Are Divorcées Pariahs?

Via on Mar 12, 2011

Photo: Chris Drumm

Separation as a Rite of Passage.

While on retreat four years ago, I received a letter from my husband telling me that I was, among other things, a “manipulative bitch.” We had been together for 20 years and I was becoming increasingly uncertain whether I could stay married to him any longer. Still, his epithet was uncharacteristic of him and though we had been struggling for years, it stung. I knew that things were finally coming to a head.

With despair, I sat down to talk to a friend saying, “I can hear him, but—”

She interrupted, “No. You’re not hearing him.”

I protested feebly but of course she was right. After two decades of what felt like giving selflessly in order to keep the peace I was not about to accept that I deserved the term “manipulative bitch,” or any of the other harsh criticisms in my husband’s letter. When my friend stopped me I could hear Byron Katie’s voice in my head, “Honey, he could be right!”

However unpleasant, I knew that I had to not just listen to him but to investigate, for my own peace of mind.

So I started to look at myself. Was it true that I was manipulative? (I would get to “bitch” later.) In the quiet of the retreat, I started to recognize how I had strung my husband along for several years hoping that the marriage (and my husband) would change to suit my needs so that I could stay in the relationship. I saw I was painting a rosy picture of how our marriage might be saved if we moved—which I wanted to do—while inside harboring serious doubts that I could stay under any circumstances. I saw how even saying I could hear him was a way of manipulating my friend, my husband and myself, trying to get us all to see me as an open-minded and caring person—maybe even a saint.

The more I looked, the more I realized that I couldn’t find one place in my life where I wasn’t manipulating: in the meditation hall I sat up straight and didn’t move hoping that others would think I was the model student; I used a falsely sweet voice with my kids while I chided them so that others would think I was a good parent; and I had hundreds of examples where I said yes when I really meant no so that I could uphold an image of being kind and selfless so people would like me.

What really floored me is I saw that by manipulating others constantly I was causing my own suffering. And after 20 years of dishonesty to myself and my husband, I felt like I was dying inside. The constant stress of trying subversively to make others happy and satisfied, to keep the peace, to be seen as good (even perfect), and to suppress any negativity in myself and others was taking a dear toll on me. According to my husband, it was taking a toll on everyone around me as well.

The marriage wasn’t the problem, and neither was my husband. It was my own misguided efforts to make everything okay by using endless manipulations that was killing the peace and joy in my life.

With this realization, suddenly the house of cards I had been calling my life started to come tumbling down. I was beginning to be honest with myself, and I even developed hope that my epiphany might save the marriage after all. Now that both my husband and I were in agreement that I was, indeed, a manipulative bitch and that we were both suffering for it, we could start a new chapter together of radical honesty. Perhaps this was the magic bullet I had been looking for.

It wasn’t. If manipulation was bad, honesty was worse. In the past I had feared that if I started saying no instead of compromising myself that my usually accommodating husband might get angry.

Well, he did.

One night, he came to me upset saying he wanted to talk. I told him that I was seeing clients early the next morning and I needed to go to bed, but we could find a time to talk the following day. He started to yell at me and—rather than trying to calm him down or say yes when I meant no —I simply went to bed. He followed me into our bedroom, turned the lights on, and yelled, “I don’t care if you want to talk or not, you’re going to listen to me!” He then told me, just as he had in his letter, what he perceived to be all of my faults. Only this time, he was screaming.

Surprisingly, I was calm. I couldn’t help smiling inside with the thought of how long I had feared this very moment, afraid that if I was honest with him things would deteriorate between us. In fact, what was actually happening was much worse than I imagined. Somehow though, rather than feeling shocked, scared or belittled, I felt validated: my fears about his reaction hadn’t been crazy. My intuition was accurate. There really was an inferno of rage inside my husband that I had been tiptoeing around for twenty years. Moreover, I found that when confronted with this intensity, I was fine. While I had underestimated his anger, I had also underestimated my resilience and ability to stay cool under pressure.

The combination of seeing that my perception of him was accurate, and that my own resources were fully intact, unveiled confidence in me that had hitherto been untested. At that moment, I realized that I wasn’t ending a marriage, I was beginning a path of knowing myself. I was entering a rite of passage.

