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Say NO to Divorce Shame

Updated: Sep 28, 2021

Say NO to Divorce Shame [A Candid Conversation with Dr. Anne Morgan]

On June 23, 2021, the Starting Over Stronger Podcast released an episode where I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Anne Morgan of Thrive Once More, a Kansas City based Health and Wellness Clinic, to discuss the prevalence of and prescription for divorce shame.

Whether you’ve endured multiple divorces, only one, or you’re in the middle of your first, you have probably dealt with shame—and maybe are still dealing with shame. A common emotion, shame is insidious in its damage to our lives, so it is incredibly important to understand and work on replacing shame in our lives.


Dr. Anne Morgan is a former emergency medicine doctor and Founder of Thrive Once More where she assists patients in matters of nutrition, physical activity and hormonal wellness. She has nearly 20 years of medical experience to add to her personal experiences with marriage, divorce, and the shame that seems indivisible from divorce. We had an incredible conversation about what is at the root of shame, what shame can cause and how you can face and overcome shame. Your ability to make better decisions in the future depends largely on you working through your shame. It is hard, but rewarding, work that you will not regret.


Dr. Morgan shared about her own multiple divorce stories in the interview, where she shared the intimate details of what led her into her two marriages, how she awakened to the dysfunction and need to complete those relationships in her life as well as what her “multiple attempts at love have taught her,” a phrase that resonated strongly with me. I stopped to repeat it on the show and bring attention to the importance of recognizing that relationships come and go in our lives as part of our ever-evolving journey on this earth. They are meant to teach us, so we can do better going forward. Shame gets in the way of that growth like a blood clot gets in the way of healthy heart function.

Dr. Morgan speaks both of becoming more and more confident and better equipped to set boundaries in her relationships, but she also admits that she was easily swept away from that with feelings of acceptance that pulled her back in a direction she didn’t really want to go. Eventually exiting what she refers to as an abusive relationship, she became a single mother, still working as a new doctor and in residency, and then began looking for anything opposite of what she had experienced in her first marriage.


Her second marriage happened fairly quickly, and she thought it was mostly going just fine. She still says that it was successful in a lot of ways, including in the eventual divorce. Not a lot of drama. You know it’s a good divorce when your shared attorney says, “This has been the easiest divorce I’ve ever done. Can you all please teach a course on how to get divorced?


One important revelation from Dr. Morgan’s story is that your divorce can be difficult or it can be the simplest ever, and you are still going to face the shame of a failed relationship either way, especially when there is more than one failed relationship. Just because a divorce process is easy, doesn’t mean the healing and recovery from it are going to be easy. Those are two very different things. The truth is the psychology of the shame around divorce is the same whether you divorce once, twice, or three times or more. It may just compound with multiple divorces. But where does shame come from?


Dr. Morgan feels that there’s a shame that happens when we fail, period. Whether in marriage, parenting or our careers. Further, she really believes that the shame that she has allowed herself to feel, over failing in the marriage arena, as with a lot of other things, is probably from childhood. The childhood trauma of just not ever feeling accepted or truly seen. Growing up she admits she felt lonely, even in her own immediate family.


1. THE F-WORD LEADS TO SHAME

One of the biggest contributors to divorce shame, from Coach Annie’s perspective is the F-word. That four-letter F-word. No, I don’t mean your tendency to cuss as you get a divorce. I mean, F-A-I-L, fail. The word we use most often when we describe what happened to our former marriage, just as mentioned above. We have talked about this a few times on the Starting Over Stronger show. What if relationships don’t actually fail, but are just completed?

Life is a journey. We are always growing and changing, so the actual truth is that once something or someone—a job, a friendship, a hobby, a marriage—has served its purpose in our lives, it is completed, and now we can keep moving on. So, when you get to that point, where you are finally done trying, is it really a failure? No. It’s a completion. That person and that relationship have served their purpose in your life. It is time to release the old and pursue and embrace the new. I believe that understanding alone takes away a lot of shame.

2. THE GUILT OF OUTGROWING SOMEONE LEADS TO SHAME

A second way shame gets in is this feeling of guilt that we have given up too soon on someone who we, at least at some time, loved deeply. My coaching recommendation is to never apologize for outgrowing someone who had the opportunity to grow with you. It’s one thing if you haphazardly throw away a marriage without even giving it a chance for repair and restoration, but I don’t think a lot of people do that. I think most divorcing people have tried hard to make their marriages work. Sometimes they’ve tried way longer than they should have for their own well-being and that of their children.

Along with understanding that it is okay to acknowledge having outgrown a person or relationship, it is also important to let go of the idea that your former partner was fully in the wrong or a bad person in some way, or that you were wrong or bad for choosing them. Instead, grab ahold of the truth that you lived, you learned, and you deserve, as we all do, to get what you give in a future relationship. You have outgrown the old you who needed that former dysfunction in your relationship or yourself. Now, you can learn to know and love the new you and attract something and someone more in alignment.

3. NOT UNDERSTANDING OUR TRUE SELF LEADS TO SHAME

A third avenue for shame is in a lack of understanding about ourselves as part of the completions of any primary love relationships. What led you to choose that person? What have you learned within that now completed relationship? What caused you to tolerate or participate in any dysfunctional or toxic patterns that existed within it? What have you discovered about yourself and your abilities, your newfound self-confidence to choose a more suitable mate in the future? How have you learned to know and love yourself more?

