Divorce... and the Grace to go Forward with Courage

11/22/2011 01:46 am ET | Updated Jan 21, 2012

I was married for twenty years to a man I loved far too much for far too long. It never, not even for one minute, occurred to me that I wouldn't be married to him forever. All my dreams -- to say nothing of my time, money, reputation and even my business life -- were all inextricably intertwined with his, in that comforting entanglement that grows with the years and makes you feel loved and safe. I didn't doubt he loved me just as devotedly as I loved him. He told me so often. We made love all the time, despite our two decades of marriage. He said that infidelity was the one thing he could never forgive. He meant mine.

Foolishly, I never doubted his.

And then there was a fiftieth birthday, an affair with an assistant, and shattering revelations of dozens of other affairs throughout our long life together, dating all the way back to the week we were married. In a heartbeat, my great love story was reduced to a cliché. I felt robbed even of my dreams, for there were no futures I had ever fantasized in which we were not together.
People told me I'd been a fool. I couldn't disagree. People said, "You must have known... women always know." I can vouch for the fact that that's not true. When you truly love, you truly trust.

Hearts Really Do Break
Some wounds are clean and others are septic. It took me years to fight my way back from the incapacitating shock, rejection, sadness, disappointment. I'd always thought of a broken heart as a metaphor -- they look so mendable on Valentine cards. Now I know the breakage is all too real. It shatters places too deep for tears, too fragile to ever let the world know about. When the Anam Cara, the soul friend, betrays you, where do you go for solace or safety?

Like the stages of grief after a death, I battled confusion, loss, disbelief, anger, despair. I'd tried to forgive along the road, but for a long time the best I could do was park my thoughts of my husband in neutral, consigned to some limbo of non-existence in my heart. Finally I consigned him in my mind to the Hindu concept of the Lords of Karma. Justice, I realized, was their job, not mine.

Losing Him and Re-gaining Me
Strangely, in the end, I found that divorce was the way back to my own soul-strength which I'd mistakenly abdicated without knowing it, in favor of being part of what I'd thought to be a larger whole. Instead, I re-discovered a wholeness in myself that astounded me.

I found that in the anguish of a broken heart are the seeds of change, and that the loss of love is sometimes not the end of life, but the beginning of both freedom and wholeness. I think, looking back, that the letting go of what I'd dreamed and planned was the hardest part. I cried for days, weeks, months, or maybe it was years. I hated my husband as much as I had loved him before I knew about all his infidelities. Betrayal is an unbearable grief... no way to retaliate, no way to wound as you've been wounded. And so I prayed a lot, begging help to banish the angry thought forms that made me feel ashamed of myself at the same time I believed them fully justified.

And to the tips of my toes, I missed being married.

I Missed Being Loved
I missed being loved. Even if it had only been an illusion, it was a wondrous one, a needed one.

I missed being held in the night. Wanted. Touched. Laughed with, lusted after. Being lost in familiar passion. Talking over little things. The unimportant moments life is composed of. The space between silences. The certainty of connection with another soul. Plans for the future. The remembered past.

I didn't miss my husband, exactly... I missed the man I'd thought him to be, the one I'd loved so long. I missed the fantasy his existence had permitted me for 20 years... the fantasy of being truly loved.

Then one day a question formed in my head. "What if a broken heart is really a heart shattered open?" it asked, "not ruined at all, but emptied to receive, no longer closed by false completion."

Stunned by the simple thought, I asked myself if it could be that I'd been blessed by what had nearly killed me? If my husband had never broken my heart, might I never have found myself curled up in there, constrained and strangled into smallness? Would I never have grown up to be my soul and never earned the freedom to forge a different future from the one I'd planned a lifetime ago? This odd spin-doctoring shifted my perspective profoundly. It made me grateful and, amazingly, freed my heart to wonder what was yet to come.