It has been my experience, both as a child of divorce and now as a divorced person myself, that ending a marriage is not about walking away from anything. Rather it is walking headlong into our karma. Karma is the aggregate of results of our own perhaps long-forgotten actions—the “lessons” we may have been avoiding. No more upping the ante, bluffing or folding. The cards are put on the table and everyone gets to see just what hand we have been playing.

As in a vision quest, a silent mediation retreat or being stranded on a deserted island, we are for the first time really alone, without resources and without the ground of our ordinary reality to support us. Truths come out, feelings spill over the top, retribution is dolled out and (as one of my therapist-friends said to me during my own divorce), “People go really crazy.”

What I have found is that facing reality is quite a shock. Looking honestly at my shortcomings—my fears, manipulations and avoidance strategies—has shaken me. And it has been equally shocking to face my strengths—my clarity of vision, insight, vibrancy, resilience and kindness. It has been similarly surprising to discover the strengths and weaknesses of my now ex-husband and, perhaps most importantly, to separate what is his from what is mine.

When we embark on a rite of passage, voluntarily or not, we do not know what we will find. It is a bit like Judgment Day, and the fear of not knowing how we will measure up can be a cause for panic in and of itself. However, recognizing at the outset that this enormous change is a rite of passage—a positive journey that will bring us more fully to maturity and fulfillment—can go a long way in giving us the courage to stay open to what we find.

There is no right way to navigate a rite of passage; it is uncharted territory by definition. Each journey is unique, and uniquely suited to each of us alone. Ultimately when we face our fears, we find ourselves and come to know ourselves better. We become better equipped to handle future obstacles.

My 12 year-old daughter said to me a few days ago, “I realize that I am my own role model!”

I loved that. When we take ourselves through a rite of passage, we get to find out how we measure up to our own standards, not those of our parents or our community. We get the chance to course-correct where we find ourselves falling short. Any true rite of passage is an opportunity to become more fully who we are, to become our own role models. When we realize this, divorce can shift us from being at the mercy of unbearable loss to embracing an unprecedented chance to wake up and become more fully who we are.

Unfortunately, we have been taught the opposite. Most of us pathologize divorce as weakness, a mere failure of will or an outright tragedy.

I ran into a former therapy client of mine on the street a few months after my divorce, and though we had had a very good working relationship, she was quite mad at me. She said angrily, “How can you get divorced after you counseled me on my relationship?!” I responded that I could understand her confusion and upset, but actually I was happy to leave my marriage—in fact, so happy it was almost embarrassing.

Our culture views divorce as one of life’s greatest failures. Even those of us who do not count ourselves as God-fearing people often succumb to the belief that, as divorcees, we are pariahs deserving of shame and dishonor.

At the risk of sounding heretical, I offer from my experience that divorce can be empowering and even joyful—a gateway into the next vibrant phase of our lives so fabulous that we find ourselves overwhelmed by how good life can be.

Like graduation, marriage or the birth of a new baby, divorce is no less a rite of passage to be honored, supported and celebrated—and even more so because it demands such strength, durability and wisdom to navigate well. Much like a serious illness, accident or the death of a loved one changes us forever, divorce is one of the greatest and perhaps most misunderstood teachers we can encounter.

So as you set sail into the unknown, many people who care about you may worry that you’re going to sail over the edge of the world and be eaten by sea monsters. But don’t let that dissuade you from embarking on your unprecedented journey. Know that there is a community of people on the other side waiting to greet you, feed you, celebrate and congratulate you on your sheer bravery. Know that we are cheering you on even now.

About Kristin Luce

Kristin Luce is slowly going sane by using her actual life and relationships to wake up. Her quest for truth has led her through a B.A. in Philosophy, an M.A. in Buddhist Psychology, intensive retreat practice, certification as a Meditation Instructor, two life-changing relationships and two life-changing kids. She now provides in-depth coaching for individuals and couples who want profound and dramatic transformation. An avid writer, she has been featured in such publications as Mothering Magazine and The Buddhadharma, and is a regular contributor to elephant journal. Friend her on Facebook, Twitter, her website or contact her at info@kristinluce.com.

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55 Responses to “Are Divorcées Pariahs?”

  1. Incredible. I love the outcome of the article. It is so hard to get clarity until you are out of the situation and can cut the energetic ties.

  2. andrew says:

    great post! This is such an important perspective, one that we rarely get.

