I am about to be disowned.
November 13, 2014 8:03 AM   Subscribe

Have you ever dropped a bomb on your life? Been disowned by your parents? Shunned by your extended family and community? Please tell me about it.

I'm looking for experiences of people who have done things like: come out to a very conservative family, disavowed their religion, gotten a scandalous divorce, etc.

I fall into the scandalous divorce category.

I am a 39 year old female. I come from a large, close-knit, religious Muslim family, living in North America. I'm married with two children. And I am about to tell my parents that I had an affair.

My husband and I have been having problems for months; I want to go, he wants me to stay. He recently learned of my affair and gave me two choices: stay and nobody knows, or leave and everyone knows (our parents, extended families, kids, and the community at large). There will be no middle ground; this is guaranteed.

My family's reaction will be extreme. They will disown me. I know this for a fact; my parents know my marriage has been in trouble and have already told me what the consequences will be if I divorce.

Now with the added knowledge of the affair, they will be devastated and ashamed. So will my extended family and cultural/religious community. It will send shockwaves throughout the family. I will be shunned; my parents will be shamed. If I make this choice, I'll be ripping apart the very fabric of my life. No more family gatherings, no more cultural events, no...nothing. I'll be on my own (with my kids). This will affect us greatly, obviously.

If anyone has been through anything like this, I'd like to know what it felt like. I'm not asking whether I should do it. I'm asking what it will be like if I do. Answers from mefites who come from a strong cultural or religious background will be especially welcomed. Thank you.
posted by puppet du sock to Society & Culture (41 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
stay and nobody knows, or leave and everyone knows

This is one of those fine lines where it's difficult for me to see the difference between "knowing the consequences" and "extortion".

You seem mostly focused on the mental / psychic aspects of this. But I would suggest that your top priority be the physical safety and well-being of you and your children. Will you have shelter? Will you have food? Will you have money, healthcare, etc?

If you're confident that you have all of that stuff handled, then all I can do is wish you the best on what certainly looks to be a difficult course.
posted by doctor tough love at 8:15 AM on November 13, 2014 [12 favorites]

Response by poster: I have the physical/logistical stuff pretty well handled. My kids and I will be safe. It's the emotional fallout that terrifies me.
posted by puppet du sock at 8:26 AM on November 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'll be on my own (with my kids).

Are you sure about this? With that kind of vindictiveness on the part of your husband I would be wary of losing them too. I recommend doing everything you can to develop a strong support network outside of your family/cultural group before leaving.

I have voluntarily left my support network behind (relocating for my husband's job) while in a bad marriage, and that was a profoundly negative and isolating experience. Take care of yourself.
posted by headnsouth at 8:28 AM on November 13, 2014 [4 favorites]

It will be a like a death but worst, because you'll know they're alive and actively choosing to avoid you, while thinking the worst of you. Things will be hard, because your support network will be gone and you'll come to realize how much you depended on it. It will be brutal because your family, the people you've loved the most and presumably have loved you the most, will be shunning you at a time you need them the most (divorce) and when you're trying to do something to make your life better. The hurt will be immeasurable, because it'll go on for a long time (possibly the rest of your life in some ways). You will alternate between loathing yourself, feeling like a failure and loathing those who shun you, even as you hunger for the smallest sign of their love. In many ways, you will be starting from scratch, but with crippled legs as you seek to rebuild your support network, so start looking now.

This will be hurt like nothing else in your life has, in ways you can't imagine, for a length of time that wll be unbearable. But you can survive it. It will be incredibly hard, but it can be done.

Best of luck to you.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:32 AM on November 13, 2014 [18 favorites]

while you don't mention what your relationship to your own faith will be like after this, and even if you will still be a practicing muslim, you might find some good support and suggestions in the subreddit for exmuslims.
posted by nadawi at 8:37 AM on November 13, 2014 [4 favorites]

Speaking from personal experience, it is as bad or as liberating and wonderful as you want it to be.

