Divorce “expert:” My unhappy side job

by Kristin on February 23, 2011

in Love, family & community

Photo by Eva Blue

I try really hard to avoid becoming categorized as a writer. I don’t want to be just the “Mommy Blogger,” the “Liberal Christian Writer,” or the “Divorce Expert.”

That last one happens to be the box I least want to be packed into, but I realize it’s also the one I’m most likely to gravitate toward. Once you’ve had your defining moment—the life experience that most shapes you, teaching you about yourself and the world, and informing every step you take forward—it’s hard to shake it. If you’re a writer, it’s almost impossible to not write about it. And if you’re a reader who has been through a divorce (or is going through one or worrying that you might have one in your future), it’s hard not to crave words from people who have been there and emerged whole on the other side.

You have to write what you know

I guess that’s at the heart of why I end up writing about divorce and remarriage and blended families as much as I do. A couple of years ago I published an essay in the anthology Ask Me About My Divorce: Women Open Up About Moving On. More recently, I began writing for the divorce section of the Huffington Post. And the “divorce” tag here on my blog looks like it’s the second biggest word in my tag cloud. I’m clearly not going to avoid being identified with this topic.

But it’s such a depressing one! There’s so much destruction that has to happen before any reconstruction can take place. As Big Life Experiences go, sometimes I wish I could have chosen another. I wouldn’t want to actually go through another, of course, but to be on the other side and to be able to encourage and help people stop drinking, or lose 80 pounds, or make it through chemotherapy—that would somehow feel more life affirming than the topic people get in touch with me about almost every week: divorce.

And they do get in touch: real life friends, strangers, people who read my blog, people from Twitter, people who say “my cousin is friends with a friend of yours who told me I should get in touch with you about my divorce.” In many ways, I love hearing from these hurting people. Let me be clear: There is nothing more gratifying, as a writer, than having someone tell you that your writing makes them feel less alone, and gives them hope.

Reliving the sad stories, each one its own particular mess

But I can’t help feeling a sinking sadness in the pit of my stomach every time someone writes and says “I think my husband and I are headed toward a divorce.” Part of me wants to say “Maybe not! Maybe this is a phase! All marriages go through them. It’s possible to work it out.”

And then I feel annoyed at myself for even thinking that—those are the very well-meaning-yet-meaningless words so many people said to me. They were meaningless because the people who spoke the words weren’t in my marriage, and didn’t know how it felt, day after day. And the words weren’t just meaningless, they were hurtful, because they suggested that I somehow was being lazy—too quick to give up, not willing enough to do the hard work. I say a decade in a really unhappy marriage, and three years of counseling, doesn’t fit the label “lazy.”

Ultimately, I’m a believer in divorce and a skeptic, all at once. I’m a fan of it and I want to boo it off the stage. I want to hug it and say it saved my life, and I want to flip it off.

So what do I say to the people who get in touch with me? I don’t know much of anything about their marriages (if anything at all); I just know mine. I don’t know how things will turn out for them—if they’ll have a healthy working relationship with their ex, and maybe meet a wonderful new partner down the road; I just know it worked out that way for me. I don’t want to be the one who says “I think you should get a divorce” or “I don’t think you should get a divorce”—either way, my advice could be misguided and devastating.

All I can do is share my story, ask good questions, and listen. I can encourage them to take their time, face their fears, believe in their ability to get through this, and have hope that a better future lies ahead. That’s all I have to offer in this unhappy side job of mine. I hope it’s enough.

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  • http://www.alise-write.com Alise

    I feel like this sometimes with the interfaith marriage thing. Not really an expert in any way, but that I’m somehow being defined by something that happened to me. And then trying to explain that while parts of it make me sad, parts of it I’m really okay with and have (gasp) improved our relationship. And then not wanting to be pigeon-holed as a writer about that one topic. But not wanting to shy away from writing about it. And then the far more shameful, but absolutely true part of knowing that it’s something that gets hits and comments when I DO write about it (did I admit that???).