  3. Barbara M. Kitzis says:

    Kristin,

    After ten years of marriage and only 26 years old at the time, and a mother of two daughters ages 10 and 11, I went my own way with the girls at my side.. This was 1976… With no support from my family I turned to myself for the first time.. and with the help of friends and the girls, figured things out slowly but surely… My main job was sticking closely to my children and finding ways to make things work.. Well..34 years later, an amazing husband of 28 years.. a third child who is now 27, I am amazingly OK. I have to say reading your article made me realize that above everything else what is most pleasing to me is that you are finding your way… Feeling good about yourself is the best gift you can give to your children .. moving away from pain that can not be resolved is such a wonderful example for them.. I feel your honesty with yourself and others will move you in a healing direction and this will also benefit your clients as time goes by… Love Barb ( Former Information Manager @ Naropa University) It was a pleasure reading your article and I will hit like because I truly did like what you had to share…. Stay well and take care…

  4. Matthew Cohen says:

    A beautiful message dearly needed in our times. Of course it need not be a "divorce." The struggle of ending of any major relationship whose time has come to die can be such huge step forward for us. Thank you for sharing Kristin. :)

  5. Carson says:

    I began reading the article and was immediately drawn in by your forthcoming vulnerability and self-revelation. I mean, lets be honest about it, what man, whose been around this world for awhile, does not want to hear a woman admit she discovered she is a manipulative bitch.

    I found the article to be exceptionally well written and offer my congratulations.

  6. Laura says:

    This is a great article. Thank you Kristin!

  7. Robyn says:

    ♥ loved it! ♥

  8. Sue says:

    Wow! Excellently written…loved the images too!

  9. Tanya says:

    You are very inspiring gazelle, Miss Kristin

  10. Bethany says:

    i agree that we (in our culture) fear the END of everything, to the point that we miss out on the beauty that is also available in it… if divorce is done lovingly, with both people open-hearted and coming together to change the definition of their relationship, that is just as conscious and beautiful as marriage.

  11. Darrin Buehler says:

    Kristin – It is so nice to see you again. A wonderful, honest article. Blessings, -Darrin

  12. Carolyn says:

    great article kristin! i hope to see more

  13. Connie says:

    Very nicely said!

  14. Sarah says:

    Love it!

  15. Kathy Robinson says:

    Thank you for writing this Kristin, I deeply appreciate and relate to your message…my own divorce, as many are, was intensely painful, and I'm still grieving it in some ways even after several years — but the fact is that it was also literally the single point in my life when I changed from continually trying to cover over the truth to continually trying to uncover it. It was both the most painful loss, and the most shatteringly opening experience of my life. I think I still have some trouble seeing it purely as a gift, but I'm so thankful that my direct experience of it has at least shown me this effect…and it is truly helpful to me to hear this described so beautifully as you have here. Anyway, I am so grateful for your honest and vulnerable sharing of this transition. Thank you!

    • KristinSLuce says:

      Thank you Kathy. You eloquently say so much of what I found too, " I changed from continually trying to cover over the truth to continually trying to uncover it." That's it, and that shift has continued to "unravel me," in a good way :-) Lovely to "meet" you here!

  16. Tamara says:

    "maybe even a saint.." hilarious. Lovely writing.

  17. Pamela says:

    Loved your article!

  18. Sue says:

    A-MAZ-ING ARTICLE!

  19. As someone recently divorced (and since remarried to EJ writer Claudia Azula) I know its a painful experience. There's so much anger involved its hard to get through it. It sounds like you are on a graceful path to move past this experience. great article.

  20. Alex says:

    Great article! I hope to read more from Ms. Luce in the future!!!

  21. Emily says:

    Thank you for sharing Kristin, it is beautifully written, you have a way with words, even dating back to 7th grade :-) I appreciate your raw honesty. Just in my circle of friends, I can think of a few who will benefit from reading this piece, not to mention countless others out there who've gone through or are currently going through a breakup right now. Sending lots of love and hugs to you and your lovely girls always.

