Confluence Ceremonies

Marking Your Life's Important Moments

Tag: divorce

Letting the Light In

“Ring the bells that still can ring  Forget your perfect offering  There is a crack in everything  That's how the light gets in.”  ― Leonard Cohen

“Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.”
― Leonard Cohen

The days have shortened, the air is chillier than just a few weeks ago, and where I live, the snow is beginning to fall. Yes, you and I will soon be sharing more of our time with family and friends as we celebrate the upcoming winter holidays of Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and the New Year. Full of tradition and ritual, these celebrations carry with them the explicit message of gratitude, unity, peace, hope, and rebirth. Each tries to lend light to the darkening times. Each give us courage to face the changes we are undergoing.

But for many of us, this year feels very different. I’ve talked with friends and family who feel like the U.S. election has added a nuanced complexity to their interactions with others, especially with those they are closest to. Some feel unnerved, out-of-balance, and fearful with the results. And knowing that the holidays will soon be upon us just adds stress and dread.

This year, disagreements between couples about fundamental candidates, issues, or policies, can create thick walls of pain and anger. We look at this person we share a bed with and wonder: “How can they make this huge mistake?” “I thought I knew this person, but maybe I don’t.” We see a crack in this relationship that we never noticed before.

In a recent New York Times article “He Likes Trump. She Doesn’t. Can This Marriage Be Saved?” http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/14/fashion/marriage-politics-donald-trump-hillary-clinton.html?_r=0 Sridhar Pappu talks with a handful of couples who found themselves in opposite camps over the presidential elections. And their relationships had clearly hit dark times as a result. Their stories ring with disappointment, shock, and anger, expressed at their partner for supporting “the wrong” candidates. One wife said of her husband’s plan to vote for Donald Trump, “I would just be disgusted on every level . . . And also a little fearful. Disgusted on the marriage level, but fearful for our society.” Some couples Pappu interviewed even talked of divorce.

Even dating couples, Pappu noted, had either parted as a direct result of their political views or declined to begin relationships with those they were otherwise interested in after learning of their support for another candidate for president.

While many couples have found ways, no doubt, to get along regardless of their differing political beliefs, the challenge to some relationships is brought home to me. My sister and her husband voted for different presidential candidates after the exhausting election season brought to light their divergent views on issues that matter greatly to them both. These two are feeling real distance from each other after the election–and real pain as a result. They made a shaky truce: not to talk about their views. But both are suffering a sense of being misunderstood and unappreciated.

So how do we move forward in our relationships when we feel so divided from those we most cherish? How can we gather our tools for the upcoming holidays, and for the long term? I am not a therapist, but I have benefited from couples therapy, and know that we all can afford to learn more about dealing with the challenges, big and small, that every relationship faces. So I went searching for the experts’ advice for couples grappling with the post-election/pre-holiday blues.

Based on his 30 years’ experience as a marriage counselor, Craig Lambert offers his wisdom to couples feeling the strain of the election season. http://craiglamberttherapy.com/how-couples-with-different-political-views-can-survive-an-election-year/ I’ve distilled Craig’s ideas here.

First, think. Recognize that all couples share differences. Our disagreements aren’t in and of themselves warning signs. In fact, you CAN love someone who doesn’t see the world in the same way you do. You both can love each other deeply and still disagree. Truly, sometimes our love is enhanced by the very act of honoring another’s right to his or her own beliefs.

Next, act. Ask your partner to tell you why they feel the way they do. Try to listen without judging. That act of listening to someone else, paying attention, and repeating back to them their thoughts as they have stated them is one of the most powerful ways to express your love. You’re saying: I hear you. Don’t expect your partner to offer you this same opportunity, either. Give freely. Don’t keep score. Marriage is not a football game.

Finally, change. You can’t force a change in another’s viewpoint, but you can change your perspective. Like an eagle, push yourself to rise above the daily struggles and disagreements; just for a moment look at your relationship with new eyes. Does your political disagreement reflect deeper fissures in your relationship? Or does it simply make you feel uncomfortable, challenging your sense of your knowledge of another person? Ultimately, what matters more to you: the next four years of a presidential officeholder or the entire journey of years you have invested in traveling  together with this particular person? Can you see the bigger picture?

These are tough questions that will require time, attention, and hard work to answer.

Meanwhile, you both might be able to agree on a few basic ground rules to reduce the damage either of you can do to your relationship.

