The “Forever” Fallacy: Unpacking our Distaste for Divorce
We’re raised with a false sense of permanence. As we grow up, our parents, teachers, and guardians want us to feel secure and experience stability and consistency, because research has shown that this is optimal for our development.
So we’re spoon-fed fairy tales that all end with the phrase “happily ever after,” and we’re psychologically shielded from the concept of death until we’ve grown old enough to be considered capable of handling it.
And the thing is, in calling this out, I’m not necessarily looking to disparage our child-rearing practices. But here’s the problem with this approach: nothing is forever.
Everything on this earth has a finite lifespan. Even the most robust physical elements will eventually break down.
Similarly, all relationships must come to an end. Sometimes we are fortunate enough to have the same cast of characters in our lives for decades, but deep down we know that either we or they will not always be there. Sometimes it’s death that pulls people away, and sometimes it’s just the course of life.
But there’s a lesson in this.
And it’s not that we should practice ambivalence. It’s not that we shouldn’t give a fuck and be emotionless and unattached.
It’s that we should accept and embrace the impermanence of things and appreciate them while we have them. We should practice gratitude regularly to help have greater awareness for these people and possessions while they are in our lives.
I know just how hard this is to do in practice because I’ve had a scarcity mindset for most of my own life. I always had trouble sharing as a kid (and sometimes even as an adult). My natural tendency is to save and not use things I care the most about. And once I get something that I’ve been wanting, I then start looking for the next thing that I want instead of truly reveling in and enjoying what I have.
Having a scarcity mindset means that you’re plagued by a feeling of lacking. Nothing that you have is ever enough. It’s usually not a conscious condition that you’re aware of; rather, it tends to arise from how you were raised and the experiences you’ve had in your life.
Personally, I was fortunate enough to have a pretty wonderful childhood. My parents, both physicians, worked incredibly hard to provide for our family, and I was rarely denied the things that I really desired.
However, my home environment was fairly chaotic. We had a lot of pets in addition to a number of very busy people in our household. And, as I grew older, I quickly learned that if I left things out around the house, anywhere outside of my room, they could disappear or be ruined at any moment. Anything I cared about needed to stay with me or be squirreled away and kept safe.
Similarly, growing up, I was not really exposed to the reality of the impermanence of human relationships. I was fortunate, in that I did not lose any of the closest people in my life until I was 22 - the year my best friend died.
I had lost grandparents and older relatives due to illnesses, but I had a false sense of invincibility when it came to my own parents and my friends.
Mike’s death changed that for me. When he passed, I was struck by how incredibly fragile it all is - our present life circumstances, our relationships, and our own lives. It can all change in the blink of an eye.
It’s both humbling and terrifying when you have that realization. You want to scream, cry, and fight it as hard as you can. But eventually you realize that all you can do is accept it.
You can’t control what will happen, and you can’t cling to things and still have a healthy relationship with them. To really live and enjoy life requires letting go.
Our battle to accept the impermanence of things also arises with respect to divorce. Even though we may fully intend for our unions to last forever, marriages don’t always live up to that expectation. There is only so much that actually falls within our locus of control.
We can invest time, money, and effort in trying to change and in working to improve things. We can experiment and get creative and extend ourselves beyond our comfort zones. But ultimately, all we can do is try our best. We can’t control our partners or the world around us.
And we can’t begin to move forward and live our lives to the fullest unless and until we’ve first let go of the things that are holding us back - including our delusions that relationships should last forever.
Instead of approaching things from a scarcity mindset and trying to cling to the pipe dream of permanence, what if we were able to adopt an abundance mindset - inherently believing there’s enough in the world? - or that we are enough on our own?
What if we were able to accept life’s twists and turns with grace and acceptance instead of resistance?
The more we can learn to embrace the discomfort we feel around the concept of impermanence, the more at peace we will be able to grow with the reality of it. And that’s a way of life that I, for one, would like to strive for.
[If you or anyone you know is contemplating divorce and would like to learn more about what options exist and what the process entails, I’d invite you to check out my free online mini-course on the topic of divorce: https://courses.whenitsknotforever.com/p/how-to-get-divorced]