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I didn’t really intend for there to be a 3rd installment to this discussion on divorce.
But then you all started commenting and emailing.
And since this conversation started with a longing for my friend to hear the stories and perspectives of others- I found myself compiling this post.
First, a couple of different folks pointed me to THIS TIMELY ARTICLE on the long lasting health effects of divorce. If this research is right, then our emotions aren’t the only things that get permanently scarred when our marriages dissolve.
Second, I got emails from a couple of different friends who are seriously considering getting a divorce. Each is hurting and wishes they didn’t feel compelled to take this step. Sadly, both are ladies who feel as if they’ve been abandoned by their husbands. While the guys are still physically in the picture, these women have been left carrying too much of the burden for their families for way too long while their husbands gave themselves to other things. Both expressed a desire to see their husbands “man up” and save their marriages.
While I realize there are two sides to every story, as a member of the male half of the species it feels like I’m hearing this kind of stuff way too often. Come on guys. Wake up, step up and give your families what you promised and they deserve- your wholehearted love, support, time and selfless leadership.
Finally, several of you were kind enough to share your stories. and thoughts. Since you’ve said it differently- and likely better- than I have, I wanted to include your comments here.
“When Peter and I went through our pre-marital counseling (8 yrs ago now!) our minister gave us this bit of advice: when engaged and then married, the word ‘divorce’ should be eradicated from your vocabulary. Marriage is a team effort, and teams support each other and work through things together. It’s not always an easy road but the fulfillment, joy and fun are definitely worth it.
I am not saying we’re anywhere NEAR the ‘perfect’ married couple, however I do wish that advice could be taken to the rest of the world, and taken to heart by those about to be married, and who are already married.” - Lea
“I think divorce can force you to look at yourself through other people’s eyes. A failing marriage is the result of two people –the fault doesn’t lie with just the one who acted the worst. To me—-divorce is like looking at yourself naked in a three way mirror. You aren’t going to like what you see—but you can either change stuff to make yourself better or ignore it and make the same choices again and again.
The lessons I learned are priceless- and it didn’t kill me ( but there were days I wanted to just lay down and die) I know who I am now—-and although it isn’t always a pretty picture I can embrace it. I thank God everyday for the trials I went through in my first marriage—and I would repeat the entire painful experience again if it meant getting to the place I am now.” - Dana
“Divorce to me brings up a physical ripping image. When this subject comes up I often relay the story about friends from CA from our bible study group. (As it turned out two of the five couples divorced that year, plus a dear family member. A tough year.) Jeremy and I were living about an hour away from town at the time and we were visiting for various reasons and found out when we contacted them to get together that they would be moving out of their apartment that weekend. We offered to help.
It was one of the most difficult things I’ve done. I stood in the garage with my friend as she pointed to boxes and pieces of furniture, “that’s mine, that’s his, I’d like that, he can have that”. She cried, I cried. They hadn’t been married long, hadn’t acquired much stuff, and didn’t have any children. We helped her as best we could and were on our way the next day.
I don’t remember if it was in the car or if I waited until we were home, but I turned to Jeremy (tears in my eyes, voice cracking) and said, “Don’t EVER make me do that. I CAN’T do that.” Just splitting our stuff would have been unbearable, in was too intertwined. I couldn’t even fathom the division of emotional/spiritual/intimate feelings as well. Unfortunately, we have had to look into the box labeled Divorce, thankfully we were also able to pull ourselves away, and lived to tell about it.” - Jen
I know this conversation has not only made me appreciate my own marriage, but also made me more sensitive to those who are struggling in theirs. Hope it has been helpful to you as well.
To Recap: So there I was, with a dear friend who saw divorce as the thing that would fix his life- and I had a deep longing for him to hear from someone who could share their own experience on the subject.
Enter singer/songwriter William Fitzsimmons.
I stumbled on William’s art a while back and featured him in an earlier blog post. On the musical end of things, William mixes a gentle, easy-to-listen-to voice with some fine acoustic guitar work and fluid melodies. As a songwriter, he brings the unique perspective of a trained (and formerly practicing) therapist to his craft.
And while therapists are usually all about listening to others, Fitzsimmons uses his songs as a means to speak. Only instead of telling others’ stories, he puts himself on the couch and lets the rest of us listen in.
My first foray into William’s music was his “Goodnight” project. Most of the songs on that album deal with the pain and processing of his own parent’s divorce. I was struck by how raw and honestly he expressed the things most of us fight to hold in- and sometimes end up going to therapy for.
Then, right around the time when my friend was contemplating divorce, I grabbed Fitzsimmon’s newest collection of songs- “The Sparrow & The Crow”. The topic for this batch of stories? The dissolution of William’s own marriage.
Please don’t get me wrong- I don’t think that ending a marriage is the unpardonable sin. I realize there are times when it sadly may be the best available option. And I know plenty of folks who have survived a divorce and end up happy in the long run. My main concern was that my friend was hurting so much that he saw divorce as nothing more than relational morphine with no long term effects.
Maybe that’s why I’m so drawn to “The Sparrow & The Crow”. Listeners get to play the role of the nodding, note taking counselor as Fitzsimmons turns his heart inside out during this 46 minute therapy session.
Without violating doctor/patient confidentiality, I can tell you that these songs provide an unfettered look into the full range of emotions and longings that one is likely to experience during a divorce and in the months and years that follow.
From feeling numb enough to walk away from the one you once swore you would die for to aching desperately for reconciliation. From owning your own failings to the point of being willing to pay almost any price for forgiveness to acknowledging that the other person was complicit in the train wreck as well. From holding on to all of the good years you had together to begrudgingly accepting that what was for the two of you will never be again- at least not with each other.
