Like a lot of little girls from my era, all I really wanted was to be happily married someday. I think it was even more important to me because I grew up in an extremely toxic, frightening environment and for as long as I can remember, I just wanted a happy home.
But…it would be a gross understatement to say that my Herculean attempts at creating such an animal didn’t quite go as planned.
Because of what I learned in childhood, I was left with a set of beliefs that didn’t exactly do me any favours throughout a good portion of my life.
I certainly got the “married” part down; with six weddings behind me, you’d almost think I’d made it my life’s mission to be a serial bride.
But sadly, with those toxic beliefs from childhood haunting me and at the root of my thoughts and choices, there wasn’t a chance in hell I’d ever be able to nail down the “happily” part.
Before I go any further, if you’re going to be able to grasp just how a set of beliefs can lead someone down the aisle — and to divorce lawyers — way too many times, it’s important for me to share a bit about what those beliefs were and how they impacted me — and ultimately, my life.
Also, it’s important for me to say that although my mother was quite abusive and a toxic influence in my life, it was because she, too, had plenty of her own emotional wounds. It took me a few decades to understand this and to have compassion for her but I got there.
I know she did the best she could with the tools she had at the time, and having come from a generation that just didn’t know better.
And I’m also not telling you this so I can whine and say “poor me.” (Gag!) It’s just that it’s essential for me to share a bit about that significant relationship in order for you to understand how I ended up where I did.
First, I need to back up even more to explain how my own emotional wounds played into hers.
After being born to a 15-year-old mother and bonding with her for a few weeks, I was put into foster care. I don’t know if there was just one foster home or more, but I’d have bonded with at least one other mother figure before eventually being adopted (still a baby) by my parents.
With at least two broken “mother bonds,” I would have already felt traumatised and abandoned in my earliest months of life.
Then I ended up with a mother who just didn’t like me until the day she died. She didn’t understand me, never tried. But again, I came to understand that she had done the best she could.
My mother used to laugh when she’d tell me about the day I arrived in their home. She couldn’t remember how old I was, but I was old enough to sit up by myself (perhaps six months or so).
She remembered a social worker plunking me on the sofa and apparently, I plugged my thumb into my mouth and frowned at my mother. I’ve been a psychic and medium since childhood so I suppose my intuition was working even then. Somewhere inside me, I must have known what I was in for.
I had eczema on my cheeks, which turned out to be an allergy to oranges. And I was a chubby baby. Okay, let’s be honest. I was quite fat! My mother used to love telling me the story of how she reacted to my physical appearance.
“Oh, she’s so ugly!” she said to my dad (who adored me from the moment he laid eyes on me). “She’s so fat! And look at that horrible rash! Do we have to tell anyone about her? Can’t we wait until she looks better?”
She didn’t want to present me — this flawed, fat, ugly baby — as hers. She was ashamed of me from the first minute and I felt it every day for the next 50 years until she died.
As I grew, there was no praise from my mother but plenty of criticism. I was fed a steady diet of, “You’re ugly,” “You’re stupid,” “You’ll never amount to anything,” and so on.
When I dared bring home a “nice guy” on a few occasions as a young adult, she would say, “What would a nice guy like that see in someone like you?” I wondered that myself. Without belabouring the point, I’m sure you get the picture.
Mixed in with these kinds of direct-hit insults that I absorbed as absolute fact were some other damaging attitudes. I grew up believing that I was responsible for the happiness of others. My own was irrelevant.
I learned that it would be a terrible thing to disappoint anyone. And I learned that I was a huge disappointment just by virtue of the fact that I existed. Hm. That was tricky.
I learned that if my mother was having a bad day, it was my fault. Eventually, that spilled over to pretty much anyone else. I carried the burden of responsibility for other people’s miseries and bad tempers for decades, choking on guilt for having caused all of it.
My mother went a step further with dumping responsibility for others on my tiny head. This one is absolutely sinister.
