So, what happens when seven people in as many days approach you with the same quandry? You blog it! While I hesitate to even open this can of worms in fear of unleashing a storm of demons out into the world, it seems this is what is called for considering the considerable pain this issue stirs up in people. The quandary which surfaced this week is around the real life situation of divorce and how that relates to the spiritual journey. Now, I am not going to go into all the reasons for divorce, neither am I going to approach it as a moral issue, for as my mentor Judy Miller once said, “Sometimes divorce is a matter of integrity.”
The area I want to address is that which some would refer to as “The Dark Night of the Marriage.” This is an important stage in the marital journey and in any long-standing, committed relationship. This is a stage that no one tells us about, neither would we believe it could happen to us as we stand doe-eyed awaiting the celebratory nuptials. The Dark Night of the Marriage is real, it is necessary and when committed and aware, some relationships will survive it. Some will not have the knowledge, patience, trust or stamina to survive. And some will find after the stage of the Dark Night that the marriage should not continue and divorce is a necessary and supportive option. While I cannot in any way claim to be an expert on this topic, the following is my current best understanding of this necessary stage in a committed relationship. (Please note that the following (as far as I know), only applies to relationships in which neither party accomplished their own process of self-realization before entering into the marriage. I have no idea what a marriage would look like when entered into by two spiritually mature individuals. )
1) We meet someone and fall in love. We see the other party and the relationship through the eyes of idealization. One or both parties are still carrying around with them the unhealed wounds of their past and are probably looking for the other party to be their source of fulfillment and satisfaction.
2) One or both parties begin to feel restless and the blinders of the early stage of the relationship begin to fall away. We begin to see eachothers’ wounds, strange behaviors, etc. We enter into a stage of disillusionment, frustration maybe even anger.
3) If we are open, we might realize that part of the source of frustration is our own unhealed wounds and we might begin to do the work of healing our old wounds and work toward the realization of our own deeper truth. If we are lucky, our partner has a similar realization and begins to do their own work as well. This is the stage in which one or both parties does the work of shedding the ego and the false self (the person they brought into the marriage) so that their true self can emerge. The old self has to die so that the new self can be born.
4) At some stage in the process (whether or not both parties are working toward their own healing), the realization is made the the marriage is not what it used to be. Both, or one party has now changed and the relationship has to change as well. This is the dark night of the marriage. The marriage that was (or the illusion of the marriage) has to die so that a new marriage can emerge. The marriage based on the ego-filled self cannot survive the newly born self-realized individuals. This stage, like any other death, is a time of grief, sorrow, bargaining, denial and rage. NOTE: This is an especially difficult stage if only one of the parties in the relationship are doing their work of self-actualization, especially when it is revealed that for the self-actualizing party, divorce is a life-giving and supportive choice. Divorce in this stage is often met by resistance, surprise and anger on the part of the un-realized individual.
5) Now….here is the delicate part of this process. If the couple steps into this stage of the process with open communication, patience, courage and faith, and enter into it with no attachment to outcome….the new life of the relationship may emerge. Unfortunately, most people bail before even trying to take this step. Now, the trickiest part to this stage is to accept the possibility that continuing in a committed relationship may no longer be in the highest good of the individual parties. After the dark night of the marriage, after honest renegotiation of who we are as individuals and who we want to be as a couple, we might realize that staying in a committed relationship is no longer mutually supportive and life-giving. At this point, the couple ends their committment and move on as individuals from a place of loving acceptance and compassionate support of eachother as they go along their individual journeys. In this place, divorce can be a beautiful ritual of supportive release.
6) Some marriages, after completing the process of the dark night, may discover that it is in the highest good of both parties to remain as a committed couple and enter into the process of allowing a new marriage to emerge. The old marriage has died and the couple allows themselves to be open to a new marriage. In this stage, an attitude of openness and detachment are necessary. We are not creating this new marriage on our own, but allowing the universe to present to us the kind of marriage that will be mutually supportive and life-giving. We allow ourselves to be free of ego in allowing this new relationship to emerge.
Again, I am no expert on this subject, and I hope that shedding light on the Dark Night of the Marriage as a necessary and important stage in the spiritual journey has provided comfort, support and affirmation for those who have experienced or may be facing this stage in their own committed relationship. While the Dark Night of the Marriage is a painful part of our spiritual journey, the promise for those who survive it is a new life that is nurturing, supportive and free.