Dear Rabbi Bernath,
My husband and I have been going through a rough patch … for the last 20 years. I think it’s time to call it quits. We’re separated and we can barely stand being in the same room at this point. We have three fairly young kids.
I know that you’re an optimist, but I feel like I’ve wasted 20 years of my life. Is there any light at the end of the tunnel for me?
You’re looking at the wrong end of the tunnel. The light you’re looking for is at the beginning.
I’m very sorry to hear that you’re heading for divorce. Especially with kids in the picture, it’s never an easy experience for anyone involved. But sometimes, it’s what has to happen.
The ideas that I’m going to talk about here will mostly apply to situations that don’t involve one-sided abuse. I’m going to talk in the context of the situation I see most of the time: two people who are hurting each other in ways they don’t even understand.
Unfortunately, what I see all too often in divorce is people trying to externalize their problems. The focus is on money, child custody, the house, etc. These are all important topics, don’t get me wrong. They need to be resolved, and sometimes that process is extraordinarily difficult.
But they are only the external part of divorce – the surface of it. The internal part of divorce is letting go of what’s inside – letting go of the past.
People love to blame each other for everything they can, especially their failed relationships. With divorce, this holds even truer.
People say that, “It’s always my spouse’s fault, right? Even my friends agree with me!” But this is really missing the point.
Divorce is an opportunity. But the light is way at the beginning of the tunnel.
As Jews, we believe that the person we meet and marry was somehow meant for us. What does this mean? It means that they were sent by God to somehow make us into a better person.
When we fail to pass that test, we can’t live with the other person. Our personalities clash; we don’t understand each other. We haven’t learnt anything from each other.
Divorce is the final, last and jarring opportunity to learn what our partner has been trying to teach us (whether they know it or not). The only way we’re going to learn that lesson is by saying, “I take responsibility for this.”
I used to tell people that the breakdown of a marriage is typically a 50/50 responsibility. But I was wrong. I’ve come to realize that it’s 100/100, because if you tell someone they’re only 50 per cent responsible, they always think about the other 50 per cent that the other spouse is responsible for.
The light at the beginning of the tunnel is healing – it’s personal growth; it’s letting go. With the help of some kind of therapist or qualified friend, travel back in your mind to the beginning. What has your spouse been trying to teach you this whole time? How were you supposed to have become different?
The real tragedy is when people don’t learn, and they continue on into other relationships and make the same mistakes. You would be shocked if you knew how often that happens.
On a final note, since I’m a rabbi, it’s important for me to mention that in addition to whatever civil matters you take care of to settle the details of the divorce, it’s also very important, if you’re both Jewish, to go see a competent rabbi to formalize your get, the Jewish bill of
Anyways look behind you for the light, Rachel. It’s there and it will light your way forward. Good luck, and remember to focus on the inside.
Have a question for Rabbi Bernath? Email him at [email protected]