Thursday, May 1, 2014

"You're divorced? What happened?"

Photo attribution here

On the issue of telling people I am divorced, I have two opinions:

1. The incredible shame of going through a divorce in the church causes many to clam up about it. I believe it's because we're not talking about it that those not touched by divorce are not thinking about it, therefore they stand in judgement by default of our culture, and the shame remains. Opening up about what life is like in the post marital world is the only way to open people's eyes and hearts to empathizing with us. It's hard, but we can do it.

2. It's none of your damn business. Leave me the hell alone.

I often feel these both, simultaneously.

When you tell someone you're divorced they always want to know one thing--what happened? The reason I don't like this question isn't what you think. I have no problem talking about my experience. I find it pretty cathartic--as is evidenced by this blog, it's just that I have no good answer for the question that can be conveyed in a 20 second window. This is because when you are a Latter Day Saint, there is an unwritten rule that there is a short list of reasons that make it "okay" to get a divorce.

1. Your partner is beating you black and blue.
2. Your partner was unfaithful.
3. Your partner has an addiction - usually drug or pornography - that is negatively affecting your family.

And really, with the exception of number one, these issues are not a hall pass to the courthouse to file. As a people we favor reconciliation in pretty much every case, and while no decision regarding a marriage and family should ever be taken lightly, I think this, "There are three people in my marriage and as long as God and I are two of them we can get by," mentality is doing long lasting damage.

I need to reiterate to you here that I deeply respect the marriage covenant. My relationship with The Mr. would have passed its expiration date six months into the marriage if we had not been sealed in the temple. Three quarters of our time together was spent turning myself inside out to avoid the inevitable. In the end there was no other way to retain even a shred of my self worth or identity than to let it go, and still somehow I feel guilty for finally releasing the long dead weight of the relationship.

When people ask me, "What happened?" I have no concise answer. I have spent days and weeks of concerted effort trying to encapsulate into a simple phrase the kind of life it was being married to The Mr. "We got married too fast." "He wasn't kind." "He changed when we got married." "We were just too different." But none of it covers it, and I know--because before I crossed over into this no man's land I would have done the same thing-- that while people have sympathetic feelings and faces, many of them are ultimately trying to discern what I would be like to be married to and if the break up was my fault or his. Ultimately they want to know if I "tried hard enough" and if the break was justified. It's not really the individual's fault. It's a product of a religious culture that honors lists of dos and don'ts. Divorce is a don't. I know that, but to convey the nuance of all the different layers of hell that I lived for those two years is impossible in a 20 second window, or even 20 minutes. Knowing that someone could think I would tap out because I was too tired, that I would walk away when the going got tough, that I don't have it in me to be in a healthy relationship, that I made this choice out of selfishness, or that there is any part of my soul that feels okay about breaking a covenant with God is extremely painful and insulting to me. It leaves me feeling unknown and completely misunderstood.

One of the hardest and most heartbreaking aspects of the end of my marriage was when I would show up at The Padre's house, completely distraught, bawling my eyes out, trying so hard to convey what was going on. The Padre and Lady Pants are sympathetic people, but they are (fortunately for me or I would be the last one standing in the family) very active in the church. While they have both gone through divorce, the counsel they gave me was essentially--So sorry this is happening to you. He's just a young guy. He shouldn't treat you like that, but he is your eternal companion. I hope you two can work it out. And off I would go, back to the vortex of my marriage to see again if I could make sense of it. I can't really blame them for not being able to give me what I needed in those moments. They were doing their best, I'm sure, and couldn't know the full extent of what was going on behind our closed doors, but what I needed was for someone to tell me it's okay for me to think of what's best for me. It's okay to own up to how horrible things had gotten. It's okay to put myself first this time. It's okay to say enough is enough.

Because my relationship didn't fit into scenarios one through three, there is a small part of me that refuses to die off that still says, "It could have worked out. I should have tried harder," and I don't think that's fair. I don't want anyone else to have to live with that feeling. My life with The Mr. was full of half working cars dangerously jerry rigged, camo shorts and black socks, beard hair trimmings left in the sink, a tragic lack of social skills or understanding, his inability to settle on a career path, a constant fear that he was going to get fired, pressure to have a baby when I wasn't ready, discontent at my desire to complete my education, lack of spiritual connection or involvement, and a complete dismissal of any element of me that slightly resembled an artist. In the last couple months I've seen three plays, started a student activism blog, joined the music club with a trip planned to the symphony, hand crafted a pitcher that looks like a whale, made the perfect salad bowl in ceramics, started juicing, planted an herb garden with fresh mint, made plans to launch a vintage inspired clothing line, and learned to properly capture a human likeness in charcoal.

The Mr. and I do not belong together.