  1. Agree to disagree. Remember to also keep in mind what you share in common.
  2. Agree to not talk politics, if talking politics results in hurt feelings.
  3. Try to choose love and respect over judgment and disrespect. You won’t always be able to succeed in doing so, but you will get better at it. And you will be honoring your loved one by trying. And they will feel your love.
  4. Do no harm. Your behavior can communicate clear signals that your partner is not lovable or that your relationship is less important to you than ever. Sending these signals is a choice. Choose, instead, to act in loving ways.

If we are fortunate, we learn that love is not a finite thing. It can’t be measured out or kept back or given in like proportion. Our primary relationships are not tit-for-tat interactions, but full expressions of humans’ deepest and most powerful nature to love and need to feel we are loved. And this beautiful truth is one of the greatest parts of being in a loving  partnership with another person.

For now, let’s all take a deep breath, light the candle, and be inspired by the spirit of the upcoming holidays–gratitude, unity, peace, hope, and rebirth. Let’s “ring the bells that still can ring” and let the light in.

I wish you and yours a loving holiday season.

 

 

 

 

 

Ceremony and Our Inner Healer

“I had lines inside me, a string of guiding lights . . . .I had been damaged, and a very important part of me had been destroyed—that was my reality, the facts of my life. But on the other side of the facts was who I could be, how I could feel. And as long as I had words for that, images for that, stories for that, then I wasn’t lost.” (Jeanette Winterson, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?)

       Photo by Thelma Achamire

Photo by Thelma Achamire

Are we ever truly lost? Humans may well have a natural predisposition toward emotional balance. Whether we think of it as “a string of guiding lights,” a hardwired equipoise, or the internal divine, our default setting is always engaged in one task: to return to a healthy state. We can see evidence of this natural state of self-care in our desire to sleep when we are stressed, in our good feelings after talking it out with a good friend, and in our dreaming life. But often, our conscious mind overrides this reflexive mode. It replays old tapes, increases anxiety (“do something!!”), and wears us down. We binge, we distract, we erupt, we self-destruct. We sabotage this innate ability to heal ourselves.

But always, there is “the other side of the facts.” If we remember to honor this amazing skill we all are inheritors of, we allow our hearts and minds to move toward emotional health. That inner healer innately knows who we are and who we can be, as Jeanette Winterson describes it in the excerpt above. What that means is that anytime we wish to, we can accept the call to restore our own well-being!

Ritual and ceremony offer one way to answer that call to health: they create a safe and rich environment outside of our daily lives, they honestly express our authentic emotional state, they help transform the moment into a concrete truth, setting us on a path toward authentic emotional growth. A well-focused memorial ceremony is a good example of this. Meaningful rituals within a service can move us onward in our suffering, in our relationship to the deceased, and in our own healing. We can share memories of all kinds with those in attendance, we can read a poem we’ve written for the deceased, we can listen to their favorite song or ask a family elder to recall the deceased’s birth. Through such rituals, we reconnect to our inner healer. We find, as we leave the ceremonial space, that we feel better, more integrated, less at sea. Through ritual and ceremony, we have rediscovered our natural ability to heal ourselves.

A ceremony’s power to heal derives not only from ritual, but from its very creation of community, cohering individuals witnessing the ceremony into an affiliated group, one of the healthiest biological structures there is. This community 1) reflects our own emotional state, 2) joins us in our expression of grief, joy, hope, 3) identifies more strongly with us because of the sharing that takes place in the ceremony, 4) brings its own creative energies and unique experience to bear on our own situation, and 5) begins to heal and transform along with us.

Ceremonies can also transform guests in very personal ways, as they act as witnesses to those more central to the ceremony. This may have happened to you. Watching the event unfold, you become a participant through your ability to identify with the mourners. In sharing this ceremony, you come to understand more deeply the value of love, care, truth, connection, compassion, and humor in your daily life. A focused ceremony actually invigorates a community of supporters, as all the natural energy of healing is restored to each member, who then focuses that healing energy on the central participants of the ceremony. Ceremony, then, reconnects us to our natural desire to affiliate with others through enhancing our connection to our inner healer.

I’ve seen deeply estranged families begin the process of authentic reconnection as a direct result of their participation in ceremony. This happens in weddings, funerals, divorce ceremonies, baby welcomings, and more. The energy created by ritual takes us out of the everyday thinking and responses, opening us up to possibility, healing, and our own power to transform. Ceremony reconnects us to that “string of guiding lights” that leads to our own inner healer, pointing to who we are and who we can become.

