Spiritual Divorce

The crisis of divorce is a spiritual wake-up call. You can choose to work hard and heal yourself on the deepest level, or you can be a victim of life and other people's problems. To choose a Spiritual Divorce is to use your divorce to heal yourself; here's how to use your divorce to nurture your spirit and create a life you'll love.

By Debbie Ford
Updated: September 26, 2014

Health and Well Being

Healing action steps: Part 1

  1. Select a journal that you love and dedicate it to the sole purpose of helping you to heal and grow through your divorce. Use it freely and frequently to express whatever feelings, thoughts, or insights arise within you. Keep your journal nearby to use during these exercises.
  2. Take a few slow, deep breaths, allowing your body and mind to relax completely. Dedicate this time to furthering your healing and promoting your well-being. Close your eyes and allow your attention to rest in the area of your heart. Now imagine what it would be like to use your divorce as a spiritual journey. Consider for a moment that the feelings and circumstances surrounding this event are here to awaken you. Declare that the process you are going through right now is a holy one, divinely designed to bring about a positive change in your life. As you do this exercise, you may find that what arises in you is anger, upset, or resistance to acknowledging your divorce as a spiritual journey. Trust that whatever emerges is perfect and appropriate. When you're ready, slowly open your eyes and free-write your feelings, thoughts, or insights in your journal.

Healing action steps: Part 2

  1. Create a quiet environment free from distractions. Take out a pen and a pad of paper and begin writing your divorce story, complete with all the drama and emotion you feel about the events that transpired. Use language that expresses your deepest, darkest feelings. This is not a time to censor yourself, to be kind, or to take responsibility for your actions. Give yourself permission to bring forth whatever needs to be said concerning yourself, your partner, and your divorce.
  2. Make a list of the facts about your divorce, without any story, drama, or judgment.
  3. Go back and read your divorce story. As you revisit each detail, ask yourself, "Is this fact or fiction?"

Life presents us with many opportunities to awaken to our divine nature, the highest expression of ourselves. Some people call these opportunities spiritual wake-up calls. Most of the time, they appear during times of great distress. Divorce is one of these times. It is during this crisis that we have the opportunity to explore our inner world and begin the process of becoming intimate with our entire self, our light as well as our darkness.

Pain is a great motivator that breaks down the walls that keep old behaviors intact. Pain guides us toward thoughts and ideas that we might otherwise push away, and it forces us to seek answers from places we've never looked before. Pain opens our minds to ideas that hold the key to new insight, understanding, and freedom. Emotional turmoil can be a powerful catalyst to reconnect us with our divine nature. It propels us into a journey of self-discovery and urges us to learn how to love and accept our entire being. Healing our emotional turmoil delivers us freedom from pain and prevents us from repeating the patterns of our past.

It's been said that you will learn more in ten days of agony than in ten years of contentment. Pain can be your greatest teacher -- a friend telling you what parts of your life need attention. Sri Swami Satchidananda, founder of the worldwide Integral Yoga Institutes, explains pain as a wake-up call. He asks you to imagine being sound asleep when you are suddenly awakened by the fire alarm in your bedroom. Startled, you jump out of bed, run to the closet, and take out a baseball bat. You smash the alarm into smithereens until it stops ringing. But then, instead of looking for the fire, you put the bat back in the closet, crawl back into bed, and go to sleep.

Pain is an alarm, a warning, signaling to us that there is something burning. If we want to live happy, contented lives, we need to stay awake and tend to the flames that prevent us from relaxing in a well of inner peace. Pain is a signal that an emotional fire rages close by, that something within us needs care and healing. If we tend to our pain, we will be guided back to a place of peace and tranquillity. Pain is a sacred emotion that allows us to discover who we really are. It leads us to places we would never go on our own.

