The Choice: Divorce as an Escape or Completion

by Suzanne E. Harrill

Do you ever think about divorce as a panacea for your problems? If you want to end your relationship because you have fallen out of love or passion, found someone new who looks better, do not like the patterns that showed up once the honeymoon was over, do not like some of your partner’s traits, married too young or because you were pregnant, or just plain feel you made the wrong choice, then you might want to reconsider. Why? You might be missing opportunities to learn about yourself and grow in awareness. Even though it is very popular to end a relationship when you are unhappy, I believe many people leave their relationships too soon and do not take advantage of the lessons that could be learned from their partner and the relationship.

By "cleaning house" in your own consciousness you can actually improve what you experience in your outer world of relationships, even if your partner "falls from grace" and you don’t like him/her any more. Rather than divorce, why not learn ways to transform the relationship you are already in; that is assuming it is not abusive to the point of negating your spirit and destroying you. After considering transforming your relationship, then if you decide to leave, you will do it with awareness and from a place of completion, not avoidance. The theme here is to not fool yourself by leaving behind the perfect milieu in which to learn about yourself, to heal, and to grow in awareness.

Do you believe divorce is an escape from an unpleasant situation; or do you believe divorce to be a successful completion with a partner and that the two of you have gone as far as you can in learning lessons together? The way you answer this question is very important and can even change your interpretation of what you are experiencing in your current relationship. Many people want a divorce to get away from their partner, believing that their problems will disappear. If you talk to people who have chosen divorce and remarried, you will find it does not solve all their problems.

Many times people repeat the patterns by attracting a new partner with similar personality traits to the last partner. You also have to look for the flip side of the coin, as it deals with the patterns too. For example, person A may have divorced a dominant, controlling partner the first time. Vowing to get away from patterns of feeling powerless, a victim, and dominated, s/he chooses the second partner with opposite traits. Over time person A becomes the dominant one, as the second partner turns out to be a "you-tell-me-what-to-do" person. Issues of power, control, assertiveness, etc. are still on person A’s agenda to work through. You still have to live with yourself and you can only attract people and situations in which you have something in common, things that resonate with your life lessons.

There is another way to go about this. Why not transform your relationship by first enlightening yourself. Use the current relationship with its issues, irritations, resistances, and challenges to learn more about yourself. You can experience the growth from these negative feeling experiences. Let us look at Anna’s life to explain further.

Anna is a woman who feels dominated by her partner’s strong expectations of her care-giving role. She feels in bondage to this role that she is outgrowing, but continues to please her partner to avoid conflict. She is fearful of anger because she grew up in a household with an angry, abusive father. It is difficult for Anna to risk rejection or receive criticism from her husband for not complying. This woman is very unhappy and depressed much of the time and complains whenever she is with her friends. Divorce enters her mind often and her friends have sympathy for her situation and encourage her to leave him. Use your imagination. What do you see in this woman that needs attention and awareness? What are the chances Anna will correct her problems by leaving this man at this time if she does not work on her own issues? She may even make her life worse if she leaves, especially if she has young children and is not able to financially support herself.

If Anna came to me for counseling and really wanted help, I would encourage her to look at herself and slow down her fantasy that a divorce would be a panacea for all her problems. Since she is unaware that many of her problems started in the dysfunctional family in which she was raised, she would need to learn some basic principles about how one is conditioned in childhood and the effects of the family system. She would benefit from building her self-esteem and improving her communication skills, as well.

There would be a lot to learn about relationships and how one’s parents influence one’s choice of a marriage partner. Anna would be encouraged to look at her patterns of thinking, learn to update her guiding beliefs, and see what some of her issues are with regard to power and authority, anger, being a victim, not feeling loved. It would be important for her to see how she chose certain patterns of behavior, such as being a people pleaser, to assure her survival and to receive love. Over time she would learn about projection and that it is much easier for her to project her issues, like anger, onto her partner and let him act it out for both of them. If she "owned" her own anger, she could then get a better understanding of her depression and her compliant personality and she would begin to see areas of inner conflict that she might be ready to explore more deeply.

Anna would be encouraged to journal write to help her process her feelings and some of the unaware choices made in the past. As she educates herself, processes her pain, and heals herself, she will be able to look at why she is in this current marriage and what she is learning from being with this person and in this relationship. She may realize by looking at the evolution of her family system that her marriage is better than the one her grandparents and parents had. For instance, there is no physical abuse in her marriage and many parts of the relationship and family life are meeting her basic needs—security needs for sure. Anna might be able to see that in this relationship she does have the opportunity to grow in awareness, to build her self-esteem, and to learn assertiveness and communication skills. As she works on herself, she will be different around her partner which will change the dance between them, offering the path of transformation to both of them.

As this woman no longer thinks of herself as a victim, she will be able to say, "No," to her partner and not perceive his reactive anger or criticism as rejection. She will know her partner is upset for his own reasons, maybe feelings of insecurity, powerless, and loss of control, and that she is not responsible for his reactions, only her own. If her partner's anger or criticism gives her a problem, Anna will be aware enough now to see this as a resistance within herself about the changing pattern between them. She will know to take this piece of the drama that relates to her issues and go within to heal further her old pattern of wanting to fall back into her people-pleasing behavioral pattern.

Eventually Anna will be aware enough to figure out whether or not her partner is going to do some inner healing work too, or at least change enough so that the relationship does not stop her growth and actualizing process. At this point, it is appropriate to problem-solve and figure out whether she can still learn and grow by staying in this relationship or whether it is appropriate to draw it to a completion. She will have a very different vantage point now in deciding whether or not to stay in the relationship than when she started the journey of self-discovery and inner healing. If she chooses a divorce now, it will be with awareness and as the result of a completion process.

Freedom from problems in a relationship is not achieved by getting away from a partner prematurely, but from learning the life lessons that are presented to you while in the relationship. If you have been contemplating divorce, why not consider instead staying and confronting your fears, uncovering your guiding beliefs, and healing your past until such time as you complete with your partner. Then you will truly have the power of choice. You can either move out of the relationship, confident that you will not repeat the destructive patterns you experienced when you were unaware, or you can stay in the relationship transforming it as it unfolds to new and different horizons. Staying can then be a creative process as the relationship supports each person to heal their past, to self-actualize, and to grow into an enlightened, conscious partnership.

If you feel badly that you left a relationship prematurely in the past to get away from confronting your problems and fears, know that you did only what you could do at the time with your level of awareness. It serves no purpose to beat yourself up with negative self-talk. Forgive yourself instead for being unaware. At this point you might want to make an agreement with yourself to face your fears and problems in the present, as they will surely show up again. Issues and patterns of thinking and behaving avoided in the past repeat themselves in the future, but with different people. If the divorce was premature, you may even find your ex-partner will continue to dance with you on some of the unhealed issues. This is especially true if you have children together.

In summary, we have looked at the choice between divorcing and staying in a relationship for self-awareness and either completion or transforming the relationship. Consider the value of staying in a relationship that you feel no longer works or disappoints you. Once you build awareness and heal a lot of your own issues, you can better evaluate the choice. A completion with your partner servers you better in the long run, rather than avoiding or running from your issues.


From the unpublished manuscript, Becoming the Person You Always Wanted to Marry.




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