Divorce Rituals: Honoring Your Big Change
When struggling through a divorce, many women look down the road and envision their final divorce decree as their ultimate goal, the culminating prize, the finish line that will incontrovertibly signal they have done it: they survived the divorce marathon! Why this is so is natural. There are so many steps that are procedural with divorce. There are those documents to gather, the Statement of Net Worth to complete, the countless conversations to endure negotiating the terms, maybe even, the selling of the house, that signing that final document must mean the end of the divorce, right?
Yes, if you consider only the legal process.
But at SAS, we know that this phase you’ve been through — negotiating the terms and signing that settlement agreement — is just one stage of your journey. And the stage to come is the one that’s more important.
More significant for you as a human being is your divorce recovery, the emotional and healing work of exploring and metabolizing what you’ve left behind, who you are now, and who you will become. One way to acknowledge and honor the arrival of this stage as a newly independent woman is through a divorce ritual.
Learn more about your divorce recovery and read 46 Steps to Your Divorce Recovery: A Definition and a Guide.
What is a divorce ritual?
A divorce ritual is a symbolic event that marks the end of a marriage or a divorce. It will look different to every woman, because there is no set definition or ceremony that constitutes a divorce ritual. It is unique and special to each person.
Divorce rituals step away from the logical and rational thought accompanying the divorce’s legal process. Instead, divorce rituals play on the abstract, like emotions and spirituality, to mark the completion of your divorce and transition into a new life. A divorce ritual allows you to find closure in your heart in a way that the legal process does not. Divorce rituals can also serve multiple, important purposes, like helping you let go of the difficult past and set the stage for your new life. In this way, they celebrate an ending and a new beginning.
Divorce rituals allow you to acknowledge your previous suffering and turn those pains into wisdom as you move forward.
As divorce rituals are unique to each person, it is essential when considering yours to think about what would be best for you. What would feel right? How will you acknowledge and let go of your past relationship?
Not sure if you are there yet? For comfort and perspective, check out “How Long Does It Take to Get Over a Divorce?”
Choosing a Divorce Ritual
For the average person, a divorce ritual might be an entirely new (and shocking!) concept. But for those who are dealing with or recovering from divorce, the need to address this major shift in your life is obvious. There is a yearning to address the tugging of your heart that is almost indescribable. So, to honor you, and what you’ve been going through, we have identified a few ideas and common examples of divorce rituals to inspire and to help guide you as you embark on your new path.
Symbolism and Cleansing Elements
If you don’t know where to begin in creating your divorce ritual, you might consider focusing your energy on a specific symbol of your marriage. This might be a classic item like your ring or wedding license, or something unique that represents your marriage, like a particular CD that holds that “special song” or your honey moon photo album.
As you think about your divorce ritual, what it will entail, and perhaps focus on, it can be helpful to connect with the elements of the earth. For example, you might consider fire, a transformative energy that relates to anger and power, to burn your divorce papers and melt down your ring. This might help release your heart from some feelings of rage and hatred. You might also connect with the element of water, which can be associated with sadness, longing, grieving, and, or cleansing. You might release your wedding symbol or a letter to your Ex into the water, either in a bottle, or sinking it with a thread and stone, or in its own Viking funeral boat, thus releasing yourself and your story with him*.
Consider reading this scholarly article for more on divorce rituals from a cultural and religious perspective.
Reversal of Marriage Ceremony
Some women may convert an aspect of their original marriage ceremony into a divorce ritual. For some, a common Christian wedding tradition is the lighting of the unity candle. This is when the bride and groom take two individual candles representing themselves and light one candle in the middle representing their marriage. They then blow out their candles to symbolize the end of their individuality and the start of their commitment to each other and unity. A divorce ritual based on this might be to reverse the unity candle. You might snuff out the symbolic shared candle and light your individual candle while visualizing what this independent version of yourself looks like. This can be done on your own or as part of a larger gathering of loved ones who witness you. This type of ritual flips the notion of marriage into the energy needed to start your new, independent life.
For stories of inspiration, check out “Starting Over After Divorce at 50: Five Stories on Finding Yourself.”
Sharing an Experience
A more collaborative approach that some women find helpful is to share an activity or final ritual with their Ex. Yes, with their Ex! This allows both spouses to end the marriage together and possibly, in a more positive light. This kind of divorce ritual might involve sharing one last special meal together, or one last toast, or one last dance while listening to music or songs that were symbolic of their marriage. Other couples choose to share a bed one last time. (Yes, it’s true!) The thought here is to mirror the end of the relationship with the beginning, and help you embrace your newfound life as a single person.
Not all divorce rituals need to be planned out. They can be spontaneous. You might feel in your gut that something must be done to mark your transition, like an impromptu prayer, or a long trek or pilgrimage where you will get in touch with yourself. If you are called to do something, or feel a ritual is needed deep in your heart, then not only is it valid, justified, and important, it will probably make you feel freer afterward.
Consider other important steps to take to celebrate your hard-won status: read “100 Must Do’s for the Newly Independent Woman”.
Considering Your Own Divorce Ritual
Ideally, your divorce ritual commemorates your special rite of passage from your divorce to your new independent life. It can be done privately or with close family or friends. You’ll want to choose a meaningful place for your ceremony to encourage your sense of finality and closure as well as peace and serenity. Detach from your headspace that worked so hard in the last chapter of your divorce, and instead, check in with your heart as you aim for emotional, spiritual closure.
Be prepared that a divorce ritual might bring intense feelings to the surface. Make sure to take care of yourself during and after the ceremony with extra self-love. This could be going to a favorite place to enjoy a special meal by yourself or with friends, or even something simpler, like buying yourself flowers.
As unique as each person, no two divorce rituals will ever be the same. This is precisely what makes the ritual so beautiful and potent for you.
As a society, we have rituals that celebrate momentous times in our life. Birthday parties, baby showers, religious celebrations, and of course, weddings. Your divorce, an enormous rite of passage, is also deserving of honor. Divorce rituals help you formalize reflecting on your past, moving on from it, and embracing what lies ahead. This post gives you a starting point to consider you and your needs. Think about the best, most meaningful divorce ritual for you. You will want to cross this threshold into your new life by honoring your past but, more importantly, looking forward to your precious future.
Elizabeth Newland is a third-year law student in Chicago committed to children and family rights. She aims to work in a family-related non-profit firm after graduation.
Whether you are thinking about divorce, dealing with it, or recreating the life you deserve, one thing we see making a significant difference for women is the conscious choice to not do it alone. Since 2012, smart women around the world have chosen SAS for Women to partner them through the emotional, financial, and oftentimes complicated experience of breaking up and reinventing.
SAS offers all women six free months of email coaching, action plans, checklists, and support strategies for you — and your precious future. Join our tribe and stay connected.
*We support same-sex marriages. For the sake of simplicity in this article, however, we refer to your spouse as your “husband” or a “he.”
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