This is a time when you need to be completely and radically honest, because honesty is the only way to step out of pain and suffering. As long as we continue to deny our truth and our partner's truth, we will continue to live in isolated pain. As humans, we are masters at rationalizing behaviors, justifying deceit, and manipulating facts in order to make ourselves feel better. But no matter what stories we tell ourselves, or how we blame others or justify our positions, at some level we always know the truth. Remember the adage: "The truth will set you free." By being willing to look at the stories we've told ourselves, we can begin the process of transformation.

It might just be that learning to love the totality of ourselves -- the "good" and the "not-so-good" -- is the most difficult task to which we're ever assigned. We've been taught that in order to feel loved, we need to find someone to love us. But when that love fails, it's not surprising that we fall back into whatever negative programming we've been carrying around about love and life to explain the failure to ourselves. Fear, frustration, sadness, and loneliness may become our constant companions. Thoughts that we are unlovable or undesirable add to our feelings of worthlessness as we struggle for answers to the "why" of our situations.

Often we become depressed or angry and have inner dialogues like "I can't trust anyone," "life sucks," or "I'll never let anyone do that to me again." All of our negative feelings and painful messages are stuffed within our consciousness. Left unexamined, we turn these toxic emotions and negative beliefs back on ourselves. Neglecting our inner wounds results in abusive relationships, addictions, obsessions, depressions, chronic illness, and a negative view of ourselves, others, and the world. And to make things worse, if we don't take the opportunity to look at ourselves and heal our pain, we are likely to repeat our failures.

It's imperative that we use this time to heal. Healing is the primary path returning us to a place where we see the perfection of our humanity. It is this awareness that gives us the opportunity to return to the deepest connection available to anyone -- our connection with our Divine Creator.

A Spiritual Divorce

Spiritual Divorce is one in which we use our divorce to improve our lives and our experience becomes one of gain rather than loss. A Spiritual Divorce brings us back into the presence of our highest self and heals the split between our ego and our soul. When we use our divorces to heal our wounds, to learn, grow, and develop ourselves into more loving, conscious human beings, we have truly had a spiritual experience and a liberation of our souls. Rather than staying stuck in the pain of our broken hearts, a Spiritual Divorce calls us to reconnect to the highest aspects of our being. It is here in the presence of our highest self that we can reclaim our power, our joy, and the limitless freedom to create the life of our dreams.

If you're going through a divorce right now, this may sound like an impossible task. You may be having the worst experience of your life and can't even consider the possibility that your divorce could turn into something positive. Or you may be relieved to call it quits. Pain and change are the keys that open the door to a deeper understanding of our human experience. The pain of divorce breaks down our defenses, leaving us in a place of complete vulnerability. In this place, we become quiet enough to experience the greater realities of peace and contentment.

Seven Spiritual Laws

It's important to know that the breakdown of your relationship is for a greater purpose. Understanding some of the basic spiritual laws of the Universe will help you to discover that there is a reason you're going through this pain. These laws will guide you through the process of healing and bring you back to a place deep inside that is filled with wisdom, knowledge, and compassion for the human experience.

