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Nonconsensual Divorce


When I use the term "nonconsensual divorce" people often seem taken aback, as though connecting the two words is somehow incomprehensible. Divorce is so prevalent in our culture that perhaps it didn't occur to them that it isn't always a mutually agreed upon situation. And many times, people are genuinely surprised to learn that no fault divorce laws can be used to end a marriage in which one partner does not agree to divorce.

The Cambridge English Dictionary defines nonconsensual as "without the willing agreement of both parties." I'm not trying to equate nonconsensual divorce with rape, obviously, they are different situations. By using that term I am attempting to convey the utter powerlessness one feels during the process. Anytime we are coerced to act against our principles and strongly held beliefs we are in a nonconsensual situation. It isn't a good place to be.

During my very nonconsensual divorce I felt completely violated. We talk about the importance of maintaining control of our bodies, but suddenly my vagina didn't seem all that important- it felt like my entire life was out of my hands. I suddenly had no ability to determine the direction of my life, and I couldn't quite wrap my mind around the fact that although I was quite legally and consensually married, it could all just be taken away with the swipe of a judge's pen. I felt like an animal who had somehow stumbled into a trap and now I was dangling from a tree with no escape from what was coming. I felt so powerless that for one brief moment I considered ending my life; it was as though that was the only control I had over it. Of course, I wasn't seeing clearly though the opacity of the pain; indeed, now it seems as though I wasn't seeing at all, just feeling. Shock can do that.

In a traumatic situation it is normal to lose our voice, to neglect to speak up for ourselves. Sometimes we're just too caught up in the moment to realize that we can, or we don't think of the right thing to say until hours later. Sometimes we make a conscious choice not to speak, perhaps from fear or because we don't realize that we're worth it. If this happens, we just put the feelings away- or try to- and move on with this rawness lurking just below the surface. In the case of my divorce, speaking up made absolutely no difference. I felt like an anomaly- people just didn't get why I didn't want a divorce. The judge, the attorneys... maybe because they see it everyday it seemed normal to them. It wasn't to me.

Women around the world are coming together and speaking a collective truth- the nuances of which are different for every woman. Women are collaborative by nature, so it isn't a surprise that we find power in speaking out as a group. #MeToo is a powerful and safe way to affirm the ways, large and small, that we have been raped, abused, harassed or degraded by another person. (I was about to type "by a man/men" but I suddenly realized that women can certainly perpetrate harm on another person no matter the gender.) Case in point, the sickening complicity of Harvey Weinstein's honeypots. And, of course, men abuse men.

I'm not a psychologist, or an expert in human behavior, but it seems to me that a root cause of abuse is the abuser's need to feel powerful. (Duh, right?) Taken to the extreme, this need can manifest itself in actions as horrible as rape. We should recognize that we all have a need for power; we usually practice it in different, more socially accepted ways.

On a far lesser level the need for power could be evidenced by our own smug satisfaction in getting to the stoplight before the guy that cut us off a few blocks back or even our gossipy chit chat about how much weight our neighbor has gained. We may not have spoken up 30 years ago when our boss never missed a chance to touch our butt, and we weren't able to stop our marriage from ending, but at least our car is faster than the jerk in the red Mustang and we're skinnier than the woman in 3C.

It is important to call out the perpetrators of the world. But it is equally important to self assess our own behavior and make sure that the power we choose is coming from our love center and not just feeding a need to feel better than someone else, and we're not using it to bully, shame, blame, pass judgment or manipulate. I can't change the past or control anyone else's actions, nor do I care to, but I can choose loving kindness now.

When we put love at the center of our actions, our purpose aligns with our spirit and the energy that we are putting out is what the world needs. Love is the power that we all have. I wish I had remembered that during the divorce process- I suddenly felt betrayed by love, like it would no longer serve me. Thankfully, I realized it was truly the only thing that does matter, even when it didn't...

Have you ever known the amazing feeling of recognizing the love within you and living out your self worth? Me also.

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