I was divorced in 2001 after eighteen years of marriage. I have no intent to assign blame in this post—if blame were assigned I am only beginning to see that I deserve much more than I would have earlier admitted. I only want to speak of the experience of divorce itself, but even in that I can only speak of my own experience. My feelings in the midst of divorce may not be the same as another’s. These are my own personal feelings about my own divorce.
These are the emotions and thoughts I felt and thought. Whether they accurately reflect the reality of the situation or whether they correspond with God’s own compassionate understanding of the circumstances is of little consequence because they are nonetheless what I felt and thought. Whether right or wrong, this is what I experienced.
I have rarely spoken or written of my divorce. I’m not sure why—it still hurts and I certainly don’t want to speak for or about my ex, but perhaps it is mostly because these feelings still persist in some ways. I share them here for the first time in writing though I have spoken about them (but only on two occasions).
Incredulous. I wanted to cry out “this is not the way it is supposed to be!” I did not marry in order to get divorced. Even now—almost seven years later—it is still difficult to believe that I am a “divorced person.” I still feel it even though I have remarried and enjoy a new relationship with Jennifer.
Failure. What could I have done differently? How could I have messed up the most important thing in my life? I failed at the most important relationship in my life. How could I feel good about that? How can I recover from that? If I failed in this, what does this say about me and about any future relationships I might have? How can I minister to others when I failed to minister to my own wife?
Hurt. Not only, of course, my own hurt, but the hurt that reverberates throughout the lives of my children and others. This is generational pain that entails wounds that will affect my grandchildren and great-grandchildren. My heart hurts not only for my own loss but the losses that are yet to be felt in the lives of those connected with me.
Guilt. God hates divorce, and so do I. I have felt the burden of the sin of divorce on many occasions; I have felt the guilt of failure. My marriage did not image the oneness of God’s own loving community. Instead, brokenness and woundedness destroyed my marriage’s oneness.
Shame. This is the most nasty of all feelings. It is more devastating than guilt. I feel guilt for my part in my divorce–guilt relates to what I have done. But shame is something I feel because of my identity as a “divorced person.” Shame relates to who I am; it is a mode of existence. It reaches to the core of my own self-image.
Rejection. The rejection may even be mutual, but the feeling of rejection is nevertheless real. Whether the rejection is passive in the sense of distance or withdrawal or whether the rejection is something else, the result is the same. At one time one feels chosen—the one the other wants and desires, but now rejected. Now the divorced—on both sides—feel unchosen.
Embarrassment. Wearing the big “D” on the forehead is like wearing the scarlet “A”. The failure, hurt, shame and rejection are public—everyone knows about it. Some disconnect from you. Some distance themselves. Others don’t want their children to marry your children. Some churches don’t want you to serve among them. I sometimes didn’t even want to show up at the assembly. Who am I to minister to people when I could not even minister to my own wife?
Brokenness. Life is different. Everything, it seems, has changed. Loneliness becomes a part of life in a way that it had not before. It seems that it will never be the same again. Who can put Humpty Dumpty back together again? I wondered whether I would ever heal and in some ways I still have not healed. The trauma is massive.
Disconnected from Community. I became uneasy with my old circle of friends, especially the married ones. It didn’t seem the same anymore. I stuck out like a sore thumb. Being with married friends only reminded me of the pain of my loss and the reality of my loneliness. They were not the problem, but my circumstances took me to places in my mind that skewed even their best efforts to show me friendship.
Jealousy. I confess it. I am jealous of those whose marriages have survived for 30, 40, 50 years. I wanted to be in that number myself and thought I would be. I do rejoice with others at those anniversaries…but I also admit that have a strong tinge of envy and jealousy at the same time. My brokenness remains with me.
How do you help? I’m not sure but perhaps I will offer a few thoughts later. But for now just sit with me as I experience my own feelings. Sit with me without judgment, without correction, without condemnation…but as a friend ready to listen, pray and embrace.
Recommended Reading. For the questions surrounding the practical theological and ethical issues, I would recommend Rubel Shelly’s recent Divorce & Remarriage: A Redemptive Theology. For practical spiritual, emotional and redemptive perspectives on divorce and life after divorce, I would recommend Dana Hood’s recent I Will Change Your Name: Messages From the Father to a Heart Broken by Divorce.