Marital separation, particularly when it leads to divorce, is one of life’s most painful passages. It is painful for the spouse who wants the separation, it is painful for the spouse who is rejected and it is painful for the children. Is there any way this can be made easier? This is not a simple or quick answer. I do know that grieving takes place and that each individual goes through this process at different times and never in the same way. According to Elisabeth Kubler-Ross (a Swiss-American doctor and psychiatrist), there are five stages to grieving: shock/denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The process is not linear and one can take years to reach acceptance.
In my work as a divorce mediator, it is rare that I hear back from my clients after the final Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) is sent to them. My assumption is that each client has taken the final MOU to their respective lawyers, had one of the lawyers draw up the separation agreement and then moved forward with their life. I’m not sure this is always the case.
Fast forward to June 2017 when I first heard about formal divorce rituals.
I met Dr. Marilyn Beloff for the first time in June 2017 as I enjoyed moderating a panel discussion on interfaith mediation. Dr. Beloff was one of the panelists and she was passionate about sharing her doctoral research on the Get (a Jewish divorce ritual) for its wisdom in healing the wounds of divorce. She spoke of her personal divorce journey and how she found closure through this ritual. Her story was fascinating and I was captivated. I had never heard of anything like this before and wanted to know more.
That evening, I read her dissertation and realized how important it was for me, a divorce mediator, to recognize and learn more about closure for separating or divorcing couples. I asked myself if I could incorporate some informal processes to accommodate a wide variety of requests or if this would mean finding other professionals to refer my clients to. I remembered a few years ago, a woman talking about a ‘divorce party’ and how it might include a divorce cake and wedding ring coffins and banners and other items I do not recall. It didn’t occur to me then that these events and activities were aimed at healing the rifts among the family and friends and yes, the exes too, that divorce may have caused. Each individual decides if they want something like this and if they are willing to put in the time and effort for a formal (or informal event), all in the name of closure and a rite of passage, in order to move on to the next stage of their life.
In mulling over these thoughts, it seemed suitable to address them with Dr. Beloff, herself in a blog post. This way we could share some of her valuable research and wisdom with others and particularly fellow alternative dispute resolution professionals.
Below I have outlined a common separation scenario where one individual wants to separate and the other hopes to stay together. Dr. Beloff will then analyze story through the lens of her work and research in Part 2 (stay tuned).
This story begins when Jack called me to explain that he and Jill were looking for a mediator to get everything in writing before going to see a lawyer.
In a nutshell, they
Although they both agreed to separate, each of them were in different places in the grieving process. Jack was the one that brought up the separation and had been stewing on his decision for close to a year. Jill was hoping they would sort things out. She was having a hard time letting go emotionally and as a result was feeding the relationship (replaying memories of good and bad times, struggling to understand and figure things out from Jack’s perspective).
Jill was in the middle of the grieving process, experiencing denial along with hints of bargaining. Anger had not yet shown itself. Jack, on the other hand, had already been through the grieving process, while still a couple. Jack did not want to hurt Jill, so chose to live an inauthentic life, pretending that he was ‘in’ the relationship out of fear of hurting her. Although he liked and respected Jill, he fell out of love with her after their son was born.
I explained the grieving process to each of them and expressed my hesitation to continue with mediation at this point in time. They agreed to postpone mediation.
Approximately three months later, I heard back from Jack and Jill at different times. They wondered if I was still available.
Not once did the word closure come up, I assume because the clients did not know what this term entailed and at the time, I was not familiar with formal divorce rituals.
Dr. Beloff has written a book, Moving Forward: An Ancient Divorce Ritual for the Modern World and I hope it brings “greater depth and meaning to those struggling with or serving families going through a separation and divorce.”
Stay tuned for Part 2 (next week), as I turn to Dr. Beloff for her analysis on this scenario.