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Conscious Divorce

by Susan Allison

Making the decision whether or not to leave a relationship may be the most daunting part of the divorcing process; at least it is the one filled with the most anxiety. This is partly because divorce is a choice made of our own free will, and we sense the enormity of this responsibility. Also, confusion and indecision are uncomfortable for most of us. We want this initial stage to be over, so we can move on. At the same time, we realize that our choice will affect our partners, our families, and our friends; it will be a decision we must live with all our lives. We want to choose carefully.

One of my workshop participants, Marion, whose husband initiated their divorce, comments, "At first, I didn't want the divorce, mostly because of the children, and my fear of being on my own. But with therapy, I realized I hadn't been happy for years. Deep down I knew I needed to leave, but I just couldn't do it myself." And so, when contemplating a divorce, intuition and intellect can help us make a decision. If we feel unsure about our choice, we need to trust that the answer is already inside us. All we have to do is listen to our intuition, think about our choices and their consequences, and decide the next course of action.

Early Inklings

The choice to stay or leave begins in "the gut." Eileen, a former client, points to her stomach when she says, "I knew something was wrong months and even years before I left each of my relationships; I felt it in my gut. I didn't always take action as soon as I should have, but my body knew."

I, too, felt the misgivings about my marriage in my body. These first warnings came on my wedding day, but I didn't heed them. Standing in the shower, the ceremony an hour away, my heart pounded and my head hurt. My body knew I felt unsure, but it was too terrifying to bring to consciousness. He was my dear friend, and I respected and trusted him. Our guests waited at the church; a white satin dress and gossamer veil hung in the closet, and bridesmaids laughed in the next room. But I ignored my inner voice that knew I was uncertain, and, instead, I married for security and companionship. My body knew the truth but swallowed its secret for more than twenty years.

When my husband was away for three months and I had the space and silence to breathe, I finally allowed this realization to surface. I wrote in my journal, "I'm glad he's away. I'm free to eat and sleep when I want, to write all night, to completely be myself for the first time." In trying to be the perfect wife, I adapted so thoroughly to my husband that I lost my own artistic nature. Guiltily, I dreaded his homecoming and going back to a false life, but this time I couldn't return. Like Pandora, I had removed the lid, releasing the honest feelings inside my body. Finally, after two decades, my real self was out, and not only did she not fit in the box, she was unwilling to go back.

During this period of discovery, I attended personal-growth workshops and spent time alone thinking about my life and writing in my journal. These experiences helped fine-tune my intuition, which had been dormant since childhood. As children, our intuition is very present. If we don't want a certain food, we refuse to eat it; our bodies and minds know instinctively if we're hungry and what it is we want. We say exactly what we think. We know if we like the color red, if a shirt is scratchy, and we won't wear it even if Grandma gave it to us.

Children listen to their inner voices on a moment-to-moment basis, unlike adults, who eat by the clock, wear fashionable, uncomfortable clothes, and say the right thing in order to please other people. As adults leading busy lives, we get caught up in what we should be doing to be successful, and don't always stop to listen to our intuition. This may continue until a crisis occurs in our life: a family member dies, we are injured or seriously ill, or problems occur in a relationship. Then we are forced to pay attention to our true feelings.

Accessing the Intuition

Intuition comes from the Latin verb intueri, which means "to look or to know from within." It is immediate insight or awareness of what is true that comes as an inner voice. No one knows exactly where intuition resides, but it seems to come first from the body and then from the mind. For centuries people have said, "Follow your heart; listen to your gut," and have used expressions such as "heartfelt" and "gut reaction." In my experience, I first feel a knowing in my stomach, a hunch or hint about an issue, and then a word or phrase comes into my mind; it is instantaneous, and at times defies precise tracking. Remembering Ashley's Hierarchy of Love, from the introduction, listening to the intuition is about loving yourself. It's about trusting the voice of deepest truth and wisdom within you, first asking for guidance from Highest Consciousness, then lovingly following the voice and message you hear. Even if your intuition is dormant, it can be awakened with practice, trusted, and heeded. More specifically, accessing the intuition can help you decide whether or not to divorce.

The following intuition exercises can be written in a notebook or journal. I suggest keeping a journal during the decision-making process. It might seem unnatural at first if you've never written in a notebook or diary. Trust me. Writing in your journal will be a creative and emotional outlet. It will be your friend. It can save you thousands of dollars in therapy bills. Please, just do it.

When you are ready to begin, use a stream-of-consciousness approach: try not to think too long, and instead, write quickly what comes to mind. First thoughts or feelings are often the deepest, most truthful ones. If you spend several minutes going back and forth, trying to decide what to write, you might record what should be believed or done, perhaps from society's perspective, rather than what your own true feelings tell you to do. It is important to be alone and have plenty of time to do these exercises. Once you're settled comfortably, take one or more deep breaths. Imagine inhaling positive energy, especially love, and exhaling all negative energy, especially fear.

Close your eyes and relax. Sit a few moments in silence, listening to your breath, quieting your mind and body. This is the process in Zen Buddhism called beginner's mind, in which the mind is like an empty rice bowl. When it is truly empty, it is open to be filled with insight by unconscious knowing. If you meditate or pray in a specific way, do so before beginning to write. The point is to clear your mind of all distractions, to feel relaxed and open to all possibilities.