- Start therapy for you and your children.

- Plan for alternative or zero support systems...

:Holidays with friends, or go on vacation.

:Hire sitters instead of dropping children off at Grandma's or whatever.

- Make lists of EVERYTHING that will change for you and your children, plan contingencies.

- Move, change schools, make new friends. I think sticking around in your old environment while being shunned is the worst. So, get into a new environment with new people.

- Grieve your loss, but do not wallow in self-pity.

- Do you have cultural habits that separate you from other groups? You might want to rethink some of that, you're part of a larger family now.

Two more things:

It gets SO MUCH EASIER with Time.

You will come to loathe the beliefs that made your suffering and ostracization (is that even a word??) OK, yet you will remember your family fondly, albeit from a distance. Like, you'll see the actions taken against you as exceptionally unenlightened, and you will be very very happy you don't live like that any longer.

I think this is a blessing you are about to experience. My advice is "Don't Fight It."

You're not a conformist. They are. There is no middle ground unless you are willing to swallow your soul and die on the inside to keep up appearances.

Stay alive and vibrant. Be true. Don't promote hate by accepting an offer where you lose yourself, and therefore, everything.

Stay strong.
posted by jbenben at 8:38 AM on November 13, 2014 [20 favorites]

It's the emotional fallout that terrifies me.

Definitely try lining up some support now for this, 'cause it will be so very hard for you (while still being possible). I'm not familiar with the Muslim community at all, but try looking into Unitarian churches/communities as they're very open and non-traditional and that may offer some respite and a welcoming atmosphere.

Look for a more progressive Muslim community, so you and the kids can stay in touch with your spiritual side (if you want) and find solace in the traditions you've grown up with. You're going to need a lot of emotional care, so the big thing is too seek it out, don't be afraid to ask for it, even if it's from groups you normally wouldn't (like a Unitarian church).
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:39 AM on November 13, 2014 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: I think the safety aspect may be somewhat distracting/derailing and I apologize for not making things clearer.

Yes, my husband will be very vindictive and angry. Yes, I am worried that our children will be trapped in the middle. These are very real concerns, and I am doing my best to address them. I have a very good lawyer, a great boss, and a strong network of friends to support me.

This question is specifically about the emotional consequences of losing my family/community.
posted by puppet du sock at 8:41 AM on November 13, 2014 [5 favorites]

You're going to grieve.
No two people will do this the same way.
I won't trot out the Kubler Ross "5 Stages of Grief" because I believe this article discusses this process much better.

Peace be with you.
posted by John Kennedy Toole Box at 8:47 AM on November 13, 2014 [4 favorites]

It maybe not exactly the same but my last year my family was ripped apart when my SIL left my drug addicted brother who had been abusing her for years. She lives in a small town, the only person that took her side was my 74 yo mother & I. Every single other friend we had, family member & passing acquaintance in the town took my brothers side as he made himself out to be the victim in the whole incident. The three of us lost our friends, family members, my SIL lost her job & our entire support network.

What I would tell myself if I could go back in time.

Be prepared to grieve. Be prepared to get angry, very very very angry & then grieve some more. Be surprised at the people you thought you could trust that will let you down, and the strangers that will lift you up. Be prepared for the vindictiveness of people that will get involved in things that aren't their business. That will insult you, egg your car, even hit you randomly as you wait at the bank because they have heard only one side of the story, and that side makes you the enemy. Even though in my case I no longer lived in that town but on the other side of the world You will grieve & grieve some more, you will second guess yourself and your decisions.

Do not get caught up in the drama, don't feed it. If people think they have a right to email/facebook/IM you the drama or their opinions or whatever, don't read them, if you read them don't respond. Delete is your friend, email filters even more so.

Get your ducks in a row. Make sure you are covered legally, make really really sure, hurt & anger make people do things you couldn't imagine them doing. Get that & the money side down pat before you say a thing. Allow yourself time to grieve, accept that it is a step you have to go through, but you go through it you won't stay there.

