
Honouring the marriage:
If you have ever been married or been in any kind of serious relationship, you know how easy it is to count the “bad” days. And unfortunately, in the process of deciding to end a marriage, it is adding up the “bad” days that give us the momentum to actually leave.
(And unfortunately, this is also what others want to hear about so that they know “what happened”.)
But the truth was, most of our marriage was really wonderful. We had been through so much together. We had milked cows and farmed together for 16 years. He was an incredible support for me when so many people including my mom and all my grandparents had died. We had wonderful children together. We had favourite TV shows. We laughed and had more inside jokes together than we will ever remember.
Were there also things that weren’t so hot? Sure.
We all come into relationships with our “stuff”. We have patterns that we learned from our parents, past-lives, karma, “sins of the forefathers”, etc etc etc… Sometimes I think that it is such a blessing to have so much love (and passionate sex) in the beginning because it helps smooth out the difficulties of bringing so many challenges into such an intimate relationship.
Plus, we were in our early 20s when we got married. We’d never done it before. We truly did the best we could.
In the end, I really wanted us to remember all of the good times. I didn’t want us to forget how wonderful all those years had been too. Because if you’re going to remember anything, those are the memories worth bringing forward.
Being Honest About My Struggles:
In no way do I blame my ex-husband (I really dislike this term… I wish there was a nicer word for this). I came into our marriage with my own issues too.
One of my greatest issues was I was an eternal peace-keeper. Of course, that is the nice way to put it. The other way to say it is that I avoided conflict at all cost. If I was angry about something and nothing got resolved, well, I just let it go. I didn’t want to stay angry. I understood where he was coming from. So, I swept it under the rug. I kinda let it go. “Kinda” being the operative word.
But, after 20 years, I had swept a lot under the rug. (Or maybe I’d swept a couple things under the rug a thousand times.) Was he a part of it? Sure. What I a part of it? Yep. But now, since I had no reason to “keep the peace”, I was able to stand stronger about the things that had been bothering me. We actually had much more difficult conversations because there was no longer a rug to sweep anything under. That time had passed.
But we were as kind as possible. And truthfully, we resolved a lot. We were very lucky for the healing and closure that we got.
But You Teach Tantra. Couldn’t Tantra Heal your Relationship?
This is the million-dollar question. The answer is yes. And no.
We had explored a lot of tantra together. We had had incredible tantric intimacy and amazing healing times (lots of detail about this in my book: Tantric Intimacy). Tantra had deepened the loving connection between us. But that doesn’t mean that we were meant to still live together.
The foundation of tantra is about being fully spiritual in a very physical world. In a relationship, this directly affects the quality of the love connection between you. Both of these aspects of tantra were in full expression throughout our separation (and continues today).
During our separation, there were many days that were really hard. I didn’t want to talk about splitting the money. I didn’t want to talk about the kids. Each one of these conversations felt so painful. I would have preferred avoiding them altogether… which of course is impossible.
And so I would pray. I would meditate. I would ask inside for the kind words to broach these really hard topics. I would ask for the right timing. Would we talk about the money today? Or tomorrow? Or next week? How should we split the finances? Etc. I sat in silence a lot, waiting for the answers to find the most loving, peaceful way through.
And the answers always came. Perhaps today was the day. And so I would ask him if we could talk about it… The answer was yes. And the discussion would go flawlessly… not without tears. But it was smooth. And this is how all the issues were resolved.
In terms of a “tantric connection”, we simply had it. We maintained a loving connection throughout the process. Whether we chose to continue living together has nothing to do with whether we had a loving connection. We can have loving connections with thousands of people that we don’t live with. And we can always choose kindness.
Once we had worked out how to split the finances and what it would look like with the kids, we walked over the the courthouse and asked if we could fill out the paperwork so that we could get a divorce. We were smiling and giggling and joking with each other. The woman behind the desk just stared at us.
Eventually she said that were weren’t allowed to get a divorce without lawyers because we owned properties and had children… Oh…
So, I asked around and found a lawyer who was well-known for taking care of amicable divorces. I showed her our agreement. She wrote it up, assigned a lawyer to look at it on my husband’s behalf. And very soon, the paperwork was complete. The separation and divorce was final. And we were still hanging out with our six kids at home.
It was quite a surreal time.
Today, we are still great friends. His girlfriend is a woman whom I’ve been friends with for a long time. There’s no fighting about the kids because we all just stay together for Christmas and holidays. They come to my family functions. We hang out. It’s really, really wonderful.
Is this possible for everyone?
Unfortunately, no. For the two of us, our deepest desire was to still be loving towards each other. So, that is exactly what happened.
But for many people, to be loving isn’t their deepest desire. They want to hurt the other. There are power struggles. There is history to “make the other pay for”. There is no desire to be kind. The divorce is as messy as the marriage was – at least under the surface.
I only tell this story as a possibility. To share my struggle with feeling like I had failed – when in fact, I hadn’t.
To share a possibility of a graceful way to lovingly separate.
Of course, there are always a few couples out there who have been happily married for 65 years and their beaming faces show us just how in love they are after all these years.
This too, is a possibility. And it is certainly a success in some ways.
But it’s just one possibility. There are many kinds of success.
To be loving in all circumstances.
To be honest in each moment.
And to always choose kindness.
These are the greatest successes.