The Reality of Divorce – a Loss of What Could Have Been…
By Rayanne Jacobson
Overview: Challenges facing divorce and some practical tips.

When I heard that someone I knew was getting a divorce, I typically responded with some flippant comment and a few questions around the reason for the breakdown, the status of the children and any other irrelevant facts that came to mind.

Until that person was me…..

I had no clue how devastatingly painful a divorce could be until I became one of its casualties.

No two divorces are the same, so the myriad of feelings, anxieties and complexities experienced by the people involved are vast. Anger; betrayal; fear; relief; regret; sadness; guilt; disgust; paranoia is some of the adjectives that emerge and then fade away as others take over. While trying to deal with the groundswell of these emotions, one is also faced with the brutality of legal proceedings, financial threats, changes in abodes and most challengingly witnessing and ameliorating the reactions of one’s children.

You see when you get divorced, you may be the protagonist but the location and story line extend to a wide number of characters who assume their own scripts which could have devastating long term effects.

The loss of a family unit, prior relationships (your ex-spouse’s family; friends); and homes are some of the physical realities but emotionally, the loss of one’s dignity, self-worth and inner resilience penetrates much deeper. Overlaying that is the stigma attached to becoming another divorce statistic. Most crippling is the lack of empathy and support of a community. When someone dies, compassion is abound but when someone gets divorced, you are on your own –authentic compassion and heartfelt sympathy is not the theme of the scene. On the contrary, other people often don’t know how to react to the situation which only serves to isolate you more. And getting divorced in the midst of Covid did not help the situation either ….

So five years down the line, I am going to share some of my insights – practical tips – things that I wish I had been told as I embarked on this journey….

Number 1

The separation is only the beginning – this may sound quite cynical, but it is the truth. I naively thought that once the decision was made to end my marriage, I was through the worst of it. How much worse can it get? But the process is like an obstacle course – as you get over one hurdle, another one appears, and it is generally of a different calibration – not harder or easier …just different. You need to prepare psychologically for the course, and you won’t be hoodwinked into thinking you are “there “. I call it the liminal effect. You can hover in no man’s land for some periods of time where one door has closed but the other door has not opened yet. So you are living in states of ambiguity and you begin to appreciate what the term “ an iterative process” is. For someone who craves structure and likes to project manage life, it is humbling to know you can’t de-risk the crisis. You literally need to go through it to get through it.

Number 2

Make sure you have one or two confidantes who truly understand you and can offer you objective and unconditional support and shut out the noise from others. Be very selective who you surround yourself with and who influences your thoughts. There are many rabbit holes being dug as different scenarios present themselves and external advice (offered with the best intentions) may be very harmful. No two situations are the same and you are the only person who lived in that marriage so trust your instincts and stick by your choices. When in doubt, call a friend but one who can listen with maturity and wisdom. I was truly blessed to have two friends on whom I could call at any point of time who were genuine in their care and provided safe council to my conflicting thoughts.

Number 3

Depending on the situation, seriously consider initiating psychological interventions for your children. There is no shame in therapy as children need to work with independent and well-trained specialists to help them traverse this incredibly treacherous territory. The crossfire of accusations, split loyalties and conflicting situations can cause inner turmoil in the minds of children which need to be worked through in a safe environment. Often parents are unable to cope with their own pain and loss, so their parenting skills are unhinged which can cause severe downstream damage to their relationship with their children if not properly managed at the time.

Number 4

Have no expectations and be patient.

Often when one is in a destructive and dysfunctional marriage, one is overcome with a sense of freedom when released. What comes next is not contemplated but as the new norm becomes embedded, the real work begins on re-building a new foundation. Don’t underestimate how much time and patience is required to forge new connections with your children. They are new in the sense that the props and backdrop of the family has forever changed. This requires one to be attentive to their needs and create new openings for connections in a vastly different setting. The loss of a mother and father unit is hard for each parent and for the children. Playing a fatherly disciplinarian figure when you are a sensitive mother can be extremely challenging at times. It forces one to go completely out of one’s comfort zone. Don’t be tough on yourself as you hone these skills.

Number 5

Brace yourself of the best spiritual journey of your life.

In the height of my despair, I recall an impactful conversion I had with my attorney. I asked him what he has observed over his years of consulting as a family law practitioner. He responded that it is a deeply spiritual journey and most of his clients are thrust into a direction that they would never have pursued had it not been for the divorce.

Any life-changing event is tough and, as we know from millions of examples, out of suffering comes growth. Just like a seed needs to germinate and rot before it emerges afresh with the ability to produce fruit, so we humans need to undergo challenges to flourish.

Divorce is one of those lonely and hollowing experiences which causes one to dig deep into the crevices of one’s soul to overcome the grief of so many losses. Despite knowing that you are doing the right thing, it is still very painful to lose what could have been. There is nothing more enriching than relationships and a family unit which is solid. Each member plays their part of a cohesive whole and to know that that will not actualize as each member matures, gets married have their own children is just so sad. It is sad enough when a member dies and therefore cannot fulfil their role, but when a member is alive and physically able to but due to circumstances does not, it is such a waste….

When one mourns that loss and is able to let go of that dream, one is able to move on.

For me, I would not be who I am today if not for the divorce. Despite all the difficulties I have touched on, the end is worth the means…

My spiritual journey involved developing a connection with Hashem – something I did not experience beforehand. Learning and surrounding myself now with people who support my journey and re-identity as a B’aal Tshuvah has been gratifying.

For me, I never questioned my predicament or felt that I did not deserve what happened. I was not filled with feelings of anger towards God. Instead, I strongly believed that this was my sojourn and it helped me to make sense of it. It almost felt that every chapter in my life was a carefully crafted plan that Hashem had for me, and my work was to try to figure it all out. Sometimes He would throw me a real left field – punches that I did not see coming – and it was in those moments that I had to clutch onto the belief that He rules the world, and everything is good – we just can’t see it at the time.

Whatever landscape your journey takes, know that you have choices as to how you cultivate it for yourself and for your children. Someone wise once told me, that the Kirstenbosch gardens in Cape Town is a beautiful landmark with many gates through which to enter… as long as you enter you will experience its beauty and each person finds the gate that is the most logical for them.

Life after divorce can be a beautiful garden – the trick is to find the right gate that opens up the vista for you. It is worth the effort and pain.

I hope to have shed some light of awareness on the topic of divorce from my personal perspective. The topic is multi-faceted and there are so many other topics to discuss but as an initial contribution, I have tried to summarise what I considered to be the most profound.

Rayanne Jacobson
Rayanne was born in Johannesburg, South Africa and is a mother of three children (20, 17 and 14). Although raised in a traditional home, she lived a secular life until she was 50. Having qualified as a accountant with tax specialization, she entered the investment banking arena where she enjoyed a successful career in various areas of finance and operations. As a leader of several diverse teams and spearheading complex projects, her forte was in change management. In 2019, she embarked on the biggest change in her life when she got divorced, ending a 23 year marriage. Although she studied psychology (writing her final year while pregnant with her youngest daughter), her biggest learning was through life experience and Torah exposure. Her famous words are : “If only I knew then, what I know now, my life would have been very different”.