The Gift of Compassionate Divorce: When Separation Creates Peace

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compassionate woman holding face in her hands


Divorce does not always need to be a difficult and negative decision. What was once called an amicable divorce is now called compassionate divorce.

Compassionate Divorce

One where loving the person also includes understanding the need to say goodbye to them; One where both parents think not only about themselves but also about the best interests of the other person.

In this difficult and challenging situation, all involved navigate with love and compassion while trying to have their needs met. People in this scenario end up in a better place than where they started. Divorce in this case is a gift, a positive departure into a better life for both parties.

Divorce doesn’t have to be a hard choice or a bad thing – in some cases, it can be a gift for yourself and your partner. It can give you the gift to stop wasting time and pursue the life you were intended to live. The secret to making a divorce a gift? Handle it with true compassion.

A friend’s story:

The year was 2008 and it was Christmas Eve. I drove from my menial first “real” job to the small townhome I shared with my college boyfriend, whose graduation we had celebrated the week before, with a nagging sense of utter dread deep in the empty pit of my stomach.

As I entered the romantically-lit foyer and made my way into the den, I took note of the ubiquitous Mariah Carey Christmas album playing and the logs burning in the fire, despite the outside temperature in the low 80s. This was it–I knew I would be engaged. Moments later, I called my parents, brothers, and sister to tell them what they already knew: John had proposed and I had accepted the gift. We were engaged.

Two years later, I made similar preparations. I slid into the dress that barely stayed up due to what the seamstress and my future mother-in-law would call the “good luck” of pre-wedding jitters and extreme weight loss.

Making a huge mistake!

I was pretty confident it was depression, but also told myself, I was just being selfish. I made my way down a beautifully adorned outdoor aisle, with hundreds of friends and family who had traveled thousands of miles beaming on both sides, and forced a smile as I looked into John’s eyes. Was he as scared as I was? Was he also thinking that we might be making a huge mistake?

After four years of marriage and eight total years of being in this relationship, I found myself at an utter breaking point. I sat on the edge of the quilted bedspread in my impeccably-decorated two-story home and looked out at the snow falling on the birch trees. I couldn’t do this anymore. I hated my husband, an admirably good and exceedingly well-liked man, and couldn’t bear to identify myself as being “his” in any way any longer.

My outer identity, even my name, was so at odds with what I felt on the inside that I worried I simply couldn’t live like this any longer. For years I had been hoping and praying he would change – somehow manifest into a hyper-motivated, exceptionally active, creative individual – but he never did.

I want a divorce!

My frustration exposed itself in the most horrible ways – anger, cruelty, negligence – qualities completely contrary to the person I understood myself to be. I knew I couldn’t throw a plate on the floor again; I couldn’t cry after a party where he had too much to drink and I had to drive home again; I couldn’t be married to him anymore. And although I had uttered the words in moments of rage at least 50 times before, this time he heard me: “I want a divorce.”

A quick word about my ex-husband: He is exceptionally likable, funny, and charming, with a big laugh and a life-of-the-party type of personality. That is what originally drew us together as friends during our undergraduate studies. That is also what made it impossible for me to end our relationship.

I have a personality trait of not wanting to disappoint people I care about and sticking to that to a fault. For years, I refused to end our relationship because I thought it would irreparably hurt him. I acted out in unkind ways hoping it would spur him to make the move for dissolution.

Until I realized our separation and inevitable divorce was the best gift I could ever give both of us.

For several months we went back and forth with the discussion of whether or not to divorce, but once the words left my lips I never faltered. I stuck to my guns and stayed stubbornly planted: This was what I wanted and what was best for us. I had never loved him the way partners should – he deserved more, and so did I.

During our first marriage counseling session, we sat adjacent to one another across from our therapist. After about 45 minutes of explaining our history, conflicts, and current situation, she sat back and said, “I don’t think you’re here for marriage counseling. I think you’re here for divorce counseling.” That was the first time I felt genuinely heard and began to feel hopeful that I was finally doing the right thing for us both.

What’s next

Amidst our separation, John and I continued to share the large house we called home. We would occasionally share a cigarette and nightcap and discuss what was next.

Where would I go?

What would I do?

It was clear that he felt that because this was my decision, I should be the one to leave. And that was exactly what I wanted. Over the course of the following months, we made all the standard decisions: we divided properties, monies, and vehicles, and made amends with in-laws who would become strangers to us both.

Between two vehicles, a house, a townhome, and a dog, the only item we had any qualms over was our cell phone plan, which we had recently re-upped, and I agreed to take the small monetary blow to buy him out.

On the day of our dissolution, John called and asked if I wanted to go to lunch before we went to court. I felt the same nervous tension bubble up that I had recognized all those Christmas Eves before…but this time I said yes and knew it was the right choice.

We had a great final meal together, talking about all the things we hoped for one another: travel adventures, happiness, success, and even eventually children with unknown future partners. After years of dangerous enmeshment and resentment, we had broken down the layers and could look at one another with respect again.

It was a two-way street. We finished our lunch, drove separately to the courthouse, met briefly outside on the icy sidewalk, embraced one final time, and wished each other the best of luck before walking away. After years of giving each other all the wrong things, we had finally given each other, and ourselves, the gift of peace.

Thank you to our friend and the writer of this story of compassionate divorce. She shared her story and had the courage to listen to herself, as well as express feelings that many of us have experienced. Admitting that you are not your best self, knowing what you need next on your journey, and separating takes a tremendous amount of strength and courage.

Although ending a marriage may seem like it’s the ending of a love relationship, it is actually the start of two individuals’ new journey to love themselves. Whether children are in the picture or not, we are all our best selves when we listen to what we need.

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