Divorce is a major life transition, though as yet, one without a ritual to mark and support the passage and to orient the community to the family’s transition. The legal process is the only current social context for this important and personal transition. We need to create a more sensitive and accepting social understanding of the family in transition. Ritual can help us do so.
Simple and thoughtful rituals, private as well as more public, can assist the individual and the couple:
- to grieve the end of the marriage
- to acknowledge the change in their social position
- to acknowledge the transition for the family, immediate and extended
- to enter a new chapter of life
Personal, family and community rituals can focus on cleansing and healing, communication and connections, reconfiguration and renewal and, can bring closure to the separation process.
Lack of social context for divorce
Social relationships and social status change dramatically for both members of the divorcing couple and their children, their families and their friends. Divorce is an unrecognised, unmarked rite of passage, one that challenges the social order and threatens chaos. Outside of the legal process, there is no social context for the divorce, meaning a way of understanding divorce and its impact on social relationships. What were once valued family connections – mother-in-law, brother-in-law, aunts, uncles and cousins by marriage – are now severed, or are they? Who are you to me now? What does this divorce transition mean to our relationship? These uncertain relationships are proliferating as divorce becomes more commonplace. We, as a society, can utilise ritual to redefine these social relationships and create a social context for understanding and facilitating, if not celebrating, the divorce transition.
Reasons for divorce ritual
Meaningful divorce ritual will challenge the existing social construct of divorce as anomalous and as a personal failure. The ritual would acknowledge the breach in the marriage relationship, the crisis of separation, the need for redress, resolution of the economic and family issues of the couple and reintegration of the two individuals and their families back into the social network with an acknowledgement of the change in status. Divorcing couples experience three stages of transition; separation from the community, often ostracised by family and friends at a time when they most need social support and contact. Then the “betwixt and between” state that endures throughout the course of the divorce process which can go on for months and even years, during which the financial, social and emotional status is highly uncertain. Finally, the divorce is complete but remains unrecognised, unacknowledged except potentially by a small support group. The community does not receive any information or guidance on how to absorb the transition and how to treat the individuals and the family members. In some ways this stage continues indefinitely as the couple struggles to redefine themselves without the recognition of the larger community.
Simple community rituals can assist in the transition, the healing and the renewal of the divorcing family. Rituals may be communal ceremonies or private rites. It may be as simple as writing a letter to family and friends notifying them of the divorce and subtly suggesting how they might respond to the individuals and family members, such as, “We both value your friendship and welcome the opportunity to remain connected with you.” A family ceremony may be helpful to allow family members to create new understandings of their relationships rather than simply feeling that they are left hanging, severed. Even a simple ritual for the immediate family to release the couple to move forward and to reaffirm the parents’ love and commitment to the children could be very powerful.
Creation of ritual for this important social and family transition can bring healing and understanding at a difficult time.
Compiled from an article which originally appeared on Thresholdresources.com
Posted by Sinta Ebersohn (Creator of fairdivorce.co.za – Stellenbosch)