    The whole things just swirls me around an awful lot. I’m thankful that you wrote this so I know that I’m not completely crazy for feeling this way!

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  • http://www.theveryworstmissionary.com/ Jamie the Very Worst Missionary

    This is SO good!

  • http://www.internet-bard.com Kat

    Oh, have I ever been wrestling with this lately, although for me the “side job” is about recovering from infidelity. And you’re so right..as a writer, there is something so grace-filled about having someone tell you you helped them feel less alone and hopeless in that struggle, but it’s balanced out with a sense of sadness that comes with having those experiences; you know better than most how impossible it is to give anyone advice on something so specific, so deeply personal, so much more nuanced than people who haven’t gone through it can understand.

    Thanks for writing this.

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com Kristin T.

    Alise, it’s hard to be an expert when the only situation you really know is the one you’re in, right? But then I suppose we do our own research in organic ways, just because it’s a topic that matters to us–we read books and articles and engage with people going through similar things. Regarding the blog traffic, I don’t know if my posts about divorce draw more readers to my blog–I tend to think that most people steer clear of the topic, as if divorce might be contagious! But in your case, if you’re getting more hits on those posts I’m pretty sure it’s because people need to hear what you have to say. You shouldn’t feel shameful at all–just keep doing what you’re doing.

    Jamie, you are SO kind. :) Thanks!

    Kat, that’s a really hard experience to carry around with you and share with others. But my guess is that the harder the experience is, the more others need support and care from people who “get it.” Having wise and caring women mentors to see you through a recovery like that would be invaluable–I’m so glad you’re at a place where you can help others, and I wish you much strength and peace as you do.

  • Tanya

    I think that each one of us is uniquely gifted and called to carry out a particular ministry in this world. From a non-theological perspective, one could say that each of us is equipped with talents/gifts and experiences that prepare us better than others to care in particular ways for the world around us.

    What a divine paradox to think that the most painful, wretched experience of your life has become a great gift not just to you (it has become a core part of your personal ministry), but to countless others who have never met you! Your wisdom, grace and insight on so many subjects is deeply enhanced precisely because you’ve been through the hell of divorce—and more than just living to tell about it, you’re actually thriving. You’re helping people who have and have not experienced the harrowing realities of divorce to understand the ways it can be both bane and blessing.

    I see your story and ministry as one that bears witness to the truth of resurrection: from the deathly experience of divorce, your ‘resurrected life’ continues to give new life—or at least, the hope of new life—to others. Thank you, and bless you, for that!

  • http://pmerrill.com/ Paul Merrill

    Thanks for what you are doing to help others who are going through this, Kristin. As you imply, that’s not an easy place to be – but it’s necessary. I appreciate your willingness to be used by God in this way.

  • http://www.orangeshirtguy.com Dave Thurston

    Found you because of the divorce tag … Stayed with you because of the of the rest:

    #thelovelist — brilliant, insightful, and a foundation of so much more.

    Belief, Culture, and Love – what a great interactive tripod – related and influencing and modifying each other.

    And just darn good, from the heart to the keyboard writing.

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com Kristin T.

    Tanya, I love paradoxes (guess that’s partly the English major in me—the same one who loves metaphor). Divine paradoxes are, of course, the best kind. I also love how you soak everything in, mix it up and then lay it back out in beautiful ways that help me see things more clearly. Thank you for all of your encouragement and insight along the way.

    Paul, sometimes it seems like allowing yourself to be used by God is the only way to complete the transformation cycle—something good turns bad, but we can play a part in turning it back around to good.

    Dave, I’m so glad to hear that the multi-dimensional approach works for you! Because although some of us will always fall into the “divorced” category, that doesn’t mean our post-divorce needs will remain the same. Sometimes we’ll just have everyday needs and thoughts and dreams that have nothing directly to do with divorce—vocation, love, faith, parenting, community. It’s also good to hear from fans of #thelovelist. I should probably let that bubble back to the surface from time to time.