When she had something in the oven or in the pressure cooker (one of these would have been in use pretty much every day), she would tell me to be absolutely silent or the oven/pressure cooker would blow up and kill the whole family. She added that it would be my fault.
I would sit in terror for ages, just waiting for a huge explosion that would annihilate all of us. Along with other beliefs I was being fed, no wonder I was having panic attacks in the middle of the night by the age of 9.
I learned that when my older brother was beating me up or abusing me in a multitude of ways, he was not stopped and I was not protected. I gave up asking for help because there wasn’t any; therefore, I believed that this was just how life was supposed to be.
This was why I believed that I did not have a right to speak up. I had no voice. If I had any needs or feelings, I learned early on that they weren’t important and I had to keep them to myself.
And at the root of all of this was a deeply planted seed that because I’d bonded with previous mothers and then had been taken from them, my “baby girl” heart would have been grieving those losses and desperate to make this mother like me and not send me away.
That baby girl believed she was flawed, unwanted, unloved and unlovable.
That baby girl grew up believing that she’d better be grateful to even have a mother and a family, and praying that she would never be rejected yet again.
That baby girl grew up believing that she had to play by other people’s rules and make them happy or they might send her away and she would never be loved.
Okay, enough with the history lesson. Hopefully, you have a sense of what was going on inside me — mostly subconsciously, of course. It’s not like I was chewing on these beliefs and feelings in my conscious mind all the time.
They had simply become the framework for my existence; they had become the foundation for every choice I would make for decades until — well, that’s another long story for a different day.
So how did all of that have anything to do with my racing up the aisle so often I burned a path in the carpet?
There were various reasons, depending on which husband we’re talking about, but I will say this: There was only one that I really, absolutely, 100% wanted and believed was my “happily ever after.” Everything about him and that situation seemed perfect. Too perfect, in fact. Too good to be true. And you know what they say about that…
But with all of the others, although I’d agreed to get married, by the time those weddings rolled around I had changed my mind. Something just didn’t feel right. I didn’t know what it was. I couldn’t have said, “I don’t want to get married because of (fill in the blank).”
I just had a feeling that something wasn’t right.
Now, think about this: It’s a day or two before the wedding. Plans are in place. Guests are invited. Gifts have been bought. Money has been spent. A groom is expecting to have a bride and be married.
And think about how I’d been raised. I’m not allowed to disappoint anyone. Other people’s happiness is my responsibility. I don’t have a right to my own needs and feelings. I’m aching to be loved but feel flawed and unlovable. I’m desperate not to be rejected again…
You can see what fertile soil all of this is for a toxic choice like, “I guess I have to go through with it. I can’t trust my own feelings anyway; they’re always wrong. I’m sure it’ll all be okay. I’ll do my best to make it work.”
In one case, for months the groom-to-be had been threatening suicide if I left him. I couldn’t have lived with myself if he had done it. I felt like a hostage. There was simply no way out for me. Or at least, that was how it felt.
If that were to happen now, of course I’d know his suicide wouldn’t be my fault. I’d see it for the huge red flag it was and I’d be cutting and running in a heartbeat!
But back then…well, I hadn’t had loads of counselling to explain the dynamics of my upbringing. I had no idea about boundaries and everything that went into that situation unfolding as it did. It took decades of self-help and therapy to begin to pick all of those toxic beliefs apart and begin to heal. Meanwhile…
I was married the first time at just 17. Close-up pics on that day show me in tears but they were not so much tears of joy as they were of fear and resignation.
Just twenty months later, I was a divorced single parent (for the first time). It was eight years before I wanted out of another impending wedding. I went so far as to tell my mother I didn’t want to go through with it; things hadn’t been right between my fiancé and me for a while. In fact, we were barely speaking in the days leading up to the wedding.
It was the night before the wedding and my mother was furious.
“You have to!” she shouted. “I’ve got food in my fridge for 25 people and it’s damned well not going to waste! Three people have flown here from Ontario for this wedding! They’ve spent all that money on flights! You can’t make them waste it! You have to get married! Everyone is expecting a wedding and you’re darned well going to do it!”