  1. The Law of Acceptance: The first and possibly the most important spiritual law is that everything is as it should be. Nothing occurs by accident, and there are no coincidences. We are always evolving, whether we are aware of it or not. And our lives are divinely designed for each one of us to get exactly what we need to support our own unique evolutionary process.
  2. The Law of Surrender: When we stop resisting and surrender to the situation exactly as it is, things begin to change. Resistance is the number-one culprit in denying us our right to heal. We resist out of fear that if we let go, if we surrender, our lives will go out of control or we will be faced with circumstances that we can't handle. When we are willing to look at our situation and admit that we don't know how to fix it, we are ready to get the help we need.
  3. The Law of Divine Guidance: God will do for you what you cannot do for yourself. When you get out of your own way and let go of your defenses, you become humble. Humility is the doorway through which the Divine can walk into your life. Without humility, we believe we can do it ourselves. Without humility, our false sense of pride, or ego, prohibits us from seeing the entire situation with clear eyes. Our egos remain in charge until we step outside our righteous belief that we are independent and separate beings. As long as this myth is intact, we keep the door closed to our higher wisdom.
  4. The Law of Responsibility: With divine guidance, we can look at exactly how we participated in and co-created our divorce drama. We can begin to take responsibility for our entire situation and make peace with our past. We can see how we have chosen the perfect partner to teach us the perfect lessons. Once we have asked God to come into our lives and guide us, we begin to heal.
  5. The Law of Choice: Having taken responsibility, we can choose new interpretations that empower us. We become the designer of our own new reality. We can separate from our partner and cut the karmic cords by taking back the aspects of ourselves that we've projected onto our mate. We can distinguish what our self-defeating behaviors have been and learn how to act instead of react in difficult situations.
  6. The Law of Forgiveness: After we have cut the karmic cord, we can ask God to forgive us. Asking for forgiveness allows us to let go of our judgments and beliefs about what is right and what is wrong and find compassion for our entire selves. Compassion unfolds when we're in the presence of the perfection of the Universe, when we can experience ourselves in another. It comes with the great understanding of the difficulties and ambiguity of being a human being. Compassion is God's grace for those who ask. Once we have received compassion for ourselves, we will be able to find compassion and forgiveness for our mate.
  7. The Law of Creation: Experiencing the freedom of forgiveness opens up the gates to new realities. Forgiveness breaks all the cords that keep us tied to the past. It allows us to experience an innocent heart filled with love and excitement for life. This is the time to create a new future, one grounded in your divine truth.

These seven spiritual laws are a guide and will serve as a reference point for your healing process. They are designed to help you break through your fears, dissolve your pain, and understand the deeper meaning of your situation. When these laws are integrated and practiced they will give you the freedom to create the life you have always dreamed of.

Free will enables us to choose the direction in which we will take our lives. To choose a Spiritual Divorce is to use your divorce to heal yourself. You can choose to work hard and heal yourself on the deepest level, or you can be a victim of life and other people's problems. In other words, you can choose to use your divorce, or you can let your divorce use you. Until you seek to find and embrace the gift of any situation or problem, it continues to use you. It holds you prisoner, and you carry it around as an open wound wherever you go.

Divine Guidance

Divine guidance lays the foundation that gives us the support and understanding we need to begin practicing the Law of Acceptance. Acceptance is the essential ingredient that enables us to begin the healing process. We cannot accept a situation until we're ready to look fearlessly at the facts of our circumstances. We can't heal what we cannot see, and we can't heal what we cannot feel. Yet too often the pain from our past and our fears of the future keep us stuck and unable to see our lives as a whole. Our blurred vision prohibits us from being in the present and opening up to higher levels of awareness. "It is only when we have the courage to face things exactly as they are, without any self-deception or illusion," the I Ching states, "that a light will develop out of events, by which the path to success may be recognized."

Acceptance comes when we step out of denial and judgment and are willing to see the present exactly as it exists in this moment, without any drama or story line. Drama keeps us stuck in an endless spiral of excuses that prevent us from being able to distinguish between fact and fantasy. Our drama serves as a defense mechanism designed to protect us from the pain of our past. When we're caught up in our drama, we are no longer living in the present moment. Instead, we get hooked into every similar experience from our past that was left unhealed. We think we are responding to the challenges of our lives when in fact we are reacting to all of our unresolved pain.

To break free from the confines of our story we must distinguish what is real from what is unreal. What is from the past and what is happening now? What is our present-day pain and what is the unresolved pain of our past?

The drama of our story blinds us from seeing clearly the facts of our lives. Our drama is always personal. Its theme is "something is happening to me." Our story can always be traced back to some underlying issue that's been with us since childhood. For example: "I'm not lovable," "I can't trust men," "People aren't there for me when I need them," "Love doesn't last." Our story is invariably laced with "life is doing it to me."

