Divorce is not a 4-letter word

Oxford Dictionary definition of Divorce: the legal dissolution of a marriage by a court or other competent body: “her divorce from her first husband”.

As I compose this blog, I am struck by a nearby photo of the innocent faces of my children at ages 3, 5, and 7. This picture was taken when we were 3-year expats in Singapore, pre-divorce. My heart still aches as I allow myself to take in their faces, stirring up memories of our lives at that very tender place and time.

Now ages 25, 27, and 30, if you ask me, or any one of the kids, we would all agree that they are happy, healthy, and creating fulfilling lives. Do they have hardships in their lives? Without a doubt. Have any of them faced the challenges of marriage? Not yet. Was their experience of divorce free of pain and conflict?  Unfortunately, no.  Regardless – it’s pretty clear now that their parents’ divorce, their family’s divorce, did not destroy these kids or their prospects for reasonable happiness.

How can this be? … How can these children, now young adults, not be destined to repeat their parents’ mistakes, to feel a sense of inadequacy in intimate relationships, to be lacking in self-esteem and confidence needed to achieve their personal and professional goals?? Surely there is something that lies in wait – the father’s sins (substitute ‘parents sins’) must be visited upon them, right? This kind of thinking may have its roots in fundamentalism, but there are hints of this belief underlying many parents’ fears about divorce.

The answer, in my opinion, lies is in a realistic definition of D-I-V-O-R-C-E. What it is and what it is not.

I happen to be an LCPC, Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor. A late bloomer, I had just taken my first job at an alternative high school when my divorce from our children’s father became a reality, nearly 15 years ago. A deeply life-altering experience, my own divorce strongly influenced the focus of my therapy practice.

After 15 years of working with all kinds of people, engaged in various forms of marital dissolution (there are a few ways to divorce), I am as fascinated as ever in working to lessen the emotional damage that is possible. Possible, not probable. Yes, you can find research out there that damns those who choose to divorce, also damning their children’s potential future ‘happiness’. But I’ve worked in the divorce trenches, and it has been my experience that we are all the composers of our own score – and divorce is no different from the rest of life. It is a part of reality.

What is divorce, and what is it not?

Divorce is not a 4-letter word. It is the ending of a marital relationship. It is not the end of a family. It involves the restructuring of a family into two homes. It does not have to be cause for despair. It is cause for genuine grief and reality-based anxiety. It does not necessarily indicate that one party is “right” and the other “wrong”. It is a changing of legal status for both parties. It doesn’t have to estrange parents from their children. It is an opportunity for parents and children to evolve. It is not an opportunity for one party to destroy the other. It is an opportunity for taking account of our part in the marital demise. It does not mean that one party has to disappear or get ‘cut out’. It is a change in social status for everyone. Divorce is a crisis, which offers an opportunity for change.

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