Divorce: A Necessary Part of Spiritual Growth

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During the past thirty years we have seen an acute spiraling in the number of marriages that end in divorce. The prevailing occurrence has contributed to many physical, emotional and psychological problems not only for the two people who are divorcing and their children, but also for their friends, relatives, and especially their parents, the children’s grandparents. It is estimated that 50% of all marriages in the United States end in divorce. This number is equal to those marriages that stay together “till death do us part.”

“One important finding is that the effects of divorce on children are very complex and not always entirely negative. The effects depend on many factors, including the age of the child at the time of the divorce, the degree of conflict between divorcing parents, and the support children receive from friends, teachers and family.” (Robbins, 1991). In some cases, the support of family has been severed by the divorce, leaving children unwillingly divorced from their extended families, which includes grandparents. And this can be very crushing for both the children and the grandparents. We can put an end to defining divorce as a “failed” marriage, which puts blame on the couple and hurts both their children and parents, by redefining the meaning of marriage.

In the past 30 years, Western society has begun to realize that psychology’s mind/body is incomplete and we are more seriously looking to Eastern philosophy for the missing piece. Of course, the missing piece is spirit. As Western thinking is changing mind/body to mind/body/spirit, so too, the roles of the individual must change to include the spiritual. To do this we must tune in to ourselves to gain insight to our purpose.

Gaining insight to our purpose is the key factor to our successful existence on earth. The importance of our interactions and relationships with others, especially those whose lives closely parallel ours, is critical to our spiritual growth. Our journey to enlightenment (development) will take us through many paths, some smooth and spacious, others bumpy, narrow and/or winding. And so it is that we form relationships, whether short or long term, with those individuals who will help us along our path.

Probably the most important relationship we will encounter is marriage. For it is through marriage that we engage in daily interactions with a significant other, extend our boundaries to include additional family members and friends, and expand our family through procreation.

Marriage began as a sacrament, a sacred vow between man, woman, and God before the eyes of society. The couple shared in the challenges of providing food and shelter for the family and in nurturing their offspring. Gradually, society began dictating new roles for men and women. Factories sprang up across the land, luring men with the promise of a better future for their children. And so, men sought employment away from the ranch while women stayed at home to nurture their young, prepare meals, launder clothing, and perform any other duties necessary for the comfort and security of the family. Our modern world was changing, and so too, was marriage. What started out as a holy union between a man and a woman became an institution of society, and its couple a property of that society:

“Modern man is alienated from himself, his fellow men, and from nature. He has been transformed into a commodity, experiences his life forces as an investment which must bring him the maximum profit obtainable under existing market conditions. Human relations are essentially those of alienated automatons, each basing his security on staying close to the herd, and not being different in thought, feeling or action. While everybody remains utterly alone, pervaded by the deep sense of insecurity, anxiety and guilt which always results when human separateness cannot be overcome.” (Fromm, 1962:86).

Marriage as an institution is no longer functional. We are no longer living outside ourselves to satisfy the material needs of each other, or the needs of society. We are searching inward for fulfillment of our spiritual growth. Marriage today is an evolution of the Self. The sharing of two lives through marriage is a means to an end—an end to void and stagnation. “Intimacy becomes a path--an unfolding process of discovery and revelation. And relationship becomes, for the first time, conscious.” (Wellwood, 1990:4).

Within marriage today couples share their lives as they work towards their spiritual growth (full potential). The length of time it takes to complete their growth with their spouse will vary with each individual’s needs. For some it will be a lifetime, for others, much less. “To be destined to be together doesn’t mean you are destined to be together for a lifetime. Relationships are also destined to end.” (Sutphen, 1992). If the time should come when we need to move on, we must let go of our mate gracefully, remembering what Dr. Barbara DeAngelis (1995) states, “Your partner does not belong to you. He or she is on loan from the universe.” We must also remember that letting go allows each of us to continue our spiritual growth and to maintain psychological health.

Making the decision to move on is a very difficult one. We are filled with confusion, guilt, hurt, betrayal, a sense of loss, and a feeling of emptiness. But we must follow our inner voice and look to the universe for guidance and direction. “Sometimes the only way to open a path to soul is the negative way—by noting ways in which we are unconsciously protecting ourselves from the sting of life’s intentions.” (Moore, 1994:66).

We should not remain in a marriage for fear of hurting our partner or of disappointing the other important people in our lives, or for the comfort of remaining in a safe haven. And yet, so many of us choose to stunt our growth by remaining in a marriage whose life has terminated than to move on to new spiritual paths for fear of the unknown. I truly believe that in the end we not only hurt ourselves, but those very people we were trying to spare as well. In the epilogue of Eric Fromm’s The Art of Loving, Ruth Nanda Anshen states that:

“The laws of life have their origin beyond their mere physical manifestations and compel us to consider their spiritual source. Knowledge is a means of liberating mankind from the destructive power of fear, pointing the way toward the goal of the rehabilitation of the human will and the rebirth of faith and confidence in the human person.” (1962:138-139).

To avoid the pain caused by guilt we need to make some changes within society. We need to release the old stereotypical conceptions of marriage and family, and redefine the implications of marriage and family within today’s society. “It says that you and I can take hold of the reins and begin to steer our society out of the realm of alienation and into a place that feels more like Home.” (Jeffers, 1992:210).

As spiritual members of society we need to build a new family of man on earth. We have resolved many problems that previously plagued us, such as nutrition, health, safety, and transportation. We are now in the 21st century. Now we need to concentrate on resolving the issues we have with each other. We need to open our arms wide and embrace all our brothers and sisters into our hearts. We need to cherish the time we interact with one another as part of our growth and welcome the changes that must take place to allow us to develop further. “We need to reclaim our imaginative life and allow changes to take place in the way we perceive and symbolize the world. This means questioning inherited symbolic systems.” (Goodison, 1992:3).

We need to say that marriage today is no longer forever. It is until we have reached our full potential with each other. Then it is time to let go and move on. In this context there is no “divorce” from our marriage, only an extension made possible by it. “Rituals bring things to a conclusion or announce a beginning.” (Karpinski, 1990:42).

To enact these new ideas into our daily lives we need to look closely at the expectations set-up by our forefathers and question their relevance in today’s society. Does our path still include boy meets girl, boy and girl marry to bring forth children, boy works away from home, girl works around the home, and they live happily ever after? Or do we look inside to find the courage to make the necessary changes to meet today’s spiritual challenges?

“If enough of us can rise to the current challenges of the man/woman relationship, using them as opportunities to peel away illusions, tap our deepest powers, and expand our sense of who we are, we can begin to develop the wisdom our age is lacking. We can give birth to a new vision of love and community that can help enlighten us as individuals and shape a new world in the process.” (Wellwood, 1990:3).


DeAngelis, Barbara. Real Moments For Lovers. New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell Audio Publishing, 1995.

Fromm, Erich. The Art of Loving. New York: Harper Colophon Books, 1962.

Goodison, Lucy. Moving Heaven and Earth: Sexuality, Spirituality, and Social Change. London: Pandora Press, 1992.

Jeffers, Susan. Dare To Connect. New York: Ballantine Books, 1992.

Karpinski, Gloria D. Where Two Worlds Touch. New York: Ballantine Books, 1990.

Moore, Thomas. Soul Mates. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 1994.

Robbins, Pam, “When Parents Divorce, Children May Need Extra Attention.” Indianna Weekly East, Neighborhoods, March 13, 1991, 7N.

Sutphen, Dick. Predestined Love. Malibu: Valley of The Sun Audio, 1992.

Wellwood, John. Journey of The Heart. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1990.

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