Divorce… and the Grace to Go Forward with Courage

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“Language instead of tears.  Anger instead of pent-up misery.  Action and change instead of acceptance and self defeat.  A warrior instead of a victim.”

—Nellis Wong, Poet, founder, the Women Writers Union

I was married for twenty years to a man I loved far too much for far too long.  It never, not even for one minute, occurred to me that I wouldn’t be married to him forever.  All my dreams — to say nothing of my time, money, reputation and even my business life — were all inextricably intertwined with his, in that comforting entanglement that grows with the years and makes you feel loved and safe.  I didn’t doubt he loved me just as devotedly as I loved him.  He told me so often.  We made love all the time, despite our two decades of marriage.  He said that infidelity was the one thing he could never forgive.  He meant mine.

Foolishly, I never doubted his.

And then there was a fiftieth birthday, an affair with an assistant, and shattering revelations of dozens of other affairs throughout our long life together, dating all the way back to the week we were married.  In a heartbeat, my great love story was reduced to a cliché.  I felt robbed even of my dreams, for there were no futures I had ever fantasized in which we were not together.

People told me I’d been a fool.  I couldn’t disagree.  People said, “You must have known… women always know.”  I can vouch for the fact that that’s not true.  When you truly love, you truly trust.

Hearts Really Do Break

Some wounds are clean and others are septic.  It took me years to fight my way back from the incapacitating shock, rejection, sadness, disappointment.  I’d always thought of a broken heart as a metaphor — they look so mendable on Valentine cards.  Now I know the breakage is all too real.  It shatters places too deep for tears, too fragile to ever let the world know about.  When the Anam Cara, the soul friend, betrays you, where do you go for solace or safety?

Like the stages of grief after a death, I battled confusion, loss, disbelief, anger, despair.  I’d tried to forgive along the road, but for a long time the best I could do was park my thoughts of my husband in neutral, consigned to some limbo of non-existence in my heart.  Finally I consigned him in my mind to the Hindu concept of the Lords of Karma.  Justice, I realized, was their job, not mine.

Losing Him and Re-gaining Me

Strangely, in the end, I found that divorce was the way back to my own soul-strength which I’d mistakenly abdicated without knowing it, in favor of being part of what I’d thought to be a larger whole.  Instead, I re-discovered a wholeness in myself that astounded me.

I found that in the anguish of a broken heart are the seeds of change, and that the loss of love is sometimes not the end of life, but the beginning of both freedom and wholeness.  I think, looking back, that the letting go of what I’d dreamed and planned was the hardest part.  I cried for days, weeks, months, or maybe it was years.  I hated my husband as much as I had loved him before I knew about all his infidelities.  Betrayal is an unbearable grief… no way to retaliate, no way to wound as you’ve been wounded.  And so I prayed a lot, begging help to banish the angry thought forms that made me feel ashamed of myself at the same time I believed them fully justified.

And to the tips of my toes, I missed being married.

I Missed Being Loved

I missed being loved.  Even if it had only been an illusion, it was a wondrous one, a needed one.

I missed being held in the night.  Wanted.  Touched.  Laughed with, lusted after.  Being lost in familiar passion.  Talking over little things.  The unimportant moments life is composed of.  The space between silences.  The certainty of connection with another soul.  Plans for the future.  The remembered past.

I didn’t miss my husband, exactly… I missed the man I’d thought him to be, the one I’d loved so long.  I missed the fantasy his existence had permitted me for 20 years… the fantasy of being truly loved.

Then one day a question formed in my head.  “What if a broken heart is really a heart shattered open?” it asked, “not ruined at all, but emptied to receive, no longer closed by false completion.”

Stunned by the simple thought, I asked myself if it could be that I’d been blessed by what had nearly killed me?  If my husband had never broken my heart, might I never have found myself curled up in there, constrained and strangled into smallness?  Would I never have grown up to be my soul and never earned the freedom to forge a different future from the one I’d planned a lifetime ago.  This odd spin-doctoring shifted my perspective profoundly.  It made me grateful and, amazingly, freed my heart to wonder what was yet to come.



© Cathy Cash Spellman/The Wild Harp & Co. Inc 2011

Posted on October 14th 2011 in Love

3 Responses to “Divorce… and the Grace to Go Forward with Courage”

  1. Catherine O'Brien Says:

    Many many years ago, after I read So Many Partings I wrote to you about how your book had touched me at a very lonely time of my life. I can’t remember if I told you then why I was so lonely but it was because I had just discovered my own husband’s infidelity. I know now that you will understand that.

    I anguished in my hurt and sorrow for years and one day I met a man – he is quite famous in my country actually. His name is Paul McKenna and he is well known as a stage hypnotist but I was meeting him in his capacity as a mentor to businessmen and women.

    I sat as part of his audience at the beginning of a presentation he was making where he was describing how to “choose your attitude”. He stood tall and spoke of a ‘significant other’ by his side and told of how happy and proud he was of their relationship. He then spoke of that relationship ending (no specific reason but it was over) and his body slumped and his speech became slower and sadder and I felt he was directing this entirely at me. It was how I felt.

    He then talked about how one could cope with this loss. He accepted that there would be a period of mourning but he talked about wallowing in sorrow; spreading our misery to our friends (who might quickly tire of it); concentrating only on the pain attached to this loss.

    Then he changed his demeanor again and once more stood tall and encouraged me (obviously by now I knew he was only talking to me) to look for what had been good about the relationship or what good outcomes there might have been – I thought of my son.

    And then he encouraged me to consider moving on …. to take a look at the space beside me which was now empty and wonder what might fill it next. I think he saved my life that day.

    It did not all change for me miraculously there and then but from that day I was able to look forward with less pain than I had felt in years.

    I have loved all your books and I have missed you over the past decade. During that time I always looked for a new book from you each time I visited the States or I would check Amazon several times a year to see if you had written anything new. Then I came across your blog and read about what you have been going through. I send you my love and supporting thoughts.

    I bought Lark’s Labyrinth on my Kindle the other day and I am part way through it. I want to read it slowly. I want it to last. I love your writing.

    I have favourite parts from your books.

    I love Seaneen’s note to Beth in Excess of Love where he makes her that pledge that he calls “no idle promise”. I use that phrase myself from time to time. I do make sure I credit it to you though.

    I love the list that Maggie wrote to Devlin in Bless the Child about the things she wished men knew about women.

    I love the story Chance told Fancy the first time they made love – surely nothing could be more romantic.

    And these are only some of the parts of your writing I have loved. You are amazing. I would love to have known you personally.

    We seem to have had some things in common in our lives. I am Cathy. I have a beloved sister. I am of Irish descent. In fact now I am remarried to a wonderful Irishman called Val (he was born on St Valentine’s Day and you know what Irish mothers are like!!) I never had a daughter but I can imagine how wonderful that must be. I have a son, Rory, who is the love of my life. And although I could never have your gift of writing, I feel your stories have been a huge part of the fabric of my adult life.

    I send you all my blessings and wish you every happiness for your future.

    I haven’t figured out my favourite part of Lark’s Labyrinth yet – I hope it’s still to come for me.

    God Bless You Cathy

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