He didn't hit me, cheat on me, turn to porn or pot or suddenly develop an affection for Neil Patrick Harris, but when I was with him, all that I loved about me hid itself away in a deep, dark corner of my soul for fear that it would continue to go unnoticed, unappreciated, dismissed and rejected. He was not good to me and I was not right for him. We are better off apart. As clear as God speaking to Moses, night following day or the human body needing oxygen, that is the truth. Can't that be enough?

As a culture we are endlessly looping through this idea that a list of dos and don'ts will be what saves us-- that it's somehow an all inclusive package to salvation. This mentality is how we end up criticizing those who drink coke but have no qualms serving brownies with every meal. It's why we can feel justified telling ourselves that home and visiting teaching members of our faith alleviates us of the opportunity to better the world at large or to reach out to our non-LDS community. This mentality disconnects us from the Sprit and our core knowledge of what is right and wrong. It creates a blinding hyper focus on a fear that we are somehow deviating from the list.

When we do what we do out of fear--fear of losing, fear of disappointing, fear of punishment or falling short-- it is not the same thing as when we do it out of love. The point of this existence is to become changed beings. Fear does not transform us for the better. The right thing for my parents to do in that time was to reiterate to me that the destructive elements of his behavior were absolutely unacceptable and help me remember to value myself while I was married to a man who couldn't find anything about me to love. The right thing for me while I was in that relationship was to say, "I will not allow you to treat me or anyone this way. You are not being a good husband and will not make a good father to my children. If this is the life you choose, you choose a life without me." The right thing for any of us to do in the myriad of situations life throws at us is to look inside, connect with that voice that never lies and is never wrong, and follow it--end of story. The dos and don'ts are guidelines. The voice is a lifeline. Pushing it aside for the sake of the list doesn't bring us closer to salvation, it alienates us from direct revelation. It separates us from God.


  1. In going through my own divorce I'm often faced with the same dilemma: how to explain to others, and myself, what happened and why it's okay. I think I would be completely lost in my own guilt and shame if not for a good bishop and supportive family and friends who have helped redefine your number 1 reason for divorce being "okay" in the Church, and especially in a covenant marriage. My husband never hit me, he was never physically abusive. Does that mean he was not an abuser? Not even close, I can't begin to describe the abuse I suffered at his hands, more often than not through his words. Unkindness is abuse. Deceitfulness and dishonesty are abuse. Manipulation and control tactics are abuse. Gaslighting is abuse. Unrighteous dominion is abuse. Is divorce ever justified? I don't know, that's not a theologic subject I'm prepared to dive into. But is it ever the right choice? Definitely. The purpose of our existence is to be happy. Truly eternally happy. And sometimes the only way to find that happiness is by divorcing ourselves from those who destroy our happiness. That's a choice that can only be made in the most humble recesses of our soul, to know that even though the choice is for my benefit it's not a selfish one. And I think that's the most important answer to receive and give to the questions we are often posed: what happened? I chose to be happy. I chose happiness.

    1. Well said, my friend! Thanks so much for chiming in. So proud of you for choosing happiness.

  2. I Love the way you worded this! It is so fitting to my own story and yet I had number 3 on the list and many more to boot. "when I was with him, all that I loved about me hid itself away in a deep, dark corner of my soul for fear that it would continue to go unnoticed, unappreciated, dismissed and rejected. He was not good to me and I was not right for him. We are better off apart. As clear as God speaking to Moses, night following day or the human body needing oxygen, that is the truth. Can't that be enough?" I am 29 a mother of four under 7 and #5 on the way. I am in the middle of the divorce proceedings and have no idea how to do this with all the judgement coming my way from family, members, neighbors etc. It makes me feel doubt in even myself of ...can I really do this...and yet I read what you wrote along with all that we went through and its a great reminder...ENOUGH is ENOUGH and its okay and the Lord knows! Right?! No matter what! If you have any other info I'd love to hear it. I have NO one who can relate or who has had experience so this process for me feels very isolating. I admire your confidence to write it all out.

    1. Rebecca,

      I'm really glad you find strength in this post! It simply cannot be understood, all the complexity of the space you are currently living in, unless one has been through something similar. Having been there, all I can say is, go girl! If you feel and know in your heart and have confirmed with God that this is the right path for YOU, then don't let ANYthing get in your way. I know it's easier said than done, but I also know that the more you tune into and follow that inner voice, the closer you will get to strength and stability. That little voice always leads us to Truth. It always leads us to God.

      As far as other info, I have an endless stream of opinions, as you may have noticed in the blog : ) But if you have something specific you would like to hear about I would love to know. If you are wondering then its safe to say there are others out there with the same questions. Ask away! I'll do my best to answer in the most helpful way.