Our minds are powerfully focused on taking care of ourselves. We have only to attune our conscious self to our natural impulses. Ceremony and ritual help us unlearn our conscious responses to emotional stress and start to process our reality in a way that allows us to gather our energy and take the next step forward. Those lines within us—lifelines and anchor chains accessed through the benefits of ceremony–lead to our own inner healer. There he sits and waits, there she gathers her tools, ready to restore our own selves. Ready to restore the gift of being and becoming.

D-I-V-O-R-C-E

Did you hear: Gynneth Paltrow and her husband of ten years, Chris Martin, are ending their marriage? These two people have two families, two large careers, and two real children to sort through, all of which will surely be affected by their split. And for years to come.

Here’s the catch: they are calling their divorce not a divorce—but a “conscious uncoupling.” What’s that about? Can divorce ever be anything but d-i-v-o-r-c-e?

Zosia Bielski of Toronto’s Globe and Mail gives psychotherapist Katharine Woodward Thomas credit for having devised the term “conscious uncoupling” and its unique approach to enlightened divorce as a way to encourage healthier break-ups of couples and their families. As she and her own husband worked “honorably” together to conclude their marriage, Thomas came to see that such amicable endings are unusual. By the time most couples divorce, they may already lack trust, good will, and compassion for each other. Children suffer. Pain and guilt and grief abound.

Thomas’s official process of conscious uncoupling requires one or both parties take a five week online course (~$300) “to Release the Trauma of a Breakup, Reclaim Your Power & Reinvent Your Life.” Each couple or one of a couple works with a coach as the course progresses through subjects such as avoiding pitfalls, crafting contracts to promote positive interactions, and practicing compassion.

While kinder divorce is a laudable goal, it still rarely happens in real life. “[I]t’s time we learned how to do this better” says Thomas.

Hurray! You and I could not agree more! Let’s do divorce better. That’s where celebrancy comes in.

Celebrancy has crafted the “Divorce Ceremony” as a concrete way of addressing the grief which can surround divorce by officially marking the ending of the marriage. Doing so offers an opportunity for recasting the central relationships, transitioning the family and the community into the next stage of these relationships, and imagining a future of transformed roles and purposes. Also, a divorcing couple often wishes to honor their families (children, in-laws, and others), which the Divorce Ceremony provides space to do.

Too, crafting a divorce ceremony can help a couple articulate for themselves and their communities what their own practical vision is: will the couple both support the children? How? Where will each live? What will become of their mutual friendships and professional relationships? Constructing this ceremony with their celebrant can also help them address still deeper questions: What do they want for their own lives? Their children’s lives? What will the end of their marriage enable them to imagine for themselves? Through the ceremony they write together, a couple can effectively envision and then articulate their next chapter.

Celebrants have long been working with couples who want to compose ceremonies to mark their marriages’ endings as meaningfully as they marked their beginnings. We understand the healthful role of ceremony in helping us effectively separate, transition, and incorporate (or as Thomas says, “Release . . . Reclaim . . . [and] Reinvent,”). This three-staged process helps us clarify the present, then step out of our old lives, and into our new ones.

And Divorce Ceremonies aren’t just for those directly involved. Any marriage contains its community of supporters. So when a marriage ends, this larger community doesn’t suddenly stop caring; it is lost, it is concerned, it is grieving. Without its own chance to express and heal, that external group can sometimes turn ugly, spreading rumors, imagining the worst, hurting those already most hurt.

We all need to know how to truly move forward from divorce, and the Divorce Ceremony provides the space to do this in therapeutic ways that honor our humanity.

I’d like to see the “coupling” of Divorce Ceremonies with Conscious Uncoupling’s therapy sessions to best insure that the end of a marriage is truly a marker of healthy transformation, instead of a lifelong source of trauma, for all involved.

Divorce is divorce: a loss of hope and shared vision. But by adding ceremony to conscientious attention, couples can truly transform divorce into healthy transition, instead of the horrible, gut-churning experience many of us think it must always be.

Sources:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/celebrity-news/so-how-do-you-consciously-uncouple/article17682694/

See also:

~~Ben Zimmer’s WSJ online article on the history of the language of divorce.

http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304441304579479461454199396?KEYWORDS=zimmer+divorce&mg=reno64-wsj&url=http%3A%2F%2Fonline.wsj.com%2Farticle