Dr. Morgan stresses the importance that this self-love is how we become successful in future relationships, and I couldn’t agree more. I often talk with my clients about how critical it is to KNOW and LOVE yourself before you ever consider opening yourself up to a new relationship. When we truly gain the confidence and awareness of what we absolutely will not compromise for, we can then design our future relationships in a way that we know we can be successful. What a powerful truth!

4. SHARING OUR STORY WITH THE WRONG PEOPLE LEADS TO SHAME

The final point I want to share about the causes of shame is that when you’re going through a divorce, it’s wise to keep your circle small. Refrain from sharing your story with too many details and with too many people. The fact that you are going through a divorce is not most people’s business. If it doesn’t directly affect them, they don’t need to know. Just be aware that even in those small circles of people who do need to know or for whom it’s important to you for them to know, sometimes someone still says something stupid and insensitive, especially when there’s a situation with a toxic relationship or abuse that they simply cannot understand—and may not even believe. Whether people intend it or not, whether they have any idea of the power of their words, the responses to our sharing of our divorce stories can be crippling when you are already emotionally fragile, so please be overly cautious. When you do have that conversation, be sure to approach it from a standpoint of decidedness and transparency. Let them know your decision had been made, you are resolute about it and not looking for their advice or opinions. Share with them that you are feeling all the feelings, from the good to the pain and the shame. In this way, you can offset some of the shame they might (even inadvertently) put on you, by just acknowledging that you’re already feeling it.


These are four important ways shame can get in. I wish divorce did not inherently come with such regret and shame. After all, those who file for divorce are often the people willing to admit there’s an irreconcilable problem for the purpose of solving it—and there’s no shame in that. The brave ones who have done all they can to resolve issues, and ultimately choose divorce as the final solution, rather than continuing to tolerate dysfunction, toxicity or abuse are the ones who have the least reason to be ashamed. What’s really a shame is staying stuck in something harmful to you, your spouse, and your kids, that repeats patterns of generational sin and pain, that models dysfunction to children who will inevitably repeat it, rather than choosing to do something different and healthier.

Shame is corrosive. It’s deadly. It’s dysfunctional. It’s just no good. Nothing good ever comes from it. Whether you’re still stuck in a bad marriage and struggling to accept it’s need for dissolution, if you are in the middle of a divorce, or you’ve left or been left once, twice or three times or more, shame is not inevitable. It’s not the answer. It’s a symptom of a problem that you can solve. A mindset problem. As Dr. Morgan said in our conversation, “It’s really a very powerful emotion, and it kind of pervades everything else you think. It starts with that kind of negative self-talk reel that goes on in our brain. So when we’re feeling shame, it pervades everything else we do.” Dr. Morgan also shared this amazing Brene Brown quote, “Loving ourselves through the process of owning our story is the bravest thing we will ever do.”


Speaking of bravery, Dr. Morgan used the word powerful or power many times in our conversation. I found that to be quite appropriate because ALL your power lies in your willingness to stop looking at the other person and start looking inward. Blame and shame are like evil twin sisters who feed off one another’s evil deeds. To choose not to assign blame is to choose to walk away from the whole concept of shame. It is to realize that there’s no reason to place blame in one court or the other. Instead, we can choose to just acknowledge the reality of what existed, and what now exists, and choose instead to turn our focus on what we have the ability to change, which is only ourselves. That is your powerhouse. This is the very essence of empowerment—a powerful and peaceful place to be. It feels amazing to decide someday finally, to just say, “You know what, I don’t care what my ex did. I’m done thinking and worrying about that. He or she can be whoever they are and whoever they want to be, but here’s who I want to be. And here’s what I want to do… here’s the kind of relationship that I want to have. And if I can’t create that here, I’ll go where I can create it.”


The best news I can share with anyone today is that if you are reading this, you too can join Dr. Morgan and I in breaking the cycle of shame for yourself and your family. As shared many times in many places by Brene Brown, shame cannot survive being spoken, cannot survive empathy. “So when you start to bring to light the places, when you feel shame and particularly when you share it with someone and they can empathize with you, then that shame disappears,” said Dr. Morgan. The release of shame is far from instantaneous. Dr. Morgan reminds us that it requires consistent work and listening to your gut, but that you can move out of shame and begin to extricate it from your life and the lives of those around you. It’s an incredibly powerful place to be and people tend to just naturally gravitate toward us when living shame-free becomes a part of who we are.


Beware, this kind of awareness work and dispelling of shame in our minds has the power to be life-changing! You will truly never be the same if you learn how to say no to shame.  Not just in your primary relationship, but in every relationship that you allow in your life. You’re a different and stronger and smarter person because of what your attempts at love have taught you. Celebrate that. It’s an incredible gift. You are better equipped for your future. When shame comes knocking at your door, remind it that you are not going backwards. You know why you did what you did in your past, you have resolved all the questions and you know that you are right where you are supposed to be, and that for today, and every day, that is enough.


Dr. Morgan and I talked about so many more incredible aspects of how shame and divorce intersect. I invite you to tune into the show on your favorite podcast app or “Say NO to Divorce Shame” is right here for your listening pleasure!



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