Shuffling Your Way Through Divorce
After High Control Religion
Here you are, in the very place you never wanted to be.
You thought you found someone you would spend “the rest of your life with” and you set out on a journey of “till death do you part” except now everything you believed to be true about marriage (i.e. doctrine) no longer applies to your life.
Admittedly, you probably knew marriage wasn’t going to be an easy ride but I bet you’ve found yourself thinking “it shouldn’t be this hard!”
It is more than likely that you thought the religion would keep you together even if the love faded over time. That’s the belief, isn’t it? The belief that the bible says that no matter what happens, there are no grounds for divorce other than adultery. This is used as a weapon of mass emotional destruction in the face of a couple in a miserable marriage.
Even if a spouse is abusive, addicted, toxic, psychologically absent, and emotionally inept, — there is no allowance for leaving the marriage.
It would make sense that in the Jehovah’s Witness religion, the only way out of a miserable marriage is to commit adultery even if that goes against everything you are made of. Even then, there is no guarantee you are free of unhappiness since the “offended” spouse has the “right” to forgive you and in that case, you are still married in the eyes of God.
I can’t tell you how many friends of mine over the years have made choices they wouldn’t otherwise make just to get out of a miserable, unhappy, unfulfilling marriage since that is in line with the JW doctrine. What’s more, I can’t tell you how many friends whose spouses “forgave them” and took them back out of spite. In the end, it was all for nothing.
I bring up the matter of adultery just to drive home the point that most people don’t actively decide to cheat on their spouse, but the unyielding doctrine that is the Jehovah’s Witness belief causes a rational person to do very irrational things. The human spirit does what it needs to do to survive.
What if your marriage did not end with adultery, but because you simply are two good people who aren’t good for each other? In the Jehovah’s Witness world, that reason isn’t a reason at all. There is a requirement to place blame on someone.
I have spoken to countless people over the years both when I was in the religion and when I left. The stories are almost identical across the board. Sadly, a legal divorce doesn’t provide the way out either.
The coercive mind control that is the doctrine of Jehovah’s Witnesses clearly states that although a couple may be legally divorced, they are not divorced in God’s eyes. To make matters worse, if one of the parties does get remarried, the Jehovah’s Witnesses call that fornication. Under the control of this rule, couples who divorce legally but aren’t awarded “spiritual grounds” are then condemned to wander the earth by themselves if they do not go back to their spouse.
Let’s think about this for a second.
Unraveling the Doctrine is Crucial
The doctrine insists that adultery is required to separate the marital bond but then they twist it stating “God hates a divorcing”. That manipulation is a subtle way of telling you “you can leave, but don’t.” Unraveling the doctrine and deconstructing the myths that have your heart in its clutches is wildly important for one main reason: you need to understand that you can leave if you feel you have to. You do not need to consider adultery as an option. Consider what that will do you, not to mention to your spouse. It’s the very worst action anyone can take, especially if it’s done under that guise of staying within the boundaries of the organization.
Once you learn that their doctrine is not true, you can start to make a new plan for your life and decide what’s right for you.
For me, the divorce process was long overdue but we stayed together for the reasons that most people stay together; how it looks, the religion enforces it, and it goes without saying that after 13 years of marriage. the comfort of being settled into a life with another human was just too easy to stay with.
Before your mind wanders, my marriage did not end due to adultery. At least, not that I know of.
We made the mistake many parents make — we stayed together for the kids. Most couples, especially JW, consider this to be a reason to stay married. It’s not. However, coming from a life of brokenness and dysfunction that was ignited by divorce, naturally, I was terrified to repeat the same mistakes by subjecting my children to the very upbringing that I had. I now know that this is a different time, and I am not my upbringing
The guilt was suffocating at times. There’s a common misconception about divorce, especially within high-control religion, and it’s that distorted mindset of believing divorces tear families apart. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say if you’re here on my site, you are in the audience of religious and narcissistic abuse survivors.
Consider something that the JW religion did not teach you; that ending the marriage is your last ditch effort to protect your children.
Witnessing a toxic marriage is far worse for children than divorce is. Our children learn by watching us.
I’m sure you can look back on your relationship and remember some good times but if you’re at the point where counseling is not working, the indifference is part of your DNA, and your reasons for leaving outweigh your reasons for staying, the evidence is right in front of you.
I recently spoke with a 25-year-old woman who was married under what she called “coercion.” In the Jehovah’s Witness religion, people are married extremely young to avoid breaking the rule of committing fornication. For many if not most women, marriage is the JW answer to going to college and growing up in general. For many JW kids, getting married means maturity. It means leaving the family home and getting away from extremely strict JW parents. Many people choose to get married long before their psychological development is caught up to their physical needs. This woman not only married young but found herself divorced by the young age of 25, the age when the brain hasn’t fully matured yet.
