The Pain of Divorce: Annulment Offers Healing and Closure

DivorceThere’s a well-known quote that I know firsthand to be true: “The best gift parents can give their children is a happy marriage.”

The love and happiness shared by parents bring joy to the whole family. Thus when I came to terms with the fact that my first bond did not reflect a happy and healthy relationship, my life changed forever, in ways both good and not so good.

As I was going through divorce, people told me: “Stay for the kids.” “Aren’t you Catholic? You can’t get divorced.” “You’re just going through a phase. Buy a sports car instead!”

Making the decision to divorce and petition the Church for a declaration of nullity (annulment) after ten years of marriage and four children rocked my world. It challenged my faith. It challenged the faith and marriages of those around me. Now six years later, would I go back and make the same decision again? When I see the unexpected ways my children have been exposed to hate and anger from bitter and misinformed family members, I confess that there are times that I have questioned whether it has all been worth the pain.

However, while divorce has created stress in ways I never thought possible, I know that staying in an unhappy and unhealthy marriage would have been far worse—the worst thing I could have done both for me and for my children. For years I struggled to make that bond work, but in the end, I had to accept that it was just not going to be.

With Pope Francis promulgating new guidelines for the annulment process, it is a good time to consider some points on marriage and nullity, based on my own experience:

It Takes 200% to Make a Marriage Work
There are so many clichés related to marriage. People say that it’s 50/50, that you should not go to bed angry (good idea), or “a happy wife is a happy life” (often true!). However, after going through the annulment process, I’ve realized what many successfully married people already know. It takes 100% from each spouse to make a happy marriage. One reason my first bond failed is that at various times throughout the relationship, one of us took on too much of the responsibility for keeping the marriage together while the other paid little or no attention to the needs or concerns of the other person.

The Waiting Game
Going through the annulment process was a mix of waiting, sadness, embarrassment, patience, paperwork, spiritual direction, but most of all, healing. The process helped me realize that the truth can indeed be a source of pain, but that the truth also sets one free.

Contrary to popular belief, no annulment is guaranteed. There is no fast track or rubber stamping. Even if someone has a friend who works in the Tribunal Office, there is no special treatment—those who know you can’t be assigned to the case. And it shouldn’t be any other way. I placed my trust in the Holy Spirit, my faith in Jesus, and in the mercy of God the Father. Whatever the outcome, I would accept it.

For me, the process took two years. For some people, that can be a discouragingly long time. Many annulments are finalized in less time.

I can appreciate Pope Francis’ desire to streamline the process and to make annulments free. Being one with the Church should not be taken lightly and completed without a well-thought-out process, but it should also not be held up because of understaffed Tribunal Offices.

Finding Happiness and Love
Marrying my wife, Gloria, in 2014 at St. Anthony’s Parish was a very happy day for us both. I am grateful to God for giving me someone who loves me the way she does. I hope that my children, whom I love dearly, can see how happy Gloria and I make each other. I hope that after working through the pain of divorce, they one day realize that it is better to have two homes and two happy parents living in the love of God than a home that is void of sacramental love.

As with all things, I place my trust in God that they will learn from their parents’ mistakes, love us both unreservedly, and seek out a spouse that loves them unconditionally as well.

Give It All You’ve Got
I encourage anyone contemplating divorce to pray very hard for the grace to make the right decision and to not choose in haste. Also, seek counseling, both alone and as a couple. As a final option, make the commitment together to go on a Retrouvaille retreat (retrouvaille.org).

If there is no other option, or if you are already divorced, I suggest that you begin the annulment process, whether or not you are in a new relationship. The process will provide healing, whether or not the annulment is granted. Remember, an annulment is not a divorce; it is a declaration by the Church that the requirements for a sacramental marriage were not present at the time the vows were exchanged. Regardless of the outcome, the annulment process will help you move on and live your vocation as a Catholic in a new way.

Let us all pray for those who struggle in their marriage.

Reprinted with permission from FathersForGood.org.

David Dziena holds an M A. in Pastoral Theology from St. Joseph College in Maine, and has worked in catechetical ministry for over 20 years. He is the co-author of the Catholic Prayer Book for the Separated and Divorced (Our Sunday Visitor). After receiving an annulment, he was married in the Church last year to Catholic author and editor Gloria Shahin. He has four children from the previous bond.