  22. *K* says:

    thank you! I got married very young to an older man, and we ended up divorced by the time I was thirty. like you, I realized via the divorce how much anger and rage I had been tiptoeing around for over seven years at that point. it was difficult, and painful, but like others have said I really think that our divorce was maybe the first time for BOTH of us that we had been genuinely honest, not only with each other but with ourselves. we were able to complete our legal proceedings reasonably amicably, and while it has been the most painful thing in my life thus far, I truly believe that we are both happier now and more fully "ourselves" than ever before, if that makes sense. our culture really does ostracize those who choose to divorce, which baffles me now. so many friends/family members have told me how miserable we both seemed in the last years of our marriage, yet they continued to tell us to try to "keep it together." sometimes separating truly is the best choice, and I wish our society could open their minds enough to see this truth. thank you for sharing your story.

    • Barbara M. Kitzis says:

      Yes "K"…may people are left alone in the throngs of their divorce. They do not get much support from the very people that were very happy to come and party at their wedding… It is a very brave move to make once it is clear the marriage is not working .. and not something to be ashamed of.
      More people going through divorce need to be told to go gentle on themselves and seek support from loved ones and friends that reach out to them..Stay well.. and I also want to thank Kristin once again for sharing her story… Peace

  23. jen says:

    I found it inspiring for my own marriage, and inevitable struggles. Constant dying and rebirth, all within my marriage mandala. And constant courage to stand up within myself. Thanks Kristin!

  24. TamingAuthor says:

    Very interesting article. I would venture forth, a shadow of your ex-husband, and suggest that more change is needed. This is broadcast by the term "Buddhist psychologist." This speaks of manipulation—I'll leave "bitch" for you to decide. : >)

    The reason I say this is that Buddhism is the antithesis of western psychology. To combine the terms is like mixing oil and water. It does not happen. Either one or the other gets left behind, usually the Buddhism.

    So why is this manipulative and not honest? Perhaps because representing yourself as a "Buddhist" psychologist takes the sting out of psychologist and represents something that is not true. And internally mixing the two prevents one from looking at the lie that is western psychology.

    An actual Buddhist would eschew the term psychologist, recognizing the materialistic premises represented by the term and would have the courage to move ahead, leaving that designation and the manipulation of Self and others involved far behind.

    Anyway, felt like the article showed a need if not a willingness to have your chain pulled when it comes to manipulation. Interesting karmic theme.

    • Sue says:

      You so have my number, and yes, I am very open to having my "chain pulled." I actually gave up calling myself, and acting as, a "Psychotherapist" some time ago, for just the reasons you describe. I also agree that more change is needed, and that is my on-going devotion. Thank you.

  25. Orly says:

    I liked reading it so much and feel so much respect for your realness thank you

  26. Heike says:

    I so loved to read that. Thank you for sharing!

  27. Loren says:

    i loved reading your recent article about divorce…keep on writing…i also read your recent blog regarding your daughter's dream to be an actress. i felt her. she's lucky she has you.

  28. Ivy Stirling says:

    When my husband and I divorced after 20 years of marriage, he said, "I feel like we failed." it was so sad. I replied, "our marriage was a huge success. We worked on it for 20 years and a lot of beautiful things came out of it. Like our daughters." The divorce surprised so many people, but I tell them, "we got divorced for the same reason everyone gets divorced. We wanted different things." Excellent article.

    • KristinSLuce says:

      Very sweet, thank you. So happy that you find the beauty in both the coming together and the dissolving…

  29. [...] most of the things I wanted from my relationships are actually things I can do for myself. After my divorce two years ago, I panicked at the idea of setting up my own Wi-fi system, cleaning the gutters, and finding help [...]

  30. [...] most of the things I wanted from my relationships are actually things I can do for myself. After my divorce two years ago, I panicked at the idea of setting up my own Wi-fi system, cleaning the gutters, and finding help [...]

  31. guest says:

    Love the overall premise – divorce as a right of passage and re-framed as a positive experience. Not so sure about your assertion in the middle that you were RIGHT: "There really was an inferno of rage inside my husband that I had been tiptoeing around for twenty years. " though of course it must be complicated and no one else could hope to truly understand what really happened, this sounds a lot like more attempts to make yourself look good. If you were really that manipulative for 20 years, of course he would be angry and understandably so, and while its great that you find your authenticity and express it honestly, making yourself suddenly unavailable to someone and walking away can certainly show up as (and be intentionally used as) a harsh form of retrobution and manipulation if you arent fully explaining where you are coming from or your new found personal insights. Being comfortable saying NO is truly a blessing… How is that going for you?

