I was talking with a client last week about her divorce. She was feeling really guilty about ‘not fulfilling her vows’ to be with her husband forever and ever through all the joys and difficulties of life.
So, I put my ministerial hat on, turned to her, and said,
“You are absolved of your vows. This culture is not terribly supportive of marriage. We have no idea what we’re getting into when we take those vows. You’ve done your work in therapy. You do not need to carry those vows anymore. They are null and void.”
She started to cry and thanked me profusely. But what I realized is that we need a measure for when we can lay down our marriage and not feel (as) guilty about it as many people do.
I have written before about circumstances in a marriage that make it really difficult to heal and likely mean divorce is ahead. Having those things occur in a marriage doesn’t mean we’re excused from it immediately, though. We’ll talk about the personal work of absolution in a moment.
Some of the reasons you are absolved of your vows are:
There are huge requirements of us personally and professionally. We spend huge amounts of energy at our jobs, we parent so much more deeply than our parents did…and I’m not sure all marriages can make it. Perhaps we expect too much of marriage, offer it too little, and it can’t stand the pressure.
There is little/no community support, like- actual support for marriage. We might have places to kvetch, but who can you really talk to when you’re feeling left out, unsupported, or scared about your marriage?
Our resources don’t go as far as they used to– whether that is emotional or financial or anything else. Making a marriage work with few resources is a huge hurdle.
We have no idea who we will become when we take those vows. Who you are now is not who you were when you took those vows. You had no idea who you would become when you made those promises. And it’s okay to recognize that.
We have no idea who our spouse will become. Just as we change, so do our spouses. And maybe how they change makes the marriage unworkable. How were you supposed to know that?
We have no inkling of what we will deal with in terms of kids, job, family, resources, or luck when we take those vows. Part of the reason my marriage has lasted so long is pure fucking luck. What happens when Life hands you two kids with autism or someone has intractable mental health problems? What if staying married makes it worse?
Vows are just dreams and hopes with no real understanding of what lays ahead. Recognizing that we have no idea of what we are saying when we make those promises means we can forgive ourselves if the marriage doesn’t work out.
All of that said: full absolution requires personal work on our part.
| once you do your work, you can let it go |
The first step of personal work is to go to therapy (even if they won’t go to couples counseling with you, you still need to go yourself). Why? Because relationships are influenced by:
These areas of your life must be ‘clean’ before you are absolved. Anxiety, depression, and trauma can heavily influence the way we see other people and interact with them. Doing soul work means we are not playing out stories we saw our parents engage in.
The second step is to make sure you tried to get your needs met in ways that don’t ruin your marriage. If you need connection, see where you can find it in friends and family. If you need support, see who’s around to help. Especially if you’re in the Sex Surge, you need to dig into your sensuality and self-care before you make big decisions.
Once you have done this work, then you are absolved of your marriage vows. You can lay down your marriage and walk away with your soul intact. You can let go of your guilt- you have done all you can. And it is okay.