Intuition Exercises

These questions begin generally, and in the next section, progress to specific queries about your relationship. The only guideline is to tell the truth by quickly writing down the first response that comes to mind. There is no right answer, only what is true for you. Open your journal and write "Intuition Exercises," then the number, and your answer.

1. What is your favorite color?

2. During what part of the day is your energy highest?

3. What is your least favorite food?

4. Which season do you like best?

5. What makes you happy?

6. How does rain make you feel?

7. Which holiday was your favorite as a child?

8. Where have you traveled that you've enjoyed?

9. What is one word that describes you?

10. Do you dream in color?

11. What is your happiest childhood memory?

12. What room in your house is your favorite?

13. What do you like most about your body?

14. Who is your best friend?

15. When was the last time you felt joy?

16. What would you grab first from your burning house?

17. What two possessions would you want to have with you on a deserted island?

18. For which parent do you feel the most love?

19. What is the deepest regret of your life?

20. What is it you have always wanted to do?

Now, look at your answers, and don't change any. Just read them over. Do any surprise you? Write down which ones, and your feelings about these answers. Perhaps elaborate on your initial answers. For instance, if you wrote "mother" for number eighteen, what else comes up for you regarding your answer? Why didn't you write "father"? Do you have any feelings about this? Keep journaling until you feel complete. Do this for every answer that makes you think or question something. Overall, write down what you learned from this exercise. Finally, can you hear your inner voice or intuition? Let's proceed to questions about your relationship.

Again, answer the following questions quickly in your journal, recording your first thought or reaction. Some answers may require more than a one-word response. Write the truth. Trust the process. Take a deep breath and begin.

1. Did you love your partner when you were first married?

2. Why did you get married?

3. Do you love your spouse now?

4. Why are you still married?

5. How do you and your partner get along?

6. What do you and your spouse have in common?

7. What do you like most about your partner?

8. What do you like least about him or her?

9. How does your spouse treat you?

10. How would you like to be treated?

11. How do you treat him or her?

12. When were you happiest in this marriage, and why?

13. Are you happy in this relationship right now?

14. What would you like to change or improve in this marriage?

15. Do you think it's possible to improve your marriage? Why or why not?

16. What have you done personally to make your relationship better?

17. What are your greatest fears about staying married?

18. What are your greatest fears about divorcing?

19. Do you have children? What role do they play in your choice?

20. Overall, what does your gut, or intuition, tell you to do about your marriage?

Which of these answers surprises you? Write these reactions in your journal. What are the emotions coming up right now? Feel them. Write about these feelings in your notebook. Do this for every question that seems to require more response. Take all the time you need. What is your overall realization? Write one sentence to express this truth.

When facing a confusing or challenging issue, it helps to write down feelings and ideas quickly without stopping to edit or question. This keeps the unconscious mind moving and your beliefs surfacing. Use this technique in the following exercises to discover your deepest thoughts and feelings. Write the question and answer in your journal, including everything that surfaces, both positive and negative. Begin with the expression "I feel . . . ," and if you get stuck, write "I feel . . ." again and keep writing. Don't censor yourself or edit your work. Just be totally honest. Stop when you feel complete or emptied of this issue.

1. What do I feel about my current relationship and partner?

In questions two and three, begin with the words "I want" and write fast. If you pause or get stuck, just write "I want" and begin again. Don't worry about practicality or reality. Imagine that you have all the choices and resources you need. Just write your heart's desire about the relationship and the life you want. When I did this exercise, it came out as a poem, but the form is immaterial. The most important thing is to honestly realize your deepest truth and write it down. End when it feels complete.

2. What do I want in a relationship?

3. Ideally, what kind of life do I want to be living?

The journal becomes a way to process and record what may have been stored inside you for many years. Reading your words becomes a concrete confirmation that you are beginning to make a decision that is completely your own. This discovery can be exhilarating, and at the same time, frightening. Everything you have thought to be true may now be in question. Allow these feelings to surface before, during, and after writing in your journal. Notice if your existing marriage has the qualities you listed for an ideal relationship, or if it does not. Take in this realization.

Finally, is it possible for you and your partner to change, for the relationship to come closer to what you want? Write your immediate response of "yes" or "no" in your notebook. Then write quickly how this can or cannot happen.

When finished, reread your response. How are you doing emotionally? Be aware of your feelings. Perhaps take a break. Lie down, have some tea, go for a walk, do whatever would be supportive right now. Let the realizations come and go. It may help to say phrases such as, "Everything I'm discovering is creating my greatest good. I trust my inner voice and know all is well."

If your answers to these questions indicate there are problems in your marriage, and even that you want a separation or divorce, you may not want to take immediate action. It isn't rational to initiate a divorce based on one questionnaire. What you can do, however, is think about your responses, keep writing in your journal, take the survey again, and see how you feel in a week or two. In the meantime, you can also talk with a therapist, a friend, or colleague, someone who is going to listen attentively to you.

It helps to process all your realizations in writing or verbally, and fully express your truthful feelings. It is also important to take care of your health, focusing on proper rest, exercise, and nutrition. Remember to treat yourself as you would a loved one or best friend, with kind and gentle nurturing.

This article was excerpted from Conscious Divorce. Copyright 2001 by Susan Allison. Excerpted by permission of Three Rivers Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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About The Author

Susan Allison is a clinical hypnotherapist, ordained ministerial counselor, and seminar leader who counsels individuals and groups on various life passages, including divorce. She is the author of Conscious Divorce.



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