The best thing we all did was get a therapist. The next best thing was move the hell away. Problems that seem so big because your community is tied up with theirs can get so much easier a few towns over where no one knows who the hell you are.
posted by wwax at 8:47 AM on November 13, 2014 [27 favorites]

Nthing that it's like your entire family dying, but worse. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time and space to grieve this loss.

The /r/exmuslim community on Reddit has a ton of links to useful resources in the sidebar.
posted by Jacqueline at 8:49 AM on November 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

"What it felt like...."

Okay, like being dropped into space without a parachute. I knew that I didn't want to be part of the culture that I was raised in (understatement), but I didn't have another set of values and principles with which to live my life. THAT was the hardest part. Also, feeling like I would never be understood or accepted by my family for the person that I really am.

Build a bridge for yourself. Make a list of the positive attributes of your faith/culture. Make a list of what qualities has caused you and others suffering that you want to leave behind. I did this, slowly, over time. It helped to keep me from losing myself, and also clarified for me what kind of person I wanted to be, and what I wanted for my future.

If I were to give any advice to my younger self it would be to get a therapist. And join a support group for people who were in a similar situation as I was. I would try to move through all the feelings of guilt and shame much more actively. Just remember, you were trained to have these intense feelings of shame/guilt to keep you corralled into conforming to your culture's expectations of you. Now that you aren't conforming, you are probably going to have these feelings time ten, which is going to be very uncomfortable. Make sure to be very gentle with yourself.
posted by nanook at 8:49 AM on November 13, 2014 [8 favorites]

It will be like losing your entire family/religious community in one big, awful accident. To make it easier on you:

*Therapist. Get one now, for yourself and for your children, if you don't already have one. Let them know what's coming so they can help you prepare and work you through the process.

*Stay off social media if your family is active. At the very least, start blocking those people on Facebook, etc. You don't have to delete your accounts if you don't want to, but you absolutely should start blocking everyone so you don't accidentally run across something (like a party or a holiday celebration) that will make you feel awful.

*Let yourself grieve. Be sad, be angry, feel all the feelings you want. Curl up on the couch and watch awful movies. Indulge in lovely self-care (facials, pedicures, massages).

*Join support groups if that's your thing. It's okay if it's not.

*Do not, under any circumstances, be afraid to ask for help.
posted by cooker girl at 8:52 AM on November 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

Adding to nadawai's/Jacqueline's comments, you'll find similar experiences of being disowned/excommunicated in the Exmormon subreddit.
posted by almostmanda at 8:52 AM on November 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

Ah, an affair makes your past questions make much more sense. I don't speak to anyone related to me by blood except my son. It's incredibly difficult. Your daughters will be worse off for it.

Prepare for a brutal, humiliating custody battle. Default is 50/50 unless he's actively abusing the kids. You'll be sharing them with someone actively hostile.

Please don't move in with your affair partner. If possible I strongly suggest ending it and delaying the separation for a year. Get your ducks in a row, work on your marriage. If it doesn't work anyway I imagine your husband will be a lot less hostile, and who knows, you might escape being shunned.

Really, how utterly traumatic to your children this will be. I hope it's worth it.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 8:53 AM on November 13, 2014 [6 favorites]

Also, I am focused on your well-being--but you should know that watching your children desperately miss their old life, knowing you're the one who took it from them, is indescribably painful. If you give it a decent shot first you'll know you at least did what you could, which is a comfort. If you leave abruptly because of an affair, your guilt will be compounded.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 8:56 AM on November 13, 2014 [8 favorites]

I have not experienced exactly what you describe; my experience was in high school, when everyone decided someone else was more credible than I was. I felt even worse later when she was found out as the liar, because people do not like to be wrong or angry with themselves for being wrong; they took this out on me.