You probably don’t even realize you were married under coercion. You do realize it when you wake up from the control of the religion and at that moment your entire life feels like one big lie. Do marriages survive the process of waking up? Certainly. All marriages can survive if both parties want it to work. There’s a negative connotation in the word “survive” as it pertains to marriage. Who wants to look at marriage through the lens of survival mode? More than likely, that’s how you’ve been operating the entire time before waking up. I know I was.
The toxicity that is purity culture contributes to the increasing number of JW divorces. Having no exposure to sexual education (other than the indoctrination insisting that all things sexual are bad and wrong) getting married means it is suddenly allowed. However, it is not as simple as one would think to just “flip the switch” and be an active participant.
I know I loved him with everything in me. Were we soulmates? Hardly. Were we compatible? Not at all. Did we have common interests? Few. But we did our best to work together as partners and friends. It was my understanding that the healthiest marriages last if the couple is best friends. Well, that’s not always the case, especially when your compass for identifying healthy friendships is not calibrated correctly. In the Jehovah’s Witness religion, there is a block in the psychosocial development of its members.
From an early age, you’re assigned to a congregation, you’re told who your friends are, and you’re then confined to choose a marriage mate within the four walls of JW life. There’s very little if any room to make your friends and determine who you are and who is a good fit for friendships and partners. Any relationships outside the JW organization are strictly prohibited especially romantic relationships.
This causes a frenzy to find a marriage mate who is within the same religion. To be fair, I do believe it is important to choose a partner who shares your values but I do not believe it to be within the confines of having the same forced religious beliefs. There are 7 billion people in the world, there’s bound to be someone who shares your beliefs and values. JWs take it to an entirely different level.
I became a cliché.
I never thought I’d hear myself say that I filed for divorce. I never thought I’d find myself scrambling to find a place to live in the middle of a pandemic, and I never imagined that doing this would bring me unimaginable peace of mind. I truly believe that loving someone means letting them go if they want to. It’s not always as simple as someone saying “I want out” but it can be the subtle behaviors over an extended amount of time that can be extremely telling.
In the JW religion, higher education is widely discouraged. Millions of Jehovah’s Witnesses are barely supporting themselves even though some outliers go against the grain and pursue higher education anyway. For the most part, it is frowned upon and if someone does pursue higher education, they will be subject to disciplinary action by the leaders in the congregation. At the very least, the student would get a strong talking to by leadership and would lose congregation privileges.
Because of this “no education” rule, most people, especially women, are never awarded the opportunity to exert their independence and develop a career. Most women are groomed to be wives and mothers while exhibiting subservient behaviors. It is for this reason women are left to remain in unhealthy, unhappy, and at times abusive marriages since the men are groomed to be in charge of the family. The men are the breadwinners, the men have the final say, and the men almost always control the finances. This leaves women wide open to accept abuse as a common part of a marriage. There does exist invisible abuse, and it is not recognized by Jehovah’s Witnesses as a reason to leave. Even if a woman is battered, whether emotionally or physically, there is very little she can do to change her circumstances since there is no independence.
I became a cliche stay-at-home mom. I was (still am) extremely unsuspecting, raising our two children as my full-time job. It never occurred to me in our earlier years that pursuing my own goals and dreams was a possibility. In the JW religion, it’s just not something a woman considers doing. What education I did have afforded me a barely livable wage so it didn’t make sense to work outside the home. My job was to raise children and support my husband’s career while being a godly woman. It was my job to smile while “pursuing kingdom interests.”
I didn’t expect that when faced with divorce, there would be no resources for me to tap into. No savings, no “plan B”, no retirement, no 401K, and nothing was in my name. I owned nothing. In JW life, you don’t get married with the possibility of divorce in your mind. What’s the point in getting married if divorce is already on your radar? That was my mindset. I didn’t account for the unforeseen impending divorce in our later years. I didn’t account for a lifetime of raising small humans into grown humans, a thankless, unquantifiable yet the most rewarding job of all time.
There’s always a choice. Always.
In the words of the amazing Bonnie Zieman, LMHC and ExJw: “The goal of recovery from life in a destructive group cannot be to forever and always, completely and totally remove the trauma of our losses and wounds. Rather, the realistic and attainable goal is to be able to better manage our most intrusive symptoms to lovingly care for ourselves, and be able to re-engage with life..”
If it is hurting you more than it is healing you, it is time to love yourself enough to let it go.