      You have my utmost respect and support in going through what you are going through with children. And #5 on the way! That alone takes a woman of enormous courage! I know it doesn't always feel that way in the moment, but you are very, very brave. Some will never understand that, and that's ok. So long as you are good with God, that is what matters. I know some non-divorcees have found this blog helpful in cultivating an understanding of what the experience is like. You are welcome to refer them here if that helps. Please do keep in touch and let me know if there is anything I can do. It's a lonely, treacherous road, but you most certainly are not traveling it alone. I'm here. We're here. It will get better, so long as we stick with God through the thick of it. <3

  3. I love you and love to read what you write. This reminded me of our first day in the MTC when we meet with our branch for the first time. We were asked to share why we choose to serve a mission in one brief statement. Here was another situation where no one can grasp your full intents with just one short phrase. You stated something along the lines of "I decided to go on a mission because I could not find a husband." Jaws dropped and judgments flew through peoples mind (mine included). I'm not sure if you clarified right then that was the furthest thing from the truth or if I discovered that it was the furthest thing from the truth once I got to know you. But no matter what any of us said in that short sentence would have really conveyed the whole picture -- like most things of importance. Yet you recognized that, and with your stunning whit amused us all (or at least got our attention).

    1. I have absolutely no recollection of this moment, and that makes me wonder what other ridiculous things I've done throughout my life that have fallen by the wayside of my memory. It made me laugh out loud though, and I have to admit that it does sound like me. I am awfully fond of catching people off guard in religious situations : ) I'm glad the truth surfaced eventually.

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  5. Thank you for sharing! I am recently divorced after 25 years of marriage. It is devastating for me. My wife announced almost a year ago that she wanted a divorce. I was totally surprised, but probably shouldn't have been. I had missed or minimized the signs. We had grown apart. I still loved her but she had moved on. Shortly after that revelation, I was walking out one night, pleading with the Lord. I can still remember the spot. As I prayed for our marriage, I got the distinct impression that it was not going to work out. Nevertheless, over the next months, I did all I could to win her over. I was desperate, in fear. It was to no avail. I understand your story. Thanks for sharing. In the end I had to let her go and find her happiness, and somehow, I have to find mine.

    1. Thank you for sharing this. I am currently going through a divorce after 8 years of marriage. I'm still reeling from the shock of it and am hurting deeply from it. I don't yet know what to tell people when they ask why we got divorced. The situation is so complicated, with so many intertwined aspects, and two very different views on exactly what transpired. All I can say is that I tried my best, I gave my all to the marriage and tried to make the best choices I could, but it wasn't enough.

      In a lot of ways, I relate to your experience. I should have seen the signs coming. I was content to make the best in the situation, hopeful that we would figure out our differences. Our marriage has had ups and downs before, and we were always able to ride them out and remain loving to one another. But at some point in the last year and a half the light went out for my wife and there was no reaching her. She wouldn't listen to me, wouldn't trust me, wouldn't compromise with me. She had moved on, and despite my bishop's assurances, I couldn't find any way to win her back.

      The hardest part for me is that, if my wife were to write an article on the reasons for our divorce, she might very well write something very similar to the article above. From my perspective I was trying to make responsible decisions in a time of marital and financial difficulty. In her words, I was stifling her, not listening to her in the way she needs to be listened to, and not being willing to change. All of this has left me with the unsettling question here: am I the bad guy? Despite my very best efforts to be the best husband and father I could be, did I somehow become the villain in this real-life drama?

  6. "it's okay for me to think of what's best for me. It's okay to own up to how horrible things had gotten. It's okay to put myself first this time. It's okay to say enough is enough."

    I found your blog a while ago, knowing that my husband and I were going through a tough time, trying to find answers. I was trying to see if divorce was one of them. Being a convert meant I didn't know what the Church thought about divorce other than the normal "don't do it" that all Christian religions have. It was nice to see that there were Mormon's who divorced without the categories you mentioned. I also don't fall in the three. We just didn't agree with each other any more. We were living separate lives for years. Basically room mates. Not even sleeping in the same bed. When we tried to act married the fights were unbearable. And finally we both said "enough is enough" and we decided to divorce.

    I'm coming back to your blog to see what other healing I can come across. The phrase he and I have attributed to our divorce is "I/she want/s children, he/I do/does not." Although that is only the straw that broke our backs, it's something that, at least from my end, people see as a possible #4. Finally owning up to "how horrible things have gotten" has released us from hating each other. Luckily we found the cause, almost like finding the pinched nerve and releasing the tension that made our eyes twich. For it to be so complacent sounds like a great thing, but ... I don't know. It almost seems too easy. But we tried. Oh we tried for so long.

    We also have great friends and family helping us. Our bishop told me that if I truly had the answer from Heavenly Father than the Church will support me, support us. That, I was surprised about. I was expecting a lot more pulling from him. But I either have a really great Bishop or the Church really is that supportive and understanding of marriage. So maybe it's the members who are actually giving the stink eye and creating the categories and lists of marriage do's and don'ts. Because God surely doesn't stink one bit.