30 May marks twenty five years since I committed myself to a marriage and raising a family. I know now, that I had no idea what I was letting myself into and the idealistic vows I made, originated from an earnest desire to be a loving wife to my husband and a dedicated mother to my children.
Although written in my own words, the vows were along the usual lines where we solemnly promise “to love, respect and honour, for better or worse.” When I said those words at the wedding ceremony, I believed in them with such conviction that I never doubted my grasp of their full implication.
Filled with love, armed with goodwill and driven by the best intentions, I set out to make that better life for us. Yes, I believed I could make both of our dreams come true if I loved deeply enough and worked hard enough at it. Oddly, I actually considered our marriage to be a success in the beginning, but as life threw it’s curveballs at us, it became harder to rise to the challenges.
It was magnificently for the better at times and rewarding on many occasions but often challenging and sometimes, even terrifying to have to learn how to live closely with another human being. Intending to have a happy marriage is one thing – realising it is another matter all-together. Nonetheless, I was married and going to make it work, come hell or high water.
As we were being grinded in the mill of life, working diligently to maintain financial security, making the right kind of decisions around raising our children in the best way possible, sacrificing dreams for the sake of the marriage and keeping our eyes on the ball at all cost, things fell apart.
For better sadly became for worse…
We were no longer filled with love as loneliness took its place. Our goodwill became bitter resentment and our best intentions were regarded with suspicion. By then, we were driven by anger and pain filled us with fear, which in turn robbed us of reason. Tragically, we forgot how to love each other and withdrew deeper into our own safe spaces. Our mistakes justified the disrespect we harboured for one another as we diligently destroyed all that was honourable.
It was on one particularly miserable day, feeling utterly desperate about my life, that I realised the true meaning of those vows I took so many years ago: I promised to love my husband when our lives were for the better and also when things went for the worse. I promised to respect my spouse even when life was at its worst and I vowed to honour my partner regardless of how good or bad things were. I never said anything about expecting to get it back in return.
Every marriage has its ups and downs and life might bring us few or many challenges to overcome, but the worst possible thing that could happen to our marriage is for it to come to an end. The worst thing about a marriage is when we no longer want to be married but choose to get divorced.
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When that happens, we should really keep our promise to love, respect and honour each other. Unfortunately, when the marriage is over we seem to think that those vows are no longer relevant, but here’s the thing: they are more important and necessary during divorce than ever before!
Whatever the reason(s) for divorce, I realised that we have to respect the other person’s choices and actions, even though we might be terribly hurt by it. This is not to say that feeling hurt or betrayed is not warranted, but respecting someone’s position and circumstances which lead to those choices and actions, brings new perspectives to our own pain. For example, if my spouse fell in love with someone else and had an affair, I have to respect them and whatever they were going through at the time just as much as I would appreciate their respect if it were me.
Furthermore, I learned that whatever the issue(s) in our settlement are that we cannot agree upon, we have to respect the other party’s point of view which is probably based in fear of losing that which is dear to them or of particular value. For example, both might want the house for very different but very real reasons: One might want the house because it is proudly regarded as a monument of achievement, or simply because it is the best financial option and another might want it because of its safe, familiar qualities, all of which are worthy of respect.
If we disagree on parenting matters, we ought to respect the other parent’s parenting style and refrain from being overly critical, just like we would have done if we were married. I know now that some might think the other parent to be too strict, while others might regard them as too lenient. Some might expect a child to do chores while others might regard them as too young. One parent might adhere to age restrictions on movies while another parent might disregard them but provide thorough parental guidance.
For worse gladly became for better again…
When we truly respect the person going through an experience, be it bankruptcy, illness or an affair, we are able to honour them for doing the best they can with what they know at that time, irrespective of the impact on ourselves. Of course we might feel disappointed or heart-broken while having to bear the consequences and we have to deal with that appropriately, but we have to be mindful of the context of that person’s reality.
Similarly, we can honour the people our ex-spouses have become, by respecting their opinions however clumsily we might feel they put them forward and when we strongly disagree with them, honour them by allowing them the time and space to be how they choose to be.
It is much more sensible to agree on a parenting plan, with mutual respect for each other’s views on raising children and to be grateful for the varied rather than narrow-minded input our children will grow up with, than constantly fighting to keep children away from the perceived bad parent. The best way to teach children about honouring others is to show them how you do it yourself.
With respect where it is due, it becomes easier to honour and, with honour a new kind of love for a co-parent can grow. When we behave respectfully and conduct ourselves in an honourable manner, people are inclined to respect and honour us in return.
Congratulations on our twenty fifth anniversary of marriage, divorce and learning to keep my promises of love, respect and honour. Although we are no longer in love and living under the same roof, I will strive to honour my commitment to my ex-spouse and the family we are raising together, to the best of my ability. It might very well be the most honourable thing I ever do!
Written by Sinta Ebersohn (creator of fairdivorce.co.za – Stellenbosch RSA)