We hear so many horror stories that come from divorce: financial devastation, children’s psychological demise; lives torn asunder. I don’t intend to advocate divorce nor diminish any of the hardships that befall many people post-divorce.
I do want to suggest, however, that the black-and-white thinking that surrounds divorce obscures some of the good things that never would have happened if certain marriages had never ended.
So I have compiled a list of people whose contributions to the world were inspired by their lives being blown apart.
1. Pema Chodron: After her second divorce, this world-reknowned Buddhist nun started her study of Buddhism. Had she remained married, it is unlikely that she would have launched the spiritual journeys of the hundreds of thousands of people who have read her work or studied with her.
2. Madeleine Albright: The first female Secretary of State, Albright’s perfect-seeming life exploded when she discovered her husband was having an affair. Albright credits the pain of her divorce to her transformation from university lecturer to political leader. “I hated being divorced,” she said. “But I loved being Secretary of State.”
3. Constance Ahrons: After her own horrific divorce, complete with multiple court hearings and even a kidnaping, this Marriage and Family therapist wrote The Good Divorce, a bible on how to divorce with dignity, in the best interest of the children. The twice-divorced Ahrons has also voiced her criticism of Judith Wallerstein’s studies on the long-lasting destruction of divorce on children. Ahrons believes that the children of these truly hellish divorces would have been just as troubled if their parents had stayed together because the dysfunction was due to parents’ mental illness and abuse. Regardless, Ahrons is a realist: she maintains that the traditional nuclear family isn’t viable for many and that people can and do benefit from adding stepparents and stepsiblings into their families.
5. Eleanor Roosevelt: Although she wasn’t technically divorced, she was a figurehead in a parallel-lives marriage. Her mother-in-law ran her house and raised her kids; her husband carried on with her former best friend. Devastated to learn of her husband’s betrayal when she turned 40, Eleanor used the collapse of her personal life to catapult herself into the public, where she became a relentless advocate for the disenfranchised and one of the world’s great humanitarians. Clearly, her famous line, “you must do the things you think you cannot do” came from experience.
As for the things that have transpired from my own bad divorce: some days I can think of a lot of good, some days I can only think of a lot of — needless — drama. Divorce has put quite a crimp in my perfectionism and my compulsion to make everything look neat and tidy. I keep waiting for the day when I’m “over” my obsessive-compulsive self, but I’m beginning to think that day will never come. As Pema Chodron says:
“We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart.”
What about you, my divorced homies? Did any good things come from your divorces?