3 Myths about Catholics and Divorce

Sometimes life doesn’t always go the way we plan. Sometimes our dreams and ideals do not turn out the way we hoped. I never would have imagined at 31 years old, I would be divorced and finished with the annulment process.

Going through a divorce has taught me about myths sometimes held in relation to divorce. It has expanded my heart with greater mercy and grace to other people I encounter on the journey of life. While some Catholics can experience divorce as “the scarlet D” writes Rose Sweet, the heartbreak of divorce on people is something our God passionately cares about.

Yes, God hates divorce, but He does not hate divorced people.

Annulment is not a “Catholic divorce.” While Annulments are specific only to Catholic Christians, I think they can often get a bad rap and be confusing for people to understand.

A divorce is a civil judicial act that legally ends a marriage. An annulment is an ecclesiastical determination where what was believed to be a valid sacramental, Catholic marriage is declared to never have been a marriage in the first place.

So what does that translate to? That means the day a couple got married, it looked like a sacramental marriage took place. It appeared that both parties had the proper intent and will to live out these vows in a life-long covenant. However, after a thorough investigation, there can be found reasons and circumstances that can prove that a marriage never really happened at all (making it null).

Annulments are not the Catholic version of divorce. It means for a variety of reasons, it was never a sacrament to begin with even though it appeared to be. It also does not mean children that came about through that union as deemed illegitimate.

I was going through the annulment process during the Year of Mercy. Can we say ironic?! Let’s just say I had a lot more to learn about mercy and forgiveness that I ever imagined.

I found the annulment process to be healing, very freeing, and critical as I moved forward with my life in peace and wholeness.

Being divorced doesn’t mean I gave up on my vows.

Seven months after I got married, the walls caved in around me. I discovered my husband was a sex addict and unable to be honest. I was both verbally and sexually abused. But giving up was not an option, and we wanted to do whatever it took to lay a new, healthy foundation.

We plunged into recovery: individual and couples counseling, weekly therapy groups, a weekly couple’s recovery group, and intensives. In the end, we spent close to $25,000. We tried every single possible avenue to heal and try to save the marriage.

Being a divorced Catholic woman doesn’t mean I gave up on my vows. Rather, after much prayer and discernment I saw there was nothing left to do. I was merely surviving and not thriving. I could no longer continue to live in that environment for a variety of reasons. Sometimes after trying the most desperate measures, there are real possibilities that a relationship cannot be saved.

Divorce does not mean you failed or gave up. It means you are human. And humans are imperfect, but God always uses our pain and imperfections to make something better than we could have imagined. Our brokenness and wounds don’t push God away, but rather they draw us to His Sacred Heart.

Divorce doesn’t mean you will never have a successful marriage.

It takes two people to make a marriage work, and it takes two people for a marriage to fall apart. While my former spouse had some significant issues, I’ve had to face the reality I dragged in plenty of unhealthiness and my own set of issues into the marriage as well.

I was a raging co-dependent, emotionally insecure and needy, manipulative, and controlling. My brokenness contributed equally to a marriage that didn’t last.

Going through a divorce doesn’t mean I (or anyone) cannot someday have a healthy, life-giving marriage.

I have a learned a lot of lessons: about myself, love, honesty, addiction, and relationships. I want to learn these lessons now so I will not repeat the same actions and behaviors in a future relationship. Even if a first marriage failed, that doesn’t mean I (or you) are a failure. The only way to be a failure is to live out of a victim mindset.

With hard work, counseling, and prayer, it is possible to walk forward into the future with hope and renewed strength. Facing your own pain, issues, and brokenness now will not only change you but be a game changer for future relationships.

We all will have a different story and travel a different path in this life. This is just a chapter in my story. It will not define me, but I am choosing to let it refine me.

If you are divorced or know someone who is, please know you are not alone. The Catholic Church wants to be a supportive, loving place for you to land. We all will face and go through pain throughout life. And if divorce is that pain for you or someone in your life, please know you are not meant to face it all alone.

If you are divorced or know of someone in your life that is, there are so many wonderful resources available to help in healing and moving forward. Consider reading good books like Healing the Heartbreak of Divorce, Divorced. Catholic. Now What?, and The Catholic Guide to Dating After Divorce. Consider finding a local church that offers a Divorce Care support group. If you need a fellow sister in the Lord to talk with, please comment and we will get in touch. I would be happy to offer any encouragement or support that I can.

You don’t need to walk this path alone, and you are certainly not the only one facing this pain. God can use this painful reality if you let Him. You can find hope, healing, and joy again.

You may have regrets about your marriage, but you do not want to have regrets about how you chose to respond and heal from your divorce.

God uses all things.

[Tweet “God uses all things. // @amoderngrace”]

And yes, He can even use a divorce for a greater purpose you may not see right now.

Written by Patty Breen. Find out more about her here.

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  • Reply
    Marybeth deLisle
    May 26, 2017 at 7:37 pm

    Any advice for practically divorced?

  • Reply
    May 28, 2017 at 2:57 am

    Something that bothers me that many devout members of the Catholic church have espoused is the idea that one must go to great lengths to save and fix an abusive marriage, otherwise it is giving up or walking away from the vows that one took. Nobody should have to endure sexual or physical abuse… emotional abuse can also be equally damaging. An abusive spouse doesn’t deserve a second, third, fourth chance at the other’s physical and emotional well-being. I’m not saying not to forgive, but forgiveness of this type of behavior doesn’t mean that one person needs to keep themselves in harm’s way by staying in an abusive relationship to attempt to fix it. This placement in guilt and blame on the abused partner… really a victim… disgusts me to no end.

