Mindful Divorce – Part 1

Right now, there are several people that I know who are experiencing separation and inevitably divorce. None of the separations are pretty. Children are involved in almost every case, although they are all 20 years and older. For all involved there is so much anger, so much pain, and so much sadness. In some cases it’s the wife who has made the decision to leave the relationship, of course in some, it’s the husband.

I am also surrounded by couples who remain in relationships where their suffering is severely compromising their mental, emotional and physical wellbeing. Their rigid beliefs about the sanctity of marriage means that separation and divorce are not even a consideration, yet sexual and psychological abuse, mean-spiritedness, passive/aggressive behaviours and so much more plagues these relationships.

In almost all of these, either one or both of the parties have other love/sexual interests. In most cases the sexual intimacy that had been an active expression of that love has long gone. Sex, if there is any at all, is now more of a duty, an expectation. Sex has become a noun, no longer the adjective describing one of the expressions of intimacy. Romantic dinners, spontaneous gifts of flower bouquets or even just expressing their love have long disappeared.

It would appear that authentic listening has long gone, and the established patterns of programmed behaviour, the habits of daily living hold no exceptions. Well that is until someone decides they want out. Typical of many relationships, the ‘trade agreement’ that was unconsciously entered into at marriage and that sustained the relationship since then, is no longer sustainable. Typical of these trade agreements was the wife agreed to keep house and meet her husband’s sexual needs, and he would provide the roof over their head and put food on the table. While women were anawims (the poor) this had some sustainability, but as equals, things have changed.

Nearly all of these couples are in their 50s. Wives have typically been through menopause, many of the husbands are dealing with the prospect of retirement and many of them are experiencing erectile dysfunction (I know, funny things to put into the same sentence). The children have all but left home (some keep coming and going), and most of their shared dreams have been fulfilled – the home, the lifestyle etc. So if you take away youthfulness, career, domestic roles, the spoon full of sugar that helped the medicine go down (sexual intimacy) and the passion for each other that fuelled the intimacy, what’s left?

The grandest illusion in the ‘separation scenario’ is the belief that by changing lifestyles and partners, they will find the joy and intimacy that has become illusive. This notion supposes that what is missing is external to them, and will require an external change. This was described as the grass being greener on the other side of the fence. It has long been seen as one of the behaviours of a mid-life crisis. That said, we know that this need for ‘different’ also includes the car they drive, the house and suburb they live in, their jobs, even their appearance.

Of course, as social values change, behaviours change. Where marriage is a primary Christian value, now with less people being identified as being Christian here in Australia, there is less alignment with those values. So where separation and divorce was predominately confined to ‘mid-life’, it is now an accepted behaviour at any stage of relationship. It’s ironic that a plebiscite and its associated cost on the issue of gay marriage is a primary focus of Australian politics right now. What if that money could be used to teach people how to live in relationships mindfully? It would appear that the real issue is not who marries who, but how married people can live mindfully with each other in marriage?

And equally as important, if they have to separate and divorce, that it be done mindfully. Yes, there is such a thing as a mindful divorce, rare as hens teeth, but it can happen. So what would mindful divorce and separation look like?

Let’s first describe mindfulness. Mindfulness is having the presence of mind to remember in each moment that you have a choice about how you are going to relate to what is happening. That choice is between your normal way of responding (which has lead you your current situation) or through having developed more awareness choosing an approach that is loving to both parties. Now that’s a radical idea, being loving to your soon to be ex-partner.

So primary to being mindful is developing the awareness of an alternative approach to separation that is both loving to you and to the others that are impacted by the separation. As previously stated, a more loving approach would necessitate choosing inner-peace as a priority. This would mean you would have to learn (become more aware of) what inner-peace was, and how one goes about adopting it. Since forgiveness is fundamental to maintaining inner-peace, you will also have to become familiar with what is now commonly referred to as radical forgiveness. More about that later.

Over the next few blogs I will be looking at the various ways it is possible to stay mindful while going through a separation and divorce. In the meantime a little something to get you started.

Nobody else is responsible for how you feel. Nobody else can make you feel anything other than what you allow. The first step in choosing a mindful divorce is to remember that any pain or anger or resentment or injustice etc. is a self determined response to another’s behaviour or perceived behaviour. There is a very real chance that anything you are feeling in response to their behaviour actually has nothing directly to do with ‘now’, but is a replay of judgements and fears that emerged from your formative years.

The key to understanding this concept is that even though the form of someone’s trigger behaviour is different to what you have experienced in the past, the content of that behaviour will be the same. For example, anger as the content of a trigger can take many forms; verbal abuse, withdrawal or physical attack to name a few. It is always worth considering that you are never upset for the reason you think you are. This is particularly true in those emotionally testing times when dealing with separation or divorce. 

The next time you find yourself in a contentious situation be mindful of the idea that you have total control over how you emotionally respond. You can choose peace instead of the alternative. It’s also fair to assume that what you are emotionally responsive to has a history that started in childhood. Your reaction is being triggered by your past.

In my next blog, I’ll be looking at how it is possible to be mindful when infidelity has occurred. 

Read More From This Series:

Mindful Divorce – Part 2

Mindful Divorce – Part 3

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