Important life events are typically marked by some type of ritual or ceremony. Even preschoolers have graduation ceremonies to mark leaving preschool years and beginning kindergarten. Then of course, there is kindergarten graduation, the end of elementary school, the end of middle school and of course the end of high school with the classic throwing of the cap. When a child is baptized, confirmed, or they have a bar mitzvah each ritual marks an important “before” and “after” event.
Wedding celebrations can be extensive and full of rituals to mark the moment in time when a couple transfers their identity from single to married. Take for example the two candles that are used to light a single marriage candle. Or the old African ritual of jumping over a broom during a wedding to symbolize the sweeping away the old and welcoming the new while joining the two families.
Not all life events are happy or exciting yet they need rituals just the same. We all recognize the power of rituals when dealing with the death of a loved one. Funerals allow us to say good-bye and to let go. How empty and strange it would be if we did not have funeral rituals or wakes to mark the leaving of this life to the next.
Rituals are deeply important to human beings. They have been used since the beginning of time to help us signify movement from one state to another. Anthropologists have documented rituals across the cultures. People turn to rituals when faced with situations where the outcome is important, uncertain and beyond their control. Gino and Norton report that “Engaging in rituals mitigates our grief when we experience a life-changing loss.”
Unfortunately, the breakup of a relationship is not typically marked by a ritual, other than going out with your support system and drinking way too much. When a marriage comes to an end, by way of mediation or settlement, it can feel emotionally empty making the movement from married to single feel oddly surreal. Adversarial divorces seem to use their “day in court” as a ritual to tear each other apart (not to mention spending their retirement fund) as a destructive way to remember the end. For most children the divorce happens when one parent moves out. The act of moving out becomes the actual divorce ritual for many children.
In an attempt to find positive divorce rituals, I found a website that was selling miniature wooden coffins to bury your wedding rings in! What a waste of money. Divorcing individuals have had to come up with their own creative ways to mark their divorce. It may be placing a small slip of paper with their wedding date into a helium balloon. This balloon is released with or without a support system present. When one adult has been grieving for some time while in the marriage, they may not feel a ritual is necessary. When the adults have no children they are able to truly let go if that is what they want. If they have children the need for a cooperative relationship becomes vital to their childs adjustment. It is unfortunate that we do not have more formalized rituals for divorcing couples who are not hostile towards each other. This is especially important when their are children involved and the parents are trying to be civil. The ritual can assist everyone involved. Such rituals could be an opportunity to acknowledge the good parts of the marriage, to share their individual contribution, to forgive each other while uniting the two families in a continued relationship.
Marianne Williamson in her book entitled Illuminata; Thoughts, Prayers and Rite of Passage, wrote a beautiful divorce ceremony that can be done by a pastor, therapist or even a friend. It is typically done with individuals who care about each other in spite of the divorce. It is well worth reading for ideas on how to create a ritual to mark this very significant, albeit, often sad change in your life. Your divorce ritual may be solitary or involve friends with a variety of activities such as taking your ring to a jewelry store to be re-set, going for a deep massage, throwing a large rock into a river below, getting rid of your wedding photos or even registering for graduate school. I strongly believe that having a marker, even if it is simply jumping backward over a broom, is important for the process of emotional recovery from a life change as significant as divorce. A divorce ritual or ceremony can provide you an opportunity to let go of your anger or bitterness. The ritual will mark both the end and the beginning. A divorce ceremony can bring possibilities and even hope as we embrace a stage of our lives and witness the beginning of a new identity.
Widely known for her expertise in the area of divorce and the family, she provides training to educators, family law and mental health professionals, as well as “High-conflict divorce” and “Parenting Coordination”.She has trained parenting coordinators since 1997, and as a result, co-authored the first and only comprehensive model of parenting coordination. Respected in their field, Susan has conducted numerous seminars on the international, national, state and local levels on topics such as parental alienation and visitation refusal, interviewing children, therapeutic and supervised visitation and developmentally appropriate time-sharing plans.
She has been awarded clinical membership in the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy and is a member of multiple organizations including the Academy of Professional Family Mediators, American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy.Mrs. Boyan maintains a private practice in Georgia.
Latest posts by Susan Boyan (see all)
- Seek and You Shall Find;Confirmation Bias with Divorce - July 1, 2015
- King Solomon’s Advice on Co-Parenting - June 3, 2015
- Part II. Different Paths to Seek a Divorce - May 21, 2015