Sometimes people come around and want contact with you again (this may not happen with you since it sounds like there will be very strong pressure to prevent them doing so). If they do, please do what feels right to YOU inside, and be careful; their intentions will not necessarily be bad, but the social pressure will be enormous and if they are found out, they may do something to "punish" you even more to make themselves look good. This feels even worse. You think you have just found the one person who still supports you and is brave enough to contact you - and then they turn on you, becoming glorious in the eyes of the others.

It is truly awful to be actively shunned and shamed by people who used to be your support, but eventually you make new friends, new connections, and you find your own way. The things that happen in between are up to you. There are many things a person can do solo, and there will be classes to take, things to learn, books to read, fun activities to do with your children, etc. It will be an overwhelming sadness, unhappiness, and unfairness for awhile, but you must still do daily activities and eventually there is enough time between now and then that the sting is mostly gone.

If I had known then what I know now, I would still do the same thing and out that girl as a liar. You cannot spend the rest of your life in a miserable relationship being held hostage like that. It will crush your spirit. Go, be free.
posted by AllieTessKipp at 8:58 AM on November 13, 2014

Footsteps is an organization for people who are leaving/have left ultra-orthodoxy. You might find some of what you are looking for on their website.
posted by Sophie1 at 9:00 AM on November 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

A family friend was disowned by her parents and entire extended family when she married her husband. She was Hindu and he was Muslim, and they were different races. Her parents' objection to the relationship was complicated by the fact that this guy is really not a good guy. He's not someone any parent would want their daughter to marry, and I wonder if she might not have doubled down on a bad situation if they had supported her more. At one point they married her off without her permission (yes) -- that's the kind of claustrophobic pressure she was seeking to leave when she left with this guy. In general, she had... issues... and I wonder how much of that was the psychological strain of her parents' disowning her.

So, y'know... just something to think about as you move on; we're all subject to making poor decisions under pressure, and you will be under a heck of a lot of pressure in the coming years. Is this affair guy someone you want to be with? Is he someone you absolutely don't want to be with? Do you want to be with anyone romantically in the wake of your divorce? Most importantly, are you reasonably sure of your decision-making, despite the familial and community pressure you're under?

At any rate, my mom was a second mom to this woman for years, so she did have that support. But without the family she expected, she was pretty unmoored. Her family did finally come around, kind of. A few years in, one sibling started defying the ban, secretly and then openly. Some cousins eventually joined in and finally her parents reached out because they wanted to get to know their grandkids. The last I heard their relationship was rocky and sporadic, but that was years ago.

This is not the only disownment I know of where grandkids made the difference. Either some relationship is maintained through the grandkids, or a detente is eventually reached because the grandparents can't stand not having access to the grandkids at all. I'm genuinely not sure whether that's a good thing. In some cases, maybe, but just maintaining that relationship sometimes causes so much stress I wonder if it's really worth it.
posted by lesli212 at 9:00 AM on November 13, 2014 [4 favorites]

Oh and I should note that a lot of relationships don't survive the stress of one party going through a divorce, custody battle, etc. That's why I absolutely do not suggest moving in with your affair partner, but frankly, relying on them for anything emotionally is going to be risky. If that relationship collapses or goes bad, your emotional pain will be compounded, as will your guilt and anger. Make 100% sure you are prepared emotionally and materially to make it without this person.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 9:02 AM on November 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

It wasn't so much the result of some bombshell decision, but a course of events when I was younger led to my estrangement from my father--and therefore estrangement from my father's entire side of the family. I had a hard time with it. I still have a hard time with it. He died a few weeks ago and there were no dramatic, heartfelt apologies. I've cried, a lot. But--if I look back at the last decade of my life, versus the decades before that where he and his family were more present in my life, the proof is in the proverbial pudding. I am better off than I would have been if I had done what I had to do to keep contact with them. That doesn't make it easy; that makes it right. You can make new connections, new traditions, maybe they'll forgive you someday but even if they don't, lots of people are not as connected to their families as you are presently and they are perfectly happy that way.

