Buddhism and The Happy Divorce

My daughter’s mother is a wonderful mom. I am an equally wonderful dad. We did not have a wonderful marriage, but we have had a fantastic divorce.

Most people that discover I am divorced usually treat me like a cancer survivor. When people discover that my daughter lives with me— the father— people almost always respond, “Wow! Where is the mother?” Both responses always fascinate me, because they both give the impression that divorce is something unexpected in society and single father’s are rarely good parents.

Marriage does not end when you sign on the final divorce decree, or when the last of the bedroom furniture is moved out, or when you sit down and tell your kids that mommy and daddy aren’t going to be living together. Marriages end silently and usually unnoticed long before that. Nevertheless, it is always a surprise when one spouse hears the word “divorce.”

It is a lot like the Jack in the Box. You know that eerie little clown is going to jump out at your sometime, but you are never ready for it. The trick is to know how to deal with it when he shows up.

My first step in my divorce was to find an anchor to steady myself. This was important, so I could put the world in context. As a Buddhist, I recommitted myself to more and more spiritual practice and meditation. Each night I had to deal with the questions that kept creeping into my head. “How will this affect me? How will I deal with my daughter? How will I afford it? How will I rebuild my life?”

With each anxiety ridden question, I felt a bit of fear and frustration rub against me like a new scratchy wool sweater. It was uncomfortable, painful and I wanted it to stop. There had to be a reason why I was feeling this way, and it seemed logical the person asking for a divorce was the cause.

However, as logical as it seemed, it wasn’t the case. I knew that. This divorce wasn’t about me, but about my ex-wife’s unhappiness. It was made worse by our insistence on staying together for hope, for family, and for all the wrong reasons: problems that we ignored until they were un-ignorable.

So many relationships end badly with the singular purpose to make each party feel better about the conclusion. Each side tallies up the wrongs done them and tries to determine who is the loser. We decided to accept that relationships end, and that is a fact of life. Our only fault was closing our eyes to each other’s unhappiness.

So without blame, we recommitted ourselves to our divorce. It wasn’t always easy, and it took a lot of communication, but we have done pretty well over the past few years. We communicate at least weekly on issues about our daughter and coordinate her time respectfully.

Divorce is usually seen as a pejorative, invoking images of pain, arguments, and bitterness. It does not have to be that way. This is a choice, not a sentence. Find an anchor (your spirituality, a therapist, mature friends) that will steady you in the initial turbulent times so you can get your bearings. Remember, change is opportunity not a curse.

Successfully navigating divorce requires perspective and introspection and a lot of hard work, but the rewards are worth it. I am certainly happier for it. My ex-wife is happier for it. My daughter is happier too.

This article was originally published January 21, 2010 at http://www.pittsburghbettertimes.com/2011/01/31/the-happy-divorce/

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Categories: Buddha, Divorce, Four Noble Truths, Lifestyle, Marriage

Author:Sumitta

Born Joshua Hudson, Reverend Sumitta (his ordained name) finished a twenty-year career as a military photo-journalist, and became a Licensed Social Worker with continuing studies in Mental Health, Healthcare Advocate, and Buddhist Minister. Currently, he works as the Director of Psychological Health and Primary Prevention of Violence for the U.S. Air Force. Previously, he served as the healthcare patient advocate for the Veterans Healthcare Administration, and is a License Clinical Social Worker, with a Master’s in Clinical Social Work at the University of Pittsburgh, working as a drug and alcohol rehabilitation counselor, public speaker, trainer and personal/family advisor. His dharma name "Sumitta," which translates to "Good Friend" in Pali.

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4 Comments on “Buddhism and The Happy Divorce”

  1. Ritu
    February 14, 2011 at 9:46 am #

    Wow… the way you are explaining it… seems so simple and easy….It is not. .. many times we encounter blood sucking people who are not ready to leave us at any cost… how to deal with that situation ??

    • February 14, 2011 at 11:38 am #

      Life is only as difficult as you make it and your perceive it to be. We deal with difficult people successfully every day, but when it comes to people who we have invested our happiness with– it is difficult. We are too close. We have too many wants and desires. We have too many fears that are created with change.

      You cannot control other people: you can only choose how you deal with them. Changing your energy changes how you perceive and deal with those people. That CAN change their reactions/actions when they deal with you.

  2. Ritu
    February 14, 2011 at 11:45 am #

    Thanks for your reply …. Sometimes we encounter people who are nothing but a rebirth of Hitler. They want a YES for everything and don’t take NO as an answer. The toughest part is when they come as our parents. Many a times we can see clearly that their decision is not right.. but there is no scope for NO… what to do in this case ?? On one hand we are taught to respect out elders and on one hand we have our happiness. Is it better to be a disobedient child ? where does compassion come here ? Does compassion mean becoming a doormat ?

    • February 14, 2011 at 12:07 pm #

      Everyone is a diamond, with many facets. We choose to see the face we wish to see and often ignore the rest. No one, even Hitler, is all bad or good; joy or pain. We turn our clinging and aversions into the labels of the people around us. A lover or parent is not all one emotion. We choose to be all one emotion towards a person. So the issue is really within us.

      When we see people fully, with equanimity — it is so much easier to navigate our path with them. A child is a person who is raised by a parent. They are NOT the property or extension of the parent. They are individuals with their own lives. This is something that parents AND children need to realize. This is a different topic– but children need to respect their parents. While small, they should obey for their safety and well being. But eventually they must put aside that role and become independent.

      I have also said, when ask about the difference of compassion and doormats, that you should ALWAYS choose forgiveness and compassion. NEVERTHELESS, forgiving an abusive spouse or parent does not mean that you should offer them compassion from the same house or zip code. The first step of loving kindness is to love yourself and be kind to yourself. Avoid putting yourself in physical or mental harm. Then forgive those who have caused it. This is total freedom: to escape pain and let go of the shackles that emotionally bind you to that prison.

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