And more of the same sorts of angry, forceful comments, pounding it into my head that I had no choice and I’d better do as I was told.
So I did. I swore that somehow I’d make it work. But as much as I loved him — and I really did — it was not a good match or situation and ultimately, it had to end.
By the second divorce, I was beginning to feel like I was flawed in ways that went beyond the ones my mother had always pointed out.
The third time was like a repeat of the second, only with even higher stakes. There were about 120 coming to the wedding, and about half of them had already arrived from various parts of North America. They had shelled out a lot of money for flights and hotels.
My mother was in my head from the previous time, harping about all of that when it had only been three people wasting money on flights. Now it was around sixty. Their money was far more important than my happiness or any nagging little “feeling” that something wasn’t right about this impending marriage.
Further complication: Nine family members had travelled from other provinces and were staying in the house with us. Deeply sensitive to confrontation, anger, and disappointing anyone, I could not have coped with the fallout from telling my fiancé and our relatives that the marriage was off.
Especially because I didn’t have a “reason.” I thought maybe it was just cold feet after two prior divorces.
Really big complication: I’d promised one of my children repeatedly that after a few turbulent years for us, yes, darling, you absolutely will grow up in this house and no, we will absolutely not be moving again.
Given what you now know about my upbringing and previous experiences, perhaps you can see why I felt like I had no choice but to go through with the wedding. I say “felt like” because of course the truth is that I did have a choice. It was just not even remotely in my awareness.
By the time the third divorce rolled around I was pretty sure there was something seriously wrong with me. I was convinced I was defective. And feeling less like anyone would even contemplate marrying me with three divorces on my dismal relationship resumé.
What I’d wanted most in the world was a happy home and family, a life filled with love and belonging. But any chance of that “Happily Ever After” was looking like slim to none.
Somewhere in the middle of that mess, my mother was giving me grief about divorcing the particular husband I had at the time. She was extolling his virtues — and to his credit, he did have a bunch. He was, in many respects, a good man.
I reminded her that my children and I were being abused, so of course I left.
She said, “Well, don’t you think you deserved all that abuse? You and your kids are pretty hard to take.”
I remember thinking, no, my children are not “hard to take.” She just didn’t like kids (especially mine, just because they were mine), and they most certainly did not deserve abuse. No one does.
Although having said that, it never occurred to me that I didn’t deserve it, either, but that’s because she had done such a good job of raising me to believe that the abuse I got while growing up was my fault and absolutely what I “deserved.”
Anyway…well…things just went from bad to worse after the third divorce. I kept getting into more marriages that resulted in more divorces, and the shame and humiliation grew exponentially with each one.
After the sixth one, I was a complete mess. My entire life had blown up in every way, aside from the marriage.
I was well beyond exhausted and fed up with All Things Relationship. I gave up on my dream of ever finding the love and security of a close family that I’d wanted since I was a frightened little girl in a scary world. I had to accept that a happy home and marriage would just never happen for me.
I felt completely damaged. I didn’t think I would ever open my heart to the possibility of love again. Besides, who would ever be nuts enough to contemplate even being in a relationship with someone who had been divorced six times, let alone marry her?
The long story short: I realised that I’d spent a few decades always getting into relationships, working on trying to cope with an unhealthy one, or recovering from yet another broken one.
A light went on. I understood that it was time for me to have a relationship with myself.
That. Changed. Everything.
I swore to myself that once and for all, I would figure out and heal the reasons for my multiple divorces — and the shame, self-judgment, and self-loathing that went with them.
This was a massive challenge, to say the least. But now, after several years of working through everything that went into the unfolding of that part of my journey, I celebrate it for all it has taught me, and for all I’ve been able to share in helping others for many years as a result of it.
I came to understand that one of the biggest lessons in all of this was for me to completely love and accept myself and to be at peace with myself and my life, whether or not it included any external source or love or emotional security. I had to provide these for myself.
Perhaps that’s what my journey was intended to be about all along.