An important aspect of our healing is learning how to separate the facts from the story. Fact is an unbiased observation of the events of our lives. Fiction is the story we create out of our unresolved emotions from the past. Here are some examples that can help you to differentiate between fact and fiction:

  • "My wife left me" (fact) vs. "My wife left because I am unworthy of love" (fiction)
  • "My husband emptied out our checking account" (fact) vs. "My husband has deceived me and ruined my life forever" (fiction)
  • "My child had an emotional episode at school " (fact) vs. "My child has been damaged for life by my separation" (fiction)

Distinguishing the facts of our lives from the fiction lays the foundation for acceptance.

When my ex-husband Dan and I separated, I was filled with fear and became overly dramatic. I was sure that my life was over and that my son would suffer from the same emotional problems I had experienced as a child of divorced parents. After weeks of torturing myself, I decided to write down exactly what was going on in my life without all the dramatic side effects. My list looked like this:

  1. I don't have any money of my own put away.
  2. My husband doesn't want to continue going to therapy.
  3. He doesn't see any reason to get a divorce, even though we aren't living together.
  4. I will have to live inside his budget until I find a job.
  5. I will have to get a job.
  6. Dan will take my son for sixteen hours a week.
  7. We will sell our house.
  8. I will rent a home for my son and myself.
  9. I will no longer cook dinner every night for Dan.
  10. We will no longer be a couple.
  11. I will have to pay my own bills.

After looking at the list, all of the internal noise that amounted to a lot of drama about Dan not loving me, or how I failed at yet another relationship, disappeared. In light of the facts of the situation, my exaggerated fear that I'd be living on the street seemed silly. Every upsetting thought I had about Dan taking Beau away from me vanished. Inside my mind, I had been having hundreds of crazy thoughts that contributed to a belief that my life was ending. Distinguishing between fact and fiction became liberating. The facts demonstrated that only my marriage was ending, not my life. And the facts showed that I was going to have to make some changes. Even though I didn't welcome these changes initially, by writing them down I realized I could handle them all.

Distinguishing between my story and the facts was a life-changing experience. It afforded me the freedom to view the events of my life apart from the dramatic hell I was living in. "Divine detachment is when the lower self steps away from the drama it has created and allows the higher self to observe and comment upon it, clearly and without emotion; honestly and without hesitation; completely and without reservation," explains Neale Donald Walsh, author of the Conversations with God series. "You will know when this process is working for you because there will be no negativity, no judgment, no anger, no shame, no guilt, no fear, no recrimination or sense of being made wrong -- just a simple statement of what is so. And that statement may be very illuminating."

Fact or Fiction?

Living in the story of our divorce and the drama of our circumstances comes with a huge emotional price. It costs us peace of mind and prevents us from living in the present. It denies us access to the clarity of our wisest self and keeps us stuck in the pain of our past. Most of us don't realize all the ways we use our stories to make ourselves feel important or to get attention. Recognizing our need to dramatize divorce helps us to break the unconscious motivation that prevents us from seeing with clear, loving eyes.

Linda had been married to Warren for nine years before having a beautiful baby boy, Zachary. Although Warren had been combating a horrible illness for several years, when their son arrived, Linda felt that their life together would now be complete. Then one day, when Zachary was only three months old, Warren told Linda that the stress of living with her was too much for him to be able to recover from his illness. Shortly thereafter he moved out.

Linda was emotionally unstable and had been abusing prescription drugs. Her story was that she needed these drugs to cope with Warren's illness. When Warren left her, she crashed into a deep depression. Despite the fact that she was an attractive, intelligent, and gentle woman, she saw no good in herself. She lived her life inside of the story that she had nothing to offer the world. Linda's own painful childhood had left her paralyzed with fear that she would be a terrible mother like her own. Yet Linda longed to be a good mother to her son more than anything in the world.

