Healing Rites of Passage: The Value of Divorce Parties

I read a blog article today of someone bashing the idea of Divorce Parties, based on the author’s assumption that having a party means the marriage was never taken seriously, that it meant a total disregard for the former partner’s feelings, and the vows taken.

I whole-heartedly disagree with his view. In a society that struggles with allowing grief, that continues to lose touch with the value of rites of passage, where divorce is judged as a taboo, I’d like to share some thoughts on the value of Divorce Parties, and why, if you’re in process of divorcing or recently divorced, you may want to consider having one.

Divorce is frequently a lonely process. In the co-parenting classes I’ve taught, the most repeated piece of feedback received is the value of the group dynamic: others to share with, and knowing you’re not the only one struggling. Oftentimes with divorce, friendships are lost as some feel the need to ‘side’ with one partner or the other. Others, even the most well-intentioned, may simply not know how to support the divorcing friend. Combine that with the sense of shame, and difficulty of even finding the right moment to share with people “We’re getting divorced,” coming to the place of feeling OK to publicly celebrate the finality of the marriage can be a significant turning point in breaking the perpetuation of shame and the fear of acknowledging the divorce. It is an announcement to friends and family that it is OK to talk about the situation, rather than the wondering of “Maybe it’s too sensitive for Mary to want to talk about,” or, on the divorcee’s side, “It might make my friends uncomfortable if I bring it up.” Having a party, therefore, breaks that need to be alone and stay silent, and may help facilitate support. When there’s a topic at hand that generally carries a lot of shame in addition to a possibly difficult, stressful, or emotionally laden topic, people gathering in a message of “we accept you,” can be powerful.

Weddings are one of the biggest rites of passage still celebrated in American society, alongside graduations and perhaps funerals. While some cultures do still hold onto the rite of passage of entering into adulthood, it seems this is less frequent than it used to be. Indeed, the subconscious need for a rite of passage may actually fuel the desire for marriage in some cases. If it is important to acknowledge the joining together of two people, why is it not equally important to acknowledge the new independence of someone? From child to adult, from single to married, from married to divorced; it is a new identity- sometimes wanted, sometimes not- that deserves acknowledgment which can help a person settle into the role, rather than getting stuck in denial, anger, depression, or any other stage of grief.

The timing of the party is something worth mentioning here: one transition that comes through a grief process is the shift of mourning the past, to looking forward to a new future without the loss. It’s wise to pay attention to where you are in the process, and when you’re ready to consciously make the shift to forward looking – and not mark the turning point before you’re ready.

Let’s not, of course, forget the difficulty of the legal side of things. Even in the simplest, most amicable divorces, in California your divorce will not be final for at least 6 months and one day from the day you file. There’s legal jargon to translate, financials to disclose, paperwork to file in triplicate, all along with the little day to day things like changing your exemptions at work, separating auto and health insurance, and bank accounts, and belongings to divvy up. In more complicated divorces, there are custody arrangements to settle and support payments to determine. It’s a lot, and coming to an end of a long process is an accomplishment that deserves to be celebrated in some capacity.

While legal and practical issues of transitioning to being divorced necessarily take space and get discussed more openly, the pervasive, deeper issues often get ignored or overlooked. Divorce is more than a breakup, more than the decision to not continue sharing a life with someone. As promise is involved, at least in a legal context, and frequently in a religious one as well, divorce can bring up feelings of betrayal and guilt, shame, issues around trust (in both others and self), and low self-esteem. You do not need to carry eternal shame for getting divorced. To truly be able to move on and live a fulfilling life, forgiveness needs to come into play. Forgiveness is often difficult when there has been a lot of pain, but not forgiving does not protect you the way people tend to believe. A divorce party can mark the choice to forgive yourself for anything you feel needs forgiving. Whether you have a sense of guilt for “giving up on them/my vow”, self-directed anger for “ever trusting them with my heart”, or any other number of things, forgiveness of self is crucial to truly moving on with the view that you deserve to be happy again. You do deserve to be happy.

Whether all of these points are commemorated publicly through a party or in some other, more private act, it is important to acknowledge with intention the complexity of the Divorce transition and your multiple personal processes (legal, social, emotional, spiritual,) of moving through it.