    I have a cousin that finally got a divorce and annulment after enduring more than 10 years in an extremely toxic and abusive marriage. According to her, the emotional and verbal abuse began on the honeymoon, and quickly escalated to physical and sexual abuse. After being severely battered and ending up in the hospital, my aunt told her it was her duty to try to fix and save the marriage. That she needed to talk to the priest, get counselling, couple’s therapy, they should go on a retreat, etc. The priest pretty much mirrored what my aunt said. Then one evening her ex-husband beat her so badly she went into a coma, she was pregnant and ended up delivering her baby at 21 weeks, she was hospitalized for quite some time, and her son spent several months in the NICU. Now he has severe learning disabilities and partial blindness from being born so prematurely. The whole thing would never have happened if the people she turned to and confided in would not have told her she needed to stay and try to fix her marriage, under the (mis)guidance of the Catholic church. There are times where the the only course of action is to walk away from the marriage (or run away in her case). My aunt, the priest, and ultimately the church, are partially to blame for my cousin’s injuries, and her son’s developmental disabilities. It disgusts me.

    With that being said, I realize that the process of going through the councelling and taking steps to fix and heal the marriage can be healing. It can bring solace that you tried everything you could. Learning about your mistakes and shortcomings can help you. I get it that most failed marriages have two parties to blame. With that being said, I stand by my belief that no person should be pressured or coerced to stay in abusive marriage by the church.

    I wish you the best for your journey. It’s not easy.

  • Reply
    May 29, 2017 at 10:54 am

    This is just what I needed to hear (or read) today. Thank you for sharing. Some days are harder and feel lonelier than others. God bless you.

  • Reply
    June 7, 2017 at 5:07 pm

    I agree to all. SO happy to find you today. I’m currently 37 and going through the divorce process from 8 1/2 years married and 15 years knowing my husband who had depression and an alcohol addiction he still won’t admit. After the birth of our son it was if my eyes were open to the emotional roller coaster and all the things not healthy about my marriage. All I cling to is my life and sons in boxes in my parents basement and hope God will show me the way to pick up the pieces and follow him.

  • Reply
    February 22, 2018 at 11:46 am

    You have no idea the joy I felt reading this. My marriage fell apart only 7 months after the wedding, my husband was also abusive. The divorce was finalized one month before I turned 30. Like you, I never imagined this would happen to me. The separation with my husband was extremely difficult. We had moved to another state for his job, so when he told me he wanted a divorce, I had to pack my things and move cross country back home. I found a lot of love and support through my family, my friends, and my church community. I relate to the feeling of wearing a scarlet letter.

    Even though I feel God has healed plenty of hurt in my heart last year, i currently struggle with writing my anulment statement. It brings back the memories of abuse and how worthless I felt in my marriage. I haven’t come across many peers in my age group who are divorced. It was really encouraging reading your story, and knowing that I am not alone in this struggle. Thank you so much for writing this post.

  • Reply
    February 8, 2019 at 11:40 am

    This post just makes me so happy!!! I am am going through the annulment proccess now, and sometimes it is draining with all the questions they ask and bringing back the past.. But I know it will be so worth it. Does anyone have any advise on the annulment process?

    Thank you Jackie!

  • Reply
    February 18, 2019 at 4:53 am

    This post was so much like the right answers to many unanswered questions. I wish to get in touch with you.
    Im a Catholic divorced mother, got my anullment few years back, struggling and focussing myself on my Catholic faith, which I love to. God Bless you!

  • Reply
    March 12, 2019 at 9:39 pm

    This article brings much peace to me today. I recently separated rom my husband. I brought my two little ones who are both under three with me. We are staying with family. It feels as if we are stuck in limbo some days. My little boy knows something is not right. I miss the community we had. Please do get in touch with me. I would love to pray together and share advice/stories whatever. It is so important not to be alone. Abuse thrives on the victim being isolated.

  • Reply
    April 9, 2019 at 11:22 pm

    I was happy to begin reading your article. But then, I came to the part where you said it takes two for a marriage to fail. I am very disappointed that you believe that even though you were abused, you also believe it was your fault the marriage failed. Abuse is ONE sided. A marriage can fail because of abuse….which is caused by one person. You yourself admitted you were abused. Yes, we all have faults. But, if there were no addiction or abuse problems in your marriage, I am sure it could have been saved. Once there’s abuse, if you are unwilling to live with it anymore, or are forced to leave, it is NEVER your fault. Ever. Please realize that you may have had some faults but it was not your faults that contributed to the downfall of the marriage. The abuse and addiction destroyed the marriage. Everything else you mentioned can be worked with if BOTH parties are willing. Because the abuser and addict was not changing, the marriage could not have been saved. NOT your fault. At all. Being abused was never your fault; it is never the victim’s fault. Ever.

    • Reply
      Patty Breen
      April 14, 2019 at 5:51 pm

      Hi there thanks for your response. I appreciate your words. I do not believe nor was I saying it was my fault the marriage failed. I completely know and believe that being abused was not my fault, of course it is never the victims fault. What I was trying to share is looking back I can see my own unhealthy ways of coping that were my own responsibility, such as my codependency. These are such sensitive and tricky things to write about sometimes. Too bad we can’t be chatting over a mug of tea or coffee. 🙂

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