Please don’t read a political opinion into this! My standpoint for writing is as a divorcee, who didn’t want to be divorced.
Over the past few days, we’ve heard a lot about the ‘divorce’; the UK leaving the European Union. I don’t claim to be an EU expert, which is good as I’m not, but this analogy got me thinking; divorce is something I know a fair bit about. Jean-Claude Juncker has stated: “It’s not an amicable divorce.” Animosity is a cultural expectation when the word divorce is mentioned, so was it simply a convenient description of a split, or was there some truth in the statement?
Divorce is painful. The reaction to the EU referendum is painful. There are two relationships in stages of breakdown, the UK and the EU, and the 48 and 52 per cents. Both relationship breakdowns look different, as one might expect. Our nation is split, almost down the middle, much like one partner choosing divorce, while the other is obliged to agree. My divorce wasn’t my choice and the situation out of my control – and if you were one of the 48 per cent you probably feel like you are similarly lacking control. I was involved in my divorce, but discussing something I had little choice in and didn’t actually want to agree to. Considered further, I don’t anticipate being invited to negotiations, and chances are that a number of the 33 million odd (numerically speaking) people who voted won’t be involved much either. To be placed around the negotiating table, when your heart cries out against the decision, is a painfully hard place to be gracious and kind, yet never will it have been more necessary.
Why should the decision be made by the 52 per cent? Why should my ex-husband have chosen to get divorced? This lack of choice and control can make us angry. Democracy is the answer to the first one, and free will to the second. But having a decision you don’t want made on your behalf is liable to make anyone feel helpless and engender these negative feelings. The breaking down of any relationship is agonising, why should this pulling apart of a union be anything less?
Divorce is often seen as acrimonious and bitter. But it can, surprisingly, also be amicable. ‘Taking them for all we can get’ is seen as a way of alleviating that lack of control. Preventing them from having what they want, even while we ourselves don’t want it, is seen as taking back some of that choice. But when ‘the decision has been made so let’s get on with it as best we can and emerge as whole as possible’ is the attitude, we relinquish our control and take up an attitude of graciousness in the face of lost control. We give freely even while we feel we’ve been stolen from: “If someone takes your coat, don’t withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, don’t demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Luke 6:29. And it is this latter approach I hope we, as Christians, can apply. You may not want the UK to leave, and feel you’ve been press-ganged into this, yet there is still opportunity to work for good. You may be delighted with the result, so how can you exercise consideration for those disappointed? In what ways can you influence this situation for good? Is how you’re treating the opposing percentage kind?
Emotions run high in divorce, and the number broken-hearted over the result is significant. Yet divorce should never be as clear cut as ‘well that’s it, now I hate you’. Our reaction to those voting in opposition to us must be considerate, even while we may dislike their opinions and reasons. Falling out of love with your ex-spouse isn’t an overnight occurrence, so neither should instant hatred of those we don’t agree with be acceptable.
Because there was presumably something great about your ex-spouse, as well as those things you didn’t like as much. The EU has given us good things as well as things we don’t like: such is the nature of relationship. It is up to all of us, whatever our opinion, to acknowledge the good, and seek out future positives. It doesn’t mean denying sadness or anger, elation or relief, it means a continual awareness that one decision does not undo several years of effectiveness or happiness. Acknowledging that for a number of years my marriage was happy doesn’t mean I now want it back. Accepting his decision to divorce didn’t mean I liked it, but that I had to respect his choice, regardless of the hugely, and at the time mostly negative, impact on my own life.
And relationship breakdown has an enormous impact. One of the best descriptions of divorce I heard while separated was that it is like gluing together two pieces of paper. When you marry, you stick them; yet when you try to pull the two apart, inevitably each part of the paper will end the process with parts of the other stuck to it, holes torn in it, and paper so thin it’s a wonder it’s still intact. And it’s staggeringly true. I know an impressive amount about guitars for someone who can’t play a chord and I highly doubt my ex-husband’s familiarity with Cath Kidston design options is anything to do with his own love of handbags. Separation from the EU will still mean that laws previously from Brussels may impact on those made in Westminster: perhaps we will keep them in a remarkably similar form, perhaps we will choose something entirely different. We must not let a decision impact our treatment of other people who think differently, or as has come to light recently, come from EU countries.
For all that divorce, and possibly a referendum, may make us feel out of control, it also exerts control in a new way. For me, divorce meant I had control of my finances. All my pay went into my bank account and I decided how I spent it: the singular pronoun of power and autonomy. I wanted to buy clothes, I bought clothes! I spent my entire budget on dinners out for a month. I became broke very quickly, but with great enjoyment. But while my pay was entirely my own, my ex-husband’s pay also no longer went into the joint account. My spending power was now entirely my own choice, yet dramatically diminished. Our differing levels of financial responsibility and disposable income were frustrating. I enjoyed my autonomy, but I didn’t have the income I had once benefitted from.
And while we will be saving money we would normally have paid into our ‘joint account’ of the EU, we also won’t be withdrawing funding from their coffers. Some will see the autonomy; others will see the newly single funds.
We then may begin to discover those hidden things that may make us feel the wrong decision has been made. Thought a guitar plectrum you found while vacuuming under the sofa couldn’t make you cry? Think again. It might be the little things. Like The Breakfast Club DVD I received a message about. I thought I had given it back, but there it was on my shelf. He suggested he just spent the £3 to replace it, but that one DVD – something tiny and financially insignificant – suddenly took on much more importance. Perhaps nothing in the EU negotiations will seem little. But there’ll likely be things we suddenly notice we’re missing. There’ll be things we suddenly realise we had, that we didn’t before. But the upheaval has an impact in ways we might not have expected.
Leaving the EU is much akin to a divorce. But it is too simplistic to suggest it’s a divorce because it’s a split. It’s a process; lengthy, time-consuming and costly, regardless of whether you want it or not. It takes time to disentangle two lives that have been combined into one.
Divorce isn’t going back to who you were before, it’s moving forward with all the experiences drawn from the marriage to colour your view a little differently this time. It’s the oxymoron of freedom coupled with new restraints.
It’s becoming you, individual, without the partnership you had before, yet influenced in innumerable, invisible ways. It’s entirely different from what you ever expected, be it better or worse.
Out of control or elated, we can choose our attitudes. I have learnt what it means to be content in all circumstances. It’s a new beginning, unwanted or craved. We may not see what’s ahead, we may feel the ground beneath our feet shifting as we stand there, but we do know who holds us in His hands. And that, as I finally learnt, is a glimmer of beauty within divorce – God has me, God holds me, and He is constant, even when the world is not.
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