Divorce: It Takes Courage

I’ve been reading this nutty little book, Crazy Time: Surviving Divorce and Building a New Life by Abigail Trafford. It was first published in 1982, and an old boss of mine recently told me tshe read it when she got divorced more than twenty years ago.

The fact that this book is still in print says volumes about divorce. The book treats the craziness of relationships, breakups, and the aftermaths in such a matter-of-fact way that it’s almost unsettling. Divorce truly is the craziest of times, and it makes people say, do, and feel things that they previously couldn’t imagine.

Here’s one of my favorite passages:

A combat soldier’s definition of courage is moving from a safe place to an unsafe place (in order to win the battle). For an infantryman under fire, courage is leaving the safety of a foxhole for a new position. In psychological terms, the definition of courage in divorce is moving from the safety of one stage to the uncertainties of the next. Courage in divorce means moving from the safety of shallow feelings in the Hummingbird Phase to the pain and confusion of the Foundering Phase. It means moving from the safety of despair in the Foundering Phase to the making of choices and taking risks for a new life in the Phoenix Phase.

So, it takes great courage to move forward through a divorce.

I love that statement. It’s so true, but because our society tends to think of divorce as a failure, we overlook the courage it takes to move through the process of divorce.

Every single decision we make is a form of courage. It can just be showing up. Going to the school cocktail party without a spouse. It can be the process of detaching. Making a conscious decision to let go. It can be the day we realize we need to get a job. Or let our friends set us up on a blind date. Or the day we refuse to let our ex get us angry anymore.

It can also be identifying our role in the breakup of our marriage, no matter how large or small. On some days, it might just be getting out of bed in the morning. Other days, it’s moving to a new neighborhood and starting over. Or letting go of a home that we can no longer afford.

And at the beginning, it can just be walking away from a bad marriage. As simple as that. As Ann Landers said, “Some people believe holding on and hanging in there are signs of great strength. However, there are times when it takes much more strength to know when to let go and then do it.”

I think that most of us beat ourselves up, over and over and over again, about our divorces. We don’t realize that divorce can be a show of great strength, and each little step in getting through a divorce is courageous.

It means we are strong, and we are courageous. As Hemingway says, “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.”

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18 thoughts on “Divorce: It Takes Courage

  1. You are brilliant. You bring to life all the rawness that divorce defines. Its like you are the Carrie Bradshaw of the divorce column. i can’t wait to see what courageous steps the next phase will entail. THanks for including me in your journey.

    • Yes, that too! There’s always the final straw! But then afterwards, what an awful mess to slog through, especially with kids.

      But all divorces are different. I think of some of my friend’s divorces – lots of money to split, no court, collaborative, joint custody . . . and then there’s the NPD divorce . . . harrowing and hellacious!!!

      • im beginning to see that it only has to be as messy as you make it… it takes a hell of a lot of sucking up though… which most days has me wanting to hide under the covers…

      • Well, if you can make it easier by just sucking up, it’s probably worth it. I couldn’t do that. But if I could, I would. And you know it will be over soon, right? I’m going over to your blog to read more.

    • Thank you. The book scared me a bit because it’s so matter of fact about really sad stories: people getting stuck after their divorces and never engaging much with the world anymore, people who lose all their friends, people whose children stop talking to them, people’s violent reactions to divorce, etc. It shows me how far we’ve all come – and how it really does takes courage to keep moving forward.

  2. Every word you write is true. I hung in there for 30 years believing God didn’t want me to divorce. Now looking back I can see where God opened many doors and wanted me to leave but my pride kept me there. Like you said the fear of being seen as a failure.

    • Thanks Dede. I guess my reasons were shame, fear, and pride. I couldn’t imagine being divorced. Not with kids. How would I do it? What would people think?

      It’s funny how I ran and ran from these things, my biggest fears, only to have them come back and whack me in the face.

  3. My son has already picked up a lot of lessons about the importance of not “giving up.” Ever. This frustrates me, because I have sunk far too much time and energy into futile endeavors only because I thought walking away would reveal me as weak. That’s not a good reason to continue with anything–not when the cost of continuing with the futile is lost chances to succeed in fulfilling ways!

    • It’s funny, parenting now is so studied and analyzed. We focus on our children way more than at any other time. But we still make mistakes. I wrote about this a few posts back (Being Prepared is Overrated) and it’s the same thing. I worry that sometimes we’re pressuring our children to be too perfect, too focused, and too tenacious. (I do believe there’s such a thing as being too tenacious – or being afraid to give up. I feel like it’s mixed up with the perfectionism thing.

      All things in moderation is my new motto!!! I don’t want my children to feel any pressure to be perfect. I want them to feel okay about trying lots of things and figuring out what works for them and what doesn’t!

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