Davina Kotulski

When a Prominent Marriage Activist Gets Divorced

Filed By Davina Kotulski | September 17, 2011 6:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality, The Movement
Tags: filing for divorce, marriage, Spiritual Divorce

What did you do this summer?

get-divorced.jpgYou probably know what I did this summer.

I filed for divorce.

The news of my divorce appeared in the Huffington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Bay Area Reporter, CBS News, and many local radio stations. It also appeared all over my soon-to-be ex-wife's Facebook page. She has 2000 plus friends, so you can imagine word travels fast. It was the same time former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's marriage to Maria Shriver was imploding, a great reminder that marriage equality includes divorce equality.

Needless to say, it was surreal. It is one thing to have your joy and advocacy for marriage equality out there in the public eye, quite another when it's your personal pain being publicly paraded. I did not answer media queries during that period as I felt the need to process the ending of my marriage privately.

Ending my marriage has not been an easy process. The other day someone told me that they were one of the 18,000 couples who were married in California before Prop 8 passed. I responded that I was one of the 18,000 couples who were married in California and one of an unknown number of those 18,000 couples now going through divorce.

For over a decade, I've devoted my life to marriage equality. Now like over 50% of married heterosexuals I am going through the Big D. I'm trying to understand what it means to be a marriage equality advocate going through a divorce.

The reality is that many marriage equality advocates marriages and partnerships have ended in divorce/dissolution like straight allies Mayor Gavin Newsom and Mabel Tang and pioneers and named plaintiffs in the marriage equality movement Genora Dancel and Ninia Baehr (Hawaii Court Case1993), Julie and Hilary Goodridge (Massachusetts Court Case 2004), the Woos (California Marriage Court Case).

Many of the activists I've worked alongside for over a decade have divorced and are on their second marriages. Isn't that cool? If we repeal the Prop 8 ban, LGBT people can have their second and third gay marriages too, just like straight people.

But seriously, getting divorced sucks! It is truly one of the hardest rites of passage that I hope you don't have to go through unless it is for your soul's evolution. As a coach and therapist who also does couples' therapy and couple's coaching, I recommend that you give that a try before you make a big decision like ending a marriage. I continue to recommend John Gottman's books Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, 7 Principles of a Healthy Marriage, etc. and his workshops. Divorce is like a death, so if you can bring your relationship or marriage back to life, then go to the mat for it.

Sometimes, however, we change in directions that are different from our spouse/partner or we are in relationships that are abusive or co-dependent. If you are unable to break these unhealthy cycles or if you find that you and your spouse are just on different paths and incompatible, then I encourage you to try to disentangle yourselves in as healthy of a way as possible. Couples therapy is also useful for helping you to talk through the challenges and get support in letting one another go peacefully. Talking to a trusted spiritual mentor such as a pastor, rabbi, minister, imam, etc, is also a good idea.

If you have an unwilling partner, or for safety reasons you cannot meet with a neutral third party, I strongly recommend getting into your own therapy, finding a divorce group, a coach or a clergy member or spiritual practitioner who can support you during this transition. Having support can help you deal with your feelings of grief and loss and minimize your reactivity to the hard process of disentangling.

One other resource that I have found helpful in looking more deeply at the demise of my marriage and processing my feelings is the book Spiritual Divorce. As this book will help you look at your part in your relationship dysfunction, it could also be a good book for those who are considering divorce, but who want to see if they can salvage their marriage.

Two trusted friends recommended the book Spiritual Divorce by Debbie Ford to me. This is a really great book for anyone who is going through the ending of a relationship, who wants to understand themselves better and who is open to a spiritual approach to understanding their divorce.

Debbie Ford says "when we use our divorces to heal our wounds, to learn, grow, and develop ourselves into more loving, conscious human beings," rather than staying stuck in our pain, then we will have "a spiritual experience and liberation of our souls." Ford, who ascribes to the metaphysical "they are no mistakes" principle, affirms that "our lives are divinely designed," therefore accepting whatever is taking place in our lives gives us power to move forward.

Ford identifies 7 "laws" of what she calls a "spiritual divorce."

1. Law of Acceptance: "everything is as it should be."

2. Law of Surrender: "When we stop resisting and surrender to the situation exactly as it is, begin to change."

3. The Law of Divine Guidance: "God will do for you what you cannot do for yourself."

4. The Law of Responsibility: "With divine guidance, we can look at exactly how we participated in and co-created our divorce drama."

5. The Law of Choice: "Having taken responsibility, we can choose new interpretations that empower us."

6. The Law of Forgiveness: "After we have cut the karmic cord, we will be able to ask God to forgive."

7. The Law of Creation: "Experiencing the freedom of forgiveness opens up the gates to new realities."

The book has some really thoughtful exercises to look at each person's part in the breakdown of their marriage and to bring out their "highest self" even in the midst of "divorce drama." I highly recommend it.

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It's worth remembering (if not promoting, as far as I'm concerned) that divorce is one of the essential benefits of marriage. It's certainly a difficult thing, heart-wrenching, tumultuous -- not a benefit that is easy or intuitive to celebrate.

But, when 2 people are married, they have some assurance that an orderly process can play out if the marriage ends. Each will have the option and ability to assert themselves, in a courtroom trial if necessary (been there, done that), or more often, via lawyers and/or mediators who are guided by principles and laws applied in family court.

Financial institutions, including the Social Security folks, recognize a broad spectrum of divorce law. Retirement accounts and pension plans are often shared by ex-spouses as ordered in divorce decrees.

My parents were married for 10 years, divorcing before 1970. Dad died 30 years later, and when Mom retired several years after that, she initially received some benefits as his survivor.

That's one of the reasons marriage matters. It may not be on the minds of newly-engaged or honeymooning straight couples, but civil marriage can continue to impact both spouses (arguably, for the better) years or decades after ending in divorce.

Oh if it only lasted a summer... it is a death. When kids are involved, you must quickly find a way to forgive or at least suck it up so it looks like you have.

Trying to be your highest self is a nice ideal, but I hope the book has room for those days when your highest self has been emotionally sucker punched. There is no way to get through this process without seeing new lows not only in your ex, but in yourself.

Maybe that's just me.

Seeingeyegrrl | September 18, 2011 1:58 PM

As the first one in line in my county when my state allowed Domestic Partners, I was also the first, a few months later, to file for a dissolution. Whatever it is called rendering two lives who have been joined together for years is not an easy process. While there were not chldren involved (which does make life much more complicated) there were other things that made it difficult. Looking back now, I can say that it has been a wonderful, growing and learning process(ok and hell) and while I haven't read Debbie Ford's book, I do agree with some of the ideas. One of the things I learned was the importance of the public declaration of sharing your lives. I didn't really think a piece of paper would make a difference. It did, it a good way for me, and a negative way for my partner. It was a new sort of 'outness' and the public side of divorce and breakup is the same. We are all the same, we hurt and bleed and have broken hearts. There is nothing to be ashamed about. Life, at some point, will again be okay. Sara, give it some more time...