Now…what to do with everything I’ve learned from that journey? Sure, it’s been “colourful.” It’s also been powerful in so many ways.
And I realised that there are other multi-divorced women (and men) in the world (although not many whose “Number” is six). There are others who are feeling the shame, embarrassment and humiliation of their marriage “failures.”
I poked around on the internet and found almost nothing on this topic. There’s plenty about celebrities being married several times, but only a handful of articles on the shame of multiple divorces.
I was stunned. No one was talking about this. But many people sure do enjoy being judgmental about it and making a lot of jokes and throwing derogatory comments around when they don’t know the person on the other end of the conversation might be silently bleeding shame.
There have been so many times I’ve been in a situation where someone is trashing another person for heaven knows what kind of infraction, and says something like this: “And I mean, what can you expect from someone like that? She’s been divorced twice and now she’s living with someone else…”
Even when the number of relationships is completely irrelevant to whatever the initial grip was about, it’s used as a weapon, or as a gauge or measure of a person’s character.
So often, I have wanted to speak up in those instances, but didn’t dare. I remained silent, keeping my secret, always dreading someone finding out. I kept swallowing decades of shame.
And I know lots of others are doing the same.
It’s time to talk about it. It’s time to have a conversation about the emotional wounds that are at the root of being divorced multiple times. It’s time to remove the stigma and to stop calling people flakes (or other ugly words).
We understand that emotional wounds create ailments such as eating disorders. Why should it be so hard to understand that they could also be the reason for multiple divorces?
Obviously, something is wrong. Obviously, we are in pain. That deserves kindness, compassion and understanding, not judgment, insults and ridicule.
That’s why I have created The Multi-Divorced Woman’s Manifesto. Why just for women? Well, I would imagine that multi-divorced men might relate to it as well but I’ve got no personal experience with that.
Buckle up; here is the Manifesto:
We are brave souls. We are not content to stay in unhappy or unhealthy situations. We dare to say, “No more!” and leave.
We are brave souls because despite the pain and stigma of previous divorces, we dared to try again. We did not let fear stop us in our relentless search for happiness, whether it was in having to leave a comfortable home, uproot ourselves and our kids and set out on another scary divorce journey — which becomes scarier each time and piles on more shame as The Number (of divorces) increases — or whether it was by virtue of the fact that we were brave enough to remarry — a few times.
We are brave souls who will repeatedly set aside our fear, and keep believing — and trusting — in love or in the dream of a happier marriage.
We are brave souls who will not settle for half a life in a relationship that just isn’t right, and for admitting that despite our best efforts, the marriage isn’t working.
We are brave souls for refusing to waste our precious lives in a situation that isn’t mutually positive and thriving.
We are brave souls who should be commended for our honesty and our courage, not ridiculed and called “failures,” “flakes,” or “flawed.”
We are the trailblazers for “Changing the Marriage Status Quo,” and for challenging the belief that the promise of “Till death do us part” should still apply when the vows upon which that promise is based are broken. Should that not make the promise null and void? Especially if attempts at counselling don’t work?
Or worse, if they are refused by one spouse when the other is willing?
We are the trailblazers for believing that to stay in that situation is like being a hostage, trapped and miserable until death, simply because of “tradition” and a cultural belief that says divorce is shameful and “frowned upon.”
We are the trailblazers for challenging the belief that people should “stay together for the sake of the children” when it has become abundantly clear that they are not going to succeed as a couple. We would prefer to give our children two peaceful, happier homes than one miserable one where they’re choking on tension, conflict, an unhealthy subtext and damaging beliefs that they will carry into their adult lives and relationships.
We are the trailblazers who believe in standing up for ourselves and owning our right to be happy and to be risk-takers, doing whatever it takes to create joy in our lives.
We are the trailblazers, the ones who dare to do what many are too afraid to do because although there are those who will judge us unfairly, there are others who look at us with envy, admiring our ability to leave unhappy marriages and strike out on our own in search of better days.