Warren's departure was the darkest moment of Linda's life, and it sent her into a spiral that caused her to hit bottom. Shattered and broken, she got off drugs and accepted help for the first time in her life. Her dark moment turned into a blessing in disguise. Because of Warren's absence, Linda started attending meetings, going to therapy, reading books, making real friends, and becoming the mother she always wanted to be.

What Linda discovered was that her feelings were important and she needed to feel all of them in order to heal. She also discovered that having her feelings didn't mean that she was her feelings. And she learned that her overindulgence with her feelings fed the drama of her life and her divorce. Linda discovered how to distinguish between fiction and fact in order to break free from the emotional turbulence of her self-created drama. Now Linda took a look at her beliefs about herself to discover what was fact and what was fiction. She had nothing to offer (fiction) versus she had never had a job (fact). She couldn't have a family life without Warren (fiction) versus she and Zachary were a beautiful family (fact). She had no value without Warren (fiction) versus she was invaluable as the mother of Zachary and a member of society (fact). She was unworthy and unlovable (fiction) versus at certain times of the day she experienced feelings of unworthiness and unlovability (fact). She needed drugs to cope (fiction) versus she needed to learn coping skills and how to be self-nurturing (fact).

Linda recognized that the great drama surrounding her life had been created by all of her false beliefs. Denial had disguised the real issues. The turning point came when she accepted the fact that she had the power to change her life. Until she distinguished the facts from her stories, Linda was unable to accept her situation.

Practicing acceptance, of even the worst circumstances, is a powerful, life-changing tool. Even addicts and alcoholics whose situations seem dire are urged in their recovery to deal with life on the terms it presents. The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous offers us this assertion: "Acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place or thing, or situation -- some fact of my life -- unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment."

Remembering these words of wisdom can shift a moment of suffering into a moment of peace. Without the faith that life is just as it should be, we cannot accept people, places, and things as they are. We will always be trying to change, manipulate, and control the outer world. Resisting your own truth, and the truth of other people's behavior, only takes you further into the darkness of denial.

The Trance of Denial

Denial is a defense mechanism of the ego that puts blinders over our eyes and plugs in our ears so that we're unable to experience life as it truly is -- without the story. When we're stuck in the trance of denial, we believe that what we think, what we feel, and what we see are true.

When we're in denial, we're living inside a self-made illusion that narrows our vision. Imagine being in a beautiful, lush forest, with hundreds of different kinds of plants, trees, and flowers, and discovering that inside these hundreds of acres of beautiful landscaping is a small patch of dead trees. Fascinated, you take out your camera, focus the lens on this small part of the forest, and snap a picture that contains only the dead trees. You develop the picture, and then you go around showing all your friends and family the picture of the dead trees. After a while you forget the lushness of the entire forest and begin to believe that your picture reflects the real condition of the forest.

Denial causes us to focus only on what we want to see in order to protect ourselves from the entire truth. We're taught to look the other way, to point our finger, and to blame others for our problems. This method of self-protection leaves us stuck in the delusion that we're the saint and our partner is the sinner, that we're the victim and our partner is the abuser. It leaves us angry, resentful, and powerless over the circumstances of our lives. It cuts us off from the lushness of the forest and leaves us in the presence of the dying trees.

In the midst of a turbulent divorce, most of us are not looking through clear eyes. We're seeing the situation through a distorted reality. To regain the big picture, we need to breathe deeply and take the time to separate the facts of our present situation from our fears about what might happen in the future.

I saw this clearly when I met Mary. At 43 years old, she had been separated from her husband, Kevin, for almost a year. In one of her first declarations Mary informed me that she was no longer angry with her husband. She then went on to explain that he was abusive toward their children and that she would have to fight for sole custody to protect them.

