Dealing with Divorce
Seems to be the season for it, oddly enough I did not think there would be a season for divorce, but perhaps that is the hopeless romantic in me. Seeing dear friends dealing with going through divorce makes my heart go out to them being a product of a broken home as well as going through my own broken marriage. These events have inspired me to ponder and research, what are the views on marriage and divorce when it comes to Buddhist teachings and how can we deal with the pains of divorce.
Firstly let us look at Marriage according to Buddhism. Buddhism takes a quite liberal view when it comes to marriage, there are no laws or rules when it comes to marriage, nothing to prohibit one from being married, and nothing that says you must be a bachelor either. The concept of Marriage in Buddhism is a construct of man, a contract between individuals to co-habitate with one another as a family. Despite what other religions may believe, or what Disney tries to sell us, marriage is a social convention, an institution created by man for the well-being and happiness of man (in the board term not the gender term), to differentiate human society from animal life and to maintain order and harmony in the process of procreation. While an enlightened more evolved view of procreation than that of the animal kingdom it is not a holly sacrament.
Separation or divorce is not prohibited in Buddhism though the necessity would scarcely arise if the Buddha’s injunctions were strictly followed. Men and women must have the liberty to separate if they really cannot agree with each other. Separation is preferable to avoid miserable family life for a long period of time. The Buddha further advises old men not to have young wives as the old and young are unlikely to be compatible, which can create undue problems, disharmony and downfall.
How can we deal with divorce? It is a very emotionally charged time in our lives but what can we do to ease our suffering? Firstly and I cannot stress this enough, one should never look at divorce as one failed, no one is the “bad guy”, merely that like all things this has fallen into impermanence, and what was a journey for more than one person for a while has once more become a solitary adventure!
When divorce strikes, the past, present, and future are all changed and can even be distorted. Everything you thought you knew to be true is now in question, any plans you may have made will now have to change, our image of the future has now become distorted. In the face of this change you may find yourself trying to grasp at what you know and once had, trying to rekindle who you were before getting married, your previous identity. but according to the Buddha these attachments create suffering. Learning to release your attachments to any particular outcomes in the past, present, or future will lead to a more peaceful existence.
Here are some of the Buddha’s teachings that may help you through your time of strife and turmoil.
The Buddha recognizes that while it might be relatively easy to generate compassion for friends and loved ones, it is extremely difficult to have compassion for someone we dislike, especially if we feel betrayed. While the tendency might be to avoid this person (most likely an ex), the Buddha would see this person as the heart of his spiritual practice, a challenge to develop positive qualities, they can be our greatest teacher. Compassion can be seen as the inverse of anger; it keeps the heart open when it wants to close off with fear or even hate. Compassion is fostered by remaining connected, no matter how painful it may be. Maintaining compassion through divorce is a feat, but it will ensure that your loving nature remains intact.
“Pain is inevitable in life, but suffering is optional.” —The Buddha
Mindfulness is the capacity to remain in the present moment. Like in all things you will want to meditate, although this will seem very difficult when so many thoughts are going through your head, finding a center in the storm will help focus you and keep you from doing or saying things you may regret later. Stepping back like you were a third party observer of events provides the greatest opportunity for acting with complete integrity and honour.
In Buddhism, impermanence is referred to as Anicca— the truth of impermanence. It is the belief that all of our experiences are constantly changing, and that nothing is permanent, not even marriage or the feelings one has when you first stepped into the contract. One of the greatest causes of pain during divorce is the feeling that things will never be the same, but the positive side of that statement is also true, while the marriage was also impermanent the pain and sorrow, the loss you feel is also impermanent.
If all parties feel that the relationship has reached the point to where there is no way to repair it, I would recommend considering a legal separation, after all you wouldn’t want to regret doing something permanent just because you are temporarily out of sorts, some time apart may do some good, or it may only strengthen the notion that things truly are over.
Finally do not be to quick to date again, you may find some people will come out of the woodwork as it were, saying how sorry they are that you are going through so much pain but how they have thought how the person you were with was not right for you, and how it would have been different if it were them. If these people have your true feelings in mind, if they are thinking of you instead of the fantasy they have worked up in their heads they will be willing to wait for you to heal, For you to discover who you are outside your identity of the married you, and for you to learn from any mistakes so you can start anew with your best foot forward.
“The past will let go of you if you let go of the past.”
― Timber Hawkeye, Buddhist Boot Camp