My family was fairly culturally conservative on both sides--Mexican and largely Catholic on one side, stiff-upper-lip kinds of Yankees on the other. I grew up sort of thinking that sort of family approval was necessary, definitely, and it's been a hard time getting away from it. Therapy is so, so helpful. But at some point, it's freeing. I still do some holidays with my mom's family, but I am much more independent now and it feels great to get to do things because I want to instead of because of how someone else will feel about them. I may never be able to mend fences with my dad's family, but I have an interview tomorrow for my dream job and it's something I never, ever would have pursued if I was still trying to get their approval.

You say you have a strong network of friends--and that, I think, is the determining factor. If you have that, you'll be fine. You'll still have bad nights where the regrets pile up, but never let that convince you that you needed the approval of people who were not concerned with your happiness.
posted by Sequence at 9:34 AM on November 13, 2014 [6 favorites]

Once the smoke clears, and you've semi-recovered from the blow, expect a series of pendulum swings whereby your imagination's focus keeps bouncing between you and them.

You'll have days where you feel self-loathing, then days where you're clear it had nothing to do with you; that it's solely about their ignorance and baseless anger. You'll have periods where you miss them, in spite of it all, and concoct schemes for disarming them and making them see reason, and you'll have periods where you hate them and wouldn't want to go near them if you could. You'll go up and down, back and forth, through clarity and fog, mourning and hate. Over and over, like an internal boxing match.

Eventually, you'll stop bouncing, and see clearly through the haze of your upbringing - where parents tower as special, powerful beings - and you'll see the situation clearly and statically: they're just everyday damaged people (and everyone's damaged one way or another) doing their best with what they've got. Not particularly evil on the spectrum of human evil. Just people with a certain mindset and proclivities that you or I can't relate to. You'll feel a modicum of tolerance for their intolerance, despite the paradox, and you will grow as a result.

Either that, or you'll keep mentally boxing forever and die embittered. Hope not.
posted by Quisp Lover at 9:56 AM on November 13, 2014 [4 favorites]

So, although it was fairly short lived, my family refused to have anything to do with me when I came out. I still had the support of my spouse, but he said the noise I made after I hung up the phone after talking to my mom that night sounded like an animal keening. I'm not proud of that, but it felt like an organ being ripped out of me. Family was always so important to me.

We eventually reconciled, and I would say that if your parents do decide later that they want reconciliation, be prepared for your family relationships to be different. You will not be the daughter you were. My family has a hard time now with the fact that I haven't come back as the same person I was. I'm not enmeshed the way I was. I can walk away so much easier from conflict now. My boundaries are strong. When brother X wants someone to intervene to help him with a conflict with sister Y, I am not that person. I say, "I'm sorry, that doesn't involve me. I suggest you work it out with her directly." My parents think I'm a colder person now, and I am. I wouldn't say it was my heart that was ripped out - I still love, and laugh, and have empathy for my fellow humans - but whatever organ it is that defines you as a part of your family - once that was ripped out for me, it's gone. It's not there anymore. I can't grow it back even if I wanted to - it's just .... gone.

That said, in a lot of ways my relationships are better now with my parents and siblings. They respect the fact that I told the truth, that I had to be true to myself, that living lies was slowly eroding me. But no matter how close I am to them now - and my mom and I have grown especially close - there is that bit of distance there, and there always will be. It's one of the few things in life that you truly can't fully undo, or make up for, or erase. It's permanent.
posted by RogueTech at 9:57 AM on November 13, 2014 [16 favorites]

I don't have the exact same situation, but can relate to aspects of it. I took a job over from one of the first Muslim women in my country to get a divorce. She was still getting bad shit from the community 25 yrs later.. stalkery weirdos and paint thrown on her car. She had developed some pretty dysfunctional coping habits but she stood by herself.. speaking out about it. Not easy at all.. but if you decide to go for it.. you've got to stand by yourself and I don't know how old your kids are but they will likely 'hate' you and affair man for a long time and see you as breaking up their family. When they are old enough, I'd strongly suggest talking around how and why affairs can happen.. that there was likely a crack there to begin with, it's not as simple imho about people being 'good' or 'bad' (generally speaking, ofcourse there can be exceptions). Know the chances of your relationship working out with affair man are very very low.. look at the stats and if it has a chance it has to be an incredibly robust relationship able to withstand the guilt and shaky beginning and transition to reality and being around real life crap. Please care what your kids think of him if he's in the picture.. and know this will be harder for them to look at even remotely neutrally with the force of a community against it.

