Divorce is a painful experience. People going through divorce feel vulnerable and they very often feel shame. Think about the language we use around divorce . . . “failed marriage” . . . “broken family” . . . these are words that imply that we have done something wrong if we or our partners choose to end our marriage. Yet as a culture, we do not know how to handle shame. Even the word itself can be hard to say.
I recently went to a conference and heard a talk by a wonderful speaker, Brené Brown. Dr. Brown is a researcher on shame and vulnerability. She is actually a fantastic and inspirational speaker which might seem surprising given her field of expertise. Believe me, I went to hear her with trepidation, but I left with joy in my heart.
What is so inspirational about Dr. Brown’s work is that she has discovered that people can develop shame resilience and learn to live fuller more joyful lives if they do. I recommend her book, The Gifts of Imperfection to anyone wishing to learn more about her fascinating work and how to apply it to your own life.
One thing I have learned in many years of working with divorcing families is that divorce can happen without anyone doing anything wrong. I have also learned that while divorce is the end of something, it is also the beginning of something new and as yet undiscovered. It can be scary and unsettling not knowing what that new thing may be and some of us may dread that sense of unknown but even then, we can be resilient, we can hope and we can plan. The combination of resilience, hope and planning can lead to a better outcome from divorce than we could ever have imagined.
Dr. Brown’s work seems to indicate that there are some things we can do to actively help ourselves survive divorce and thrive afterward. Some of those things are
- Seek help – get professional legal and emotional support to help you through the process. Collaborative Practice has these supports built in but they can also be pieced together.
- Get and maintain social support. Nurture your social life and don’t be afraid to call your friends to do things with you. Sometimes people going through divorce feel ostracized from their friends and sometimes friends just don’t know what to say to be useful. Frankly, people often say the wrong thing. So what? Tell them how they can be useful and most people will be glad for the guidance. You can also join a divorce support group.
- Stay connected with others such as family or friends. Pick up the phone and call. Don’t worry about being a drag.
Divorce is a significant change in our lives. It can make us feel vulnerable, ashamed and afraid. Pretending that it doesn’t (even if we are the person seeking the divorce) does not help us overcome those feelings. Acknowledging and coping with the ramifications of divorce on all levels, including our feelings, can lead us to a place of better understanding of ourselves and help us to learn to cope through adversity. We cannot do it alone. One thing that Dr. Brown’s work makes clear is that we need other people to help us figure it all out.