There are reasons why each of us has ended up with a Multi-Marriage status. There are reasons why we got into several relationships that didn’t work out and never stood a chance, because if they had, they wouldn’t have ended.
There are reasons why we fell in love easily, or got caught up in romance or in the need for love. Or why we felt like we “had to” get married, whether from pregnancy, or obligation, or we were manipulated or thought we had to please others.
Or perhaps we were afraid no one else would ever love us so we’d better grab the chance while it was right there in front of us and being offered by someone with whom we thought it could work.
But getting married for these reasons (or whatever others might have been behind those decisions) and later realising it hadn’t been such a great idea after all doesn’t make us bad. It doesn’t mean we are “failures,” “flakes,” or “flawed.”
It means only that we are human and we made different choices than the majority of other people would have done.
And it doesn’t mean that we didn’t fully intend to stay married when we said those vows. It doesn’t mean that we don’t have a clue about commitment, or that we’re “bad risks” and will never find happiness in a relationship or marriage. Nor does it mean we’re incapable of it.
We Focus On Possibilities
We choose to keep believing that a happy and lasting relationship or marriage is possible. Because of our multi-divorce experience, we understand that the chances for this are vastly improved by these three factors:
- An ongoing journey of healing and self-awareness
- Being willing to examine all previous marriages as honestly and objectively as possible, taking the wisdom and insights from them that can help to create healthier relationships in the future
- And an essential starting point: Developing a loving and nurturing relationship with our Selves
We understand that our beliefs and thoughts shape our choices, and our choices shape our lives. We are committed to incorporating positive, life-affirming, nurturing beliefs and thoughts into our hearts and souls. This will support us in making healthier choices so we can create brighter, happier futures.
We Are Committed To Our Healing Path
We’ve been around the block enough times to figure out that there’s something that needs healing. We’ve been chipping away at it throughout our multi-marriage journey, and we recognise that although we’ve made progress, there are still changes that need to be made.
We take responsibility for our own happiness and we understand that this begins with turning our self-loathing into self-love.
We recognise that when we choose to accept and embrace our multiple divorces for the gifts and wisdom they have given us, we will never again be bothered by the judgment of others. We understand that their need to ridicule or embarrass us, or even just to quietly think less of us, says a lot more about them than it does about us.
We take back our power by choosing to stop hiding our shameful relationship histories and “out ourselves.” When we celebrate our unique journeys, no one can use them as weapons to hurt us.
We are ready to release the shame. We are ready to take off the mask, come clean, and never hide again.
We are ready to embrace our “Numbers” and to celebrate the wisdom that has come from each marriage, each divorce, and from the love and good memories that we shared with our former spouses.
We are ready to see our lives as colourful tapestries woven with rich and rewarding experiences, including — and especially because of — the challenges of being multi-divorced women.
We appreciate the overwhelming sense of relief in revealing the truth, letting the chips fall where they may, and being able to breathe again.
We appreciate the freedom to be ourselves, and to be fully and completely present in our lives and in the world for all we are, and for all we are not.
We insist on learning how to live a forward-focused, intentional life of purpose and meaning, and leave self-recrimination, shame, and all other negative thoughts about our multiple divorces in the dust.
We insist on the relentless pursuit of happiness, not in spite of, but because of our multi-marriage journeys. We deserve love and joy just as much as everyone else. No more self-loathing. No more shame or embarrassment.
It is time to let all of that go. It is time to accept — and embrace — your journey for all that it has taught you, for the good and the loving memories that there were in your marriages or any part of this experience.
Most of all, it is time to truly love your Self, just as you are. Your divorces do not define you. They are not who you are.
Under all the pain that has come from your situation, there is a wounded little girl who just wants to be loved and accepted for who she is — and who she isn’t. And that’s exactly what you deserve.
No one can give you love unless and until you are ready to receive it. And you won’t allow yourself to receive it — fully and completely — until you receive it from yourself first.
The love you’ve always wanted is right there inside you. Are you ready to heal the wounds that have prevented you from receiving it?