“Moving Forward – An Ancient Divorce Ritual for the Modern World”
By Dr. Marilyn Beloff
Available on Amazon Books
Reviewed by RAYMOND HALL
Introduction: Dr. Marilyn Beloff, PhD is a collaborative divorce coach, child specialist, divorce mediator, and marital and family therapist. A native of Winnipeg, she presently lives and works in Vancouver, BC.
Guilt. Shame. Fear. Self-doubt. Self-pity. Denial. Anger. Confusion. Frustration. Aloneness. These are but a few of the emotions that invariably accompany marital breakdown and divorce, an event that is now experienced by almost one in two adults at least once in our lives. These emotions abound regardless of whether that breakdown occurs with the suddenness of a shattering glass, as in the exposure of infidelity, or more slowly from a gradual fading away of romance and mutual commitment, or simply from any number of growing irreconcilable differences.
In contrast to almost all other major life events–childbirth, bris, baptism, birthdays, graduation, marriage, and even death–in which we engage in rituals of either celebration or mourning and in which we mutually express an effusive sharing of human compassion, marital breakdown is almost invariably devoid of ritual, despite being one of life’s most traumatizing events. At the very moment where a susceptible adult most needs friendship, understanding, compassion and support, he or she is left instead with emptiness, or worse, ostracism. The divorce decree arrives in the mail.
In this groundbreaking seminal work, Dr. Beloff, using her extensive practice and experience in Depth Psychology, challenges this gaping hole–the predominant absence of ritual and social convention accompanying marital breakdown. It doesn’t have to be this way, she asserts. There is an effective alternative.
She shows that it is possible for one to find inner peace and needed closure in order to be able to let go, to move forward as a whole person, without being burdened with the emotional baggage of separation and divorce, by fully engaging in an effective ritualistic process. Using the rubric of the Jewish ‘Get,’ the compulsory ritual required prior to re-marriage in the Jewish faith, as a launching point, she posits a better process.
As she demonstrates first by discussing her own painful marital breakdown and then by weaving seven individual ‘tapestries’ (testimonials) into a comprehensive thesis, an effective ritualistic process that addresses the need for closure can also provide an enrichening existential experience.
That experience can evolve both in a spiritual sense and in an integral sense by reconfirming one’s personal dignity and inherent self-worth. An effective ritual, therefore, can not only provide closure but can act as a catalyst to future personal growth. Most importantly, this process need not be limited to orthodox religious practices–rather, it carries with it broad social psychological implications applicable to secular and traditional religious practices as well as to conventional therapy.
The ‘tapestries’ described in Moving Forward document a wide gamut of conflict and general dissatisfaction with the traditional Jewish ‘Get’. As both she and her subjects explain, the Get procedure varies widely by level of orthodoxy, by geography and by local practice. It has both a ‘shadow’ side and a ‘healing’ side. In its more orthodox form it is criticized as being overly structured, one-sided, impersonal and blatantly sexist.
That criticism appears to be well-founded. Words in the required recitation of the ancient Hebrew ritual that say, “I chase you from my house…” obviously do little to provide emotional or intellectual comfort to a woman facing the aloneness of an uncertain future.
In my view, however, the strength of this book lies in the lessons provided from those describing the healing elements of such a ritual, as well as from Dr. Beloff’s reflections on the suggestions made by those who passed through the process–especially the suggestions made with respect to actually creating a ritual that provides a more egalitarian and fulsome experience that enables not only sanctified closure, but also emotional closure that encompasses forgiveness, independence and a rebuilding of dignity and strength, for both spouses.
In my own law practice, I know of very few clients or lawyers involved in family law matters who would describe themselves as being happy with the ultimate resolutions generally provided through the legal system, especially in matters of child custody and access. I have come to assume that in cases involving separation and divorce, there are no winning clients–everyone loses. And losing engenders buckets of long-lasting negative emotions.
Although alternative dispute resolution processes such as mediation and arbitration can provide effective alternatives to expensive, protracted court proceedings, they are still adversarial in nature. Consequently, they often do little to minimize the significant adverse emotions engendered in both parties to a marital breakdown–emotions that invariably are carried forward long after the legal process has ended.
Those adverse emotions obviously impose constraints on one’s success in moving forward. As a result, any process that facilitates emotional closure and personal reconciliation could be of immense assistance, especially if that process is spiritually based, if for no other reason than that it is undertaken willingly by both parties with the objective of attaining personal emotional and spiritual peace.
What do these ‘tapestries’ instruct? What lessons can be learned?
First, on marital breakdown, legal processes alone are wholly insufficient to provide critical emotional closure to those who, regardless of whether they realize it or not, could use help. There often is a fundamental need for emotional support and encouragement for both parties to the breakdown, regardless of the cause of the breakdown.
Second, traditional spiritual services, where they exist, can be helpful but their effectiveness in providing healing is often short-circuited by the application of unquestioned rote protocol, impersonal attention by strangers to the participants, and dicta suffused with gender inequality.
Third, there is no “one process fits all” solution to what individuals truly need to begin the healing process. But therein lies the key. The most striking examples of successful transformation cited in these ‘tapestries’ occurred in individuals who took an active and creative role in designing and executing their own ritual of liberation: choosing trusted witnesses, and, for example, having those witnesses symbolically tie and untie knots. But above all, carefully drafting one’s own recitations to either supplement or to supplant the existing ritual processes.
Direct personal involvement in constructing and executing an appropriate ritual dialogue bridges many of the inadequacies in effecting a healthful transformation. The more that the individual embraces the kavannah, the intention or sincere commitment of the heart to letting go, the easier and more effective the resulting transformation. The more that the individual involves close personal friends in the ritual, the greater the comfort moving forward.
Moving Forward, an appropriately-titled contribution to social psychology, is essentially about helping separated individuals successfully achieve a critical, deep personal life-changing transformation that will assist them to pursue a future that is largely unencumbered by remorse, antipathy and illusions of fantasy at a critical stage in their lives.
Dr. Beloff has opened a vital door to that healing. But as always, it will be up to individuals to actually walk through that door, in their own way.
Raymond Hall was called to the Bar by the Law Society of Manitoba in 1988 and is now a practising member of the Law Society of B.C.