    • Guest says:

      I felt the same way did after reading the article. As Tolle said, "Where there is anger, there is always pain underneath." So maybe his anger was, and I hate to use this word since we are all responsible for how we handle things, justified in terms of being in a cooperative relationship such as a marriage. It's a partnership. What I would have liked to have seen addressed is how did the author handle that? Did she accept responsibility for her actions and the pain and suffering she caused? It doesn't appear that way. Was there any apology for the manipulation or did she take his anger response to say, "oh he's crazy and I'm out of here and going to go find myself"? The approach seems more self serving but in a very cold way. It's a great thing to be able to find ways to learn about yourself or deal with your shortcomings but at the expense of someone else?

      The author states: "The marriage wasn’t the problem, and neither was my husband. It was my own misguided efforts to make everything okay by using endless manipulations that was killing the peace and joy in my life." The emphasis here and in the tone of the article is that is killed the joy in her life. What about everyone else's lives? Are they not important?

      Again, we don't know the whole story but this is the impression I get from what the author described. I've been divorced for 8 years but I'm still good friends with my ex-wife and I'm the one that ended the marriage.

  32. Sarah says:

    THANK YOU.

  33. Jill says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom & life with us. This will help me & millions of others a lot.

  34. Nancy says:

    I needed this today. Thank you.

  35. Roxanne Orantes says:

    Why didn’t you make all the other sites live links?

  36. Wow. That was a totally different article than the title led me to believe. Very well said!!

    • KristinSLuce says:

      The original title was "Divorce as a Rite of Passage" but you've got to be snazzier than that to compete with the awesome titles on Elephant Journal. So I made it a sub-title. Glad that the bait-and-switch worked for you!

  37. Caroline says:

    Yes, yes, YES! Three years ago I left my husband of 18 years. I have not replaced him with another man. I have replaced him with myself, a person I hardly recognized after two decades of putting out his fires, managing his anxiety, and controlling his temper. The divorce still rages and has exceeded my worst nightmare of what it would be like. But far from regret, I am still giddy with happiness over my decision. I often find a smile bursting on my face for seemingly no reason at all. But there is a reason: freedom. Let it reign.

    • KristinSLuce says:

      Wow, beautifully said! I resonate very much. There is no substitute for real freedom — not even "from the marriage," just freedom in myself.

  38. Terre says:

    I cannot express with such eloquent words as you write about how much this hits home for me! I see that it was published a year ago, but I am just reading it now. I could have used this wisdom a year ago, but it still resonates just as much today. After a very painful divorce, only a few years in, I realized that I had lost my true self. I had moved countries to be with a man who ultimately rejected me, but still wanted me to hang around. I felt so alone and just needed my support people from back home. So, I filed for a divorce and moved back to where I belong. I remember a husband of a friend of mine said, "wow, you're really brave", and I couldn't (at the time) see what he was seeing. As time goes by, I understand what he meant by being brave. I am brave. I am brave enough to take care of myself and well being. I am brave enough to make another life-altering change and be true to myself. Thanks for your vulnerability and beautiful sense of self. It is so empowering.

    • KristinSLuce says:

      Your sharing here is empowering. Thank you. "A man who rejected me but still wanted me to hang around," That is so many people's experience. Stepping out of that is an heroic act. Yeehaaa! Yes, very brave. Thank you.

  39. Joe Puleo says:

    I love the honesty with which you wrote this, Kristin.

  40. kmo says:

    i feel like this is my story & nobody (even me) has understood it until reading this… thank you!!! <3 celebrating my new life :)

  41. KristinSLuce says:

    Wow, thank you for your thoughtful response. To the first question, my experience is a resounding "yes." That my ex's response was perhaps as liberating for him as my divorce was for me. I remember saying how glad I was that he could express his whole rage "at me," something I had long sensed was something he needed to do. As for the human condition, yes, somehow we seek to better ourselves, or to find what is already *perfect* within. Love your writing and your perspective. Thank you.

  42. yoga-adan says:

    thank "you" kristin ;-) i appreciate it; best of all wishes for you ;-)

  43. KristinSLuce says:

    Amen! It is such a potentially empowering and almost always life-changing event. I run a women's group here in Denver called "Divorce as a Rite of Passage" for just the reasons you suggest. Lovely to meet you :-)

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