In fact, Mary constantly complained about Kevin, telling me how dangerous he was and maintaining that he should not be allowed to be with their children. Every time I asked her about the abuse, she'd recount the same incident: Kevin had yanked her daughter Angela by the arm and made her cry. After weeks of listening to her talk about what a terrible father Kevin was, I asked Mary to list all the times he had abused their children. Mary's list was short. In fact, she could remember only two incidents. One was the time he yanked Angela's arm and the other incident was told to her by a friend, who said she witnessed Kevin yelling at their son, Kyle, after a soccer game. Mary had created other incidents in her mind that led her to believe that Kevin was abusive. And, of course, on top of these beliefs were all kinds of imagined incidents that she feared would happen to her children in the future.

To make sure Mary was looking at the entire picture, I asked her to list the good things that Kevin had to offer as a father. It took a few weeks, and she could add only one or two items a week, but after a couple of months she finally had a list of eight positive attributes of Kevin as a father. Her list looked like this:

  1. Kevin wants to spend time with his children weekly.
  2. He likes to help the children do their homework.
  3. He likes going to soccer practice, and he even coaches the soccer team occasionally.
  4. He encourages them in all their after-school activities.
  5. He's interested in science and brings enthusiasm to a subject that both his children loathe.
  6. He likes to videotape and catalog pictures of the kids at special events. (Mary herself never did this.)
  7. He likes to ski and play tennis and brings his kids along with him so that he can teach them these sports.
  8. He shows the children more discipline.

As long as Mary focused on Kevin's temper, she was unable to see the entire picture. Her lawyers had warned her that she didn't have enough evidence to pursue a full custody order, but she was so trapped in her story that she couldn't see the forest for the trees. All Mary was able to focus on were a couple of dead trees inside Kevin's forest.

I'm not suggesting that abuse is okay or that you don't have a right to protect your children; I'm suggesting that when you're going through a separation, you can't always see the entire picture. You tend to focus, whether you want to or not, on what doesn't work and what is unacceptable. It's a sure bet that at some point all your unexpressed emotions and withheld communications will come out in some form or another. You'll project all your anger, regret, or resentment onto the person you once loved more than anyone.

It's important to remember that denial is a form of self-protection. Otherwise known as "Don't Even Notice I Am Lying," denial is built into our psyche. It acts as a shield so that we can go on with our lives. It shows up as rationalization and justification, and in our minds it's always the truth. It's amazing how easy it is to focus on the small picture, all the while believing that we're seeing the whole truth. But to be happy instead of right, we must open up to the possibility that things aren't always what they seem.

When we remember that there is an order to the Universe and that things aren't always what they seem, then we can look beyond our own agenda or ego. In most instances, as soon as we separate from our partner, our battle armor goes up and denial sets in. Yet it's imperative, especially if we have children, to explore all realities. We must step out of the reality of our own small selves and into the fullness and enormity of the big picture. The big picture includes the possibility that our partners are in our lives to bring us light and healing, even if we can't see it. It's only when we step into the light of divine order that we can accept where we are today.

People and circumstances are the way they are for a reason, and even though we may not be able to see the gifts of someone's bad temper, cheapness, or neglect, it may be just what we need to gain access to our own unique gift. Kevin's temper may provide the impetus his child needs to become a defender of children's rights. Your wife's indifference may be exactly the motivation you need to become more available to your children or to a future spouse. All you need to do is to be willing to see the entire forest rather than a small patch of dead trees. Shifting from a combative stance to a receptive one, you must step out of the shadow of your drama and into the light of the facts.

This article has been edited and excerpted from Spiritual Divorce: Divorce as a Catalyst for an Extraordinary Life by Debbie Ford. This bestselling author and workshop leader reveals how the devastation of divorce can be transformed into an enlightening and empowering experience. Ford provides life-altering tools and exercises as she takes you on the road to self-discovery, sharing personal stories of divorce to illustrate her seven spiritual laws for healing. This powerful book can help you break through the pain and fear of divorce to a future filled with freedom, joy, and love. Spiritual Divorce is available at better bookstores. Visit Debbie Ford online at www.spiritualdivorce.com.

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August 09, 2006

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