The ending of a close and intimate relationship can be a painful transition for those involved – the two individuals who were in relationship and also, if they had a family, the children. It’s often also a big change for family and friends that were a close part of the marriage and were witness to its change and ending.
While separation and divorce can be a time of great upheaval, uncertainty and challenges it can also open up new horizons and possibilities.
A ceremony to honour this transition may be called a divorce or separation ceremony, an uncoupling, a friendship ceremony or a marriage dissolution ceremony.
A well-crafted and considered ceremony can acknowledge the inevitable changes and also the impact upon those involved. It might be an intimate ceremony with just the celebrant and one person from the relationship, or the couple and a witness or a large gathering.
In bearing witness to each other, speaking honestly and listening deeply there is the possibility for forgiveness, healing, closure, clarity and creating a new vision. It is a chance to honour the positive and respectful aspects of your relationship. A ceremony can also honour the disappointment, frustration and mourning which can support those involved, especially young people, to know that whatever they are feeling is welcome here.
If there are children present within the relationship, it may be a time where you commit to being co-parents and friends; and demonstrate to your family and community that it is your intention that this divorce or separation is amicable and you wish to foster respect, mutuality, kindness and care as you move forward as a family. Keep in mind, that children may not wish to be involved as part of the ceremony. It’s important to respect what is alive for them and, if necessary, get the support you need as you plan this ceremony. See the links below for support services.
Taking the time to create a sacred space where the relationship can be honoured for all the gifts, including the challenges is a powerful acknowledgement that the separation or divorce is not a sign of failure, rather it was an inevitable consequence of change and circumstances. It may assist both parties to feel a sense of closure and moving forward.
Having a ceremony where both parties are present with a sense of ease and amicability is not always possible. In this case, it may be even more important to bring together family and friends and honour the mourning and celebration; and foster a sense of support, community and wellbeing around the individual.
Listen to what the heart is calling for.
Carl and Emma came to me with a clear idea of what they had wanted and also asked if there was anything I could suggest. I listened to their ideas –they wanted a simple declaration of a few statements offering closure and the willingness to move forward.
I suggested that it would set the tone for the ceremony by us all arriving at the same time to the venue and, rather than begin with any chatter other than a warm welcome, immediately move into the ceremony area and each one of us light a candle and sit quietly for a moment.
Divorce ceremonies or celebrations can take any shape or form. It is my intention in this article and in my work, to focus on respectful rituals, whether it involves one or both of the parties, rather than rituals designed to foster animosity towards another, which I do understand happens. This does not mean we do not acknowledge the difficulties or painful moments, rather we meet them in a way that acknowledges the unmet needs and possible opening to what’s been understood and honouring the ‘life energy’ that now wants expression.
Whether you are going to have a celebrant or hold your own gathering, whether it will be a simple ritual or an upbeat celebration it can be useful to ask a few key questions:
What do you want to achieve?
Are you ready for this ceremony to take place?
Do you have any unfinished business you need to address? While your answer may be a ‘yes’ to needing further connection with the emotional letting go, a ceremony can still be very effective in assisting the process of separation and could happen even if this is the case. It is important however to acknowledge what is happening and you may choose to seek professional counseling as part of the preparation of the ceremony/celebration.
What do you imagine happening and how will the ceremony achieve this?
The wording is best left simple and from the heart.
Celebrant: After 12 years of living together – with lots of love, laughter, adventures, anger, frustration, effort and pain Zach and Rachel have decided that they no longer wish to be husband and wife. They want to publicly acknowledge that their marriage was no longer serving them in a healthy way and wish to formally change the status of their relationship in front of you, their closest family and friends.
In the spirit of acceptance, love and the willingness to move forward, they still choose to respect each other and to be friends. They know it will take time to adjust to the major transition they are both facing and they have requested each other to speak and act with care and respect in all regards, and that you, as their community, support and uphold them in this endeavour.
They have shared many adventures, good times and the gifts were many which included the birth of their children; and this ceremony also acknowledges this shared love for Amber and Jon. They are committed to live with their children’s best interests at heart and that they will continue to be loving and responsible parents to their children. They also wish to reassure their parents and siblings that they treasure their role as grandparents, aunties and uncles and hope that everyone will work together in this new way of living as a family.
It has not been an easy journey to find this new path of shared co-parenting and they wish to acknowledge the support of their family and friends, in particular, to the friends who listened and cared as ‘the ship got a bit rocky’ and to Sandy who has counselled them individually and also together. The wise counsel on many fronts helped them to connect with what was happening, find acceptance and understand what was needed to move forward.
In this light, they offer each other the following acknowledgement.
Zach: Rachel, I am grateful for all that we have shared – the love, the laughter, the good and difficult times. I know that I have hurt you and caused you pain and for this I am deeply sorry. I have not been able to fulfill my marriage vows to you and I accept my part in this divorce.
Rachel: Zach, I hear and see you. Please know that I respect you. I thank you and I forgive you.
Zach: I honour our role as parents to our beautiful children, Amber and Jon and declare my willingness to co-parent them responsibly and lovingly. I honour the importance of this role that we share.
Rachel, I wish you well on your path that is now to be separate from mine. May you know peace and happiness.
Rachel: Thank you
(Rachel declared the same statement to Zach)
Celebrant: We, your family and friends, who are your witnesses to this acknowledgement, recognise the respect and dignity which you have shown each other in this time of difficulty, which has often been painful and confusing. May you find renewal and enrichment in your individual lives. May you find comfort and support in your family and friends around you. Your lives will remain connected through your love of Amber and Jon yet your personal lives are that of two independent people. May you both know peace and happiness. May you continue to honour and respect each other as you live apart and yet parent together.
They have asked me to share this quote by the Buddha, ‘To those in whom love dwells, the whole world is but one family.’
Rachel and Zach, I know it is your wish to honour this truth, particularly at this time.
Thank you for joining, Zach and Rachel here today, and they would like to invite you to witness the signing of their informal divorce certificate before joining them for afternoon tea which will be served on the beach side lawns.
Separation or divorce ceremonies are about healing and transition. They can encourage the expression of appreciation and the honouring of the gifts and growth that occurred in the relationship and, if you wish, the challenges and regrets you may have. It can also be a time to affirm your values and what is important to you. It is an opportunity to say goodbye to the way things were, to your life as a couple, and to acknowledge your new status as a single person, as a family that now has two homes (if there are children). The ceremony can create a vision or statement of the ‘new life’.
As Brian, 43, said, ‘I wanted to acknowledge the beauty that came out of our 22 year marriage and to acknowledge and let go of the pain and anguish. We both took a lot of time thinking about our divorce ceremony and, as part of this process with the help of our counsellor, we were able to bring to light things that could have been said many years before.’
Celebrating life’s major transitions can support a healthy turning towards the changes and what you all need; and help to create a clear path forward.
There are many support services available to help you find your way if you need support to get clarity and clarity on finding your direction during or after a divorce or separation. Click here to connect with Nonviolent Communication (NVC) Australia and the NVC Academy to access great counsellors, training and support. To join me with Ongo: Everyday Nonviolence programs click here for me information.