I’ve listened through the whole album nearly 30 times by iTunes count and I’m still drawn in by the transparency Fitzsimmons displays as he captures not only what he has been through, but what so many others have experienced as well.
If you want a taste of what I’m talking about, check out William’s intimate performance of “I Don’t Feel It Anymore”
If you know someone who is going through a divorce, consider grabbing this project to get a feel for what they might be dealing with.
Been through or in the middle of a divorce? These songs will introduce you to an empathetic soul who has walked a similar path and can offer you a dose of hope.
Thinking about ending your own marriage? Please take a listen and find at least a small measure of caution in what may lie ahead. And if you are about to divorce and can’t afford to buy the music- email me and we’ll figure it out.
How do you feel when you hear that word?
To be completely honest, sometimes that particular combination of letters registers nothing more from me than a small sigh.
It’s not that I’m complacent, but that divorce is so commonplace. Even the most conservative estimates figure that over 40% of all marriages end in the courthouse.
Other times though, the word “divorce” pulls a deep groan from my heart and mouth.
Especially when it involves people I know and care about. Or if I’m granted a closer look into the reasons behind, feelings about and effects of the relational dissolution.
Not too long ago a friend from another church I used to be a part of asked me if I had heard the news about 4 or 5 different couples from that community. “No. What?”, I replied tentatively. The one word response was somber: “Divorce”.
I felt like someone had knocked the air out of me. I thought about those folks, the love I’d seen them display for each other, and about how life had irrevocably changed for them, their families and friends. I found myself shaking my head even though the person on the other end of the phone couldn’t see my physical response.
Some months back another old friend stayed with us for a night on his way through town. Nearly a decade ago I stood by his side as his best man and listened in as he promised to devote himself to his bride as long as God gave him life.
Now ten years later I sat next to him on my couch and listened as he spoke about his deep longing to abandon his wife and start a new life. He had convinced himself that if he could only end his marriage then everything would get better.
His sadness was palpable. It stained his voice, hung on his face and weighed on his carriage causing him to slump deeper and deeper into the cushions of my couch.
What felt much less solid was his perception of divorce as a panacea. Although I wasn’t inside his head and heart, it seemed to me that he was dramatically underestimating the damage and mourning that would come from walking away from his marriage.
Just so you know, my friend knows what the Bible has to say about divorce as well or better than I do.
However, he, and lots of folks who find themselves in similar situations often need more than a few scriptures tossed their way. They need to hear from others who have walked that path and found out that what God says about divorce is true. Specifically- that it is less than what He wants for us and is to be used as a last resort because it has long lasting, deep running effects. Yes, God stays by us through divorce, and forgives and heals us as needed. But that doesn’t mean that leaving a marriage will be easy or enjoyable.
For the next week I found myself wishing for someone who could share their own story of divorce with my friend. To warn him that abandoning his wife wouldn’t fix his life- and would likely increase his pain and dissatisfaction more than he bargained for.
In a previous church community I would have sent him directly to Steve and Sharon. They are a married couple who both love God deeply and have the kind of wisdom that only comes from living life for a good long while. They had also each gone through a tough divorce, married later in life and created a blended family. They are exactly the kind of couple people point to as if to say, “Go ahead and get divorced. God will make you be happier in the end like Steve & Sharon.”
But if you sat down with them, you’d quickly hear a different message. They’d be up front with you that the healing takes a long time and that while divorce may get you out of a marriage, it doesn’t fix all of the dysfunction that you brought to the relationship. Steve and Sharon would tell you about the guilt you’ll feel, the doubts that will nag you and the regret that will build as you come to wish you wouldn’t have hurt your spouse and all the others who suffered collateral damage when the relationship ended.
As you can tell, I have the utmost respect for Steve and Sharon. But my friend doesn’t know them. Nor does he live anywhere near them. So I longed for another voice.
And then I found one.
I’ll explain more in the next post.
“Death is a part of life.”
True, but most of the time most of us prefer not to notice it. Then we turn on the news and find that Tim Russert or George Carlin is no longer with us. Or we pause on the obituary page while thumbing through the paper- and check the ages of the deceased to see who might have left us “before their time”. Or we pull to the side of the road for the oncoming funeral procession- and then rush off to pick up the dry cleaning. These kinds of encounters remind us that death walks among us in impersonal ways.
Other times, death is a bit more personal. Like when we got news a couple weeks back that a friend of 15 years died unexpectedly at age 40. Or when a close friend told me that a woman who was like a 2nd mother to her had passed away last week. I’ve got the privilege of helping the friends and family of the latter with the memorial service tomorrow. On Monday I met with them to talk about the woman they had loved and lost and to make arrangements.
As we talked, I discovered that there wouldn’t be a casket. Ellen had chosen to be cremated. She reached this decision during a casual conversation with her kids about what they want to have happen after each of them died. So, the family will be given the ashes, which they’ll go about spreading in places yet to be determined.
Which got Jen and I talking about our own wishes. Would we want to be sealed in a casket or an urn? Or spread out in the places we loved in this world? In the end I decided that I wanted the family that was left behind to do whatever would be most meaningful to them. If it helps them to have a tombstone to visit, then so be it. I’m thinking that I won’t much care at that point.
If I get to pick? At this point I’m leading towards being cremated and having my ashes scattered around. That way the family won’t have to maintain or feel guilty about not showing up at a graveside. And, maybe they’ll get closure from visiting spots that were meaningful to me. So far, only the Grand Tetons are a lock on that list.
How about you? Made up your mind about your final arrangements? If you were to be scattered, what spots hold that kind of significance for you?