I estranged a parent for 10 yrs. I got a hell of a lot of shit about it and if my background had been different it would have been way worse than it was. Few people will undersatnd and you can feel very very very alone. THAT SAID. As painful as it was, I had to be true to myself at any cost. Remember those casting stones may well be not so true to themselves in areas of their lives. We are all 'flawed' humans and morality is a complex maze. If you can stand all that.. sometime in the future you will be able to make connections with people who judge you as the person they meet.. not as someone with this 'past'. There are free thinkers out there and they may help with some respite you will be likely to really need. I feel for you.. these situations are sensitive and layered enough without all that too....
posted by tanktop at 10:05 AM on November 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

Being shunned and condemned is painful, but it is also freeing. I like the phrase "ripping the Band-Aid off" to describe it. After they've cut you out of their lives, there's nothing more they can do to you. You can live the life you choose, without worrying about displeasing them or shaming them anymore. It's way more difficult and way more satisfying to figure out what you personally value and try to live up to that for your own sake and for the ripple effect you want to have on the world, instead of living by other people's values out of (habit? keeping the peace? not thinking through all the possibilities? fear of being shunned?).

I have a friend who is only separated from family by distance, not by disagreements like this, or like me and my family. And she gets really stressed and weepy about having "no family" to spend the holidays with. It doesn't make sense to me because it's like, she skypes and calls and mails gifts and has a flexible enough career that if she really wanted to, she could start applying to jobs that would let her move closer to them. But every year, it's this huge stressful thing for her, this big emptiness in her life that makes her feel not good enough around the holidays.

Maybe someday she'll take me up on my holiday-time invitations to movies, volunteering, cooking and watching TV, visiting a service for a different faith, whatever it is that I'm doing that year. I share this because she and I are examples of how the strength of a relationship with family (or lack thereof) doesn't determine how tough the holidays are emotionally. There's a huge component of your emotional wellbeing that your own actions can affect, regardless of your family's choices.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 10:10 AM on November 13, 2014 [6 favorites]

It won't feel the same for you as it did for some of us because you are already reaching out. You are not doing this without a road map.

You can make this a supreme success.

I see no reason to continue in relationships that depend on your misery, unhappiness, and acceptance of submission. That's a form of slavery. The world is much much bigger and you don't need this in your life.

Join us in emotional and relationship freedom! You'll find strength inside you never knew you had. You will feel fuller as a human being. You won't regret taking this path!!
posted by jbenben at 10:35 AM on November 13, 2014 [7 favorites]

Very much like ripping the bandaid off and then discovering to my astonishment that I could finally breathe, I was no longer being smothered.

When I was bedridden for nearly four months, I ended up losing all my (so-called) friends. After not hearing for me for months, one friend got in touch. After 45 minutes of listening to her whine and rant about petty bullshit in her own life, I interrupted her to say "I am fighting for my life here and you haven't even asked how I am." The phone call ended right after that and I never heard from her again. And good riddance.

My family didn't outright disown me, but they have largely distanced themselves from me. When one of them tried to get back into my life, mostly to judge me, grill me, and talk down to me, I then did all I could to distance myself from them.

People who are so poisoned by their beliefs that they will do this to you: You are better off without them.

I also was unfaithful to my husband. It was a very life giving experience. I ultimately did not stay with the man with whom I had an affair. At one time, I read everything I could get my hands on with regards to such topics. Most of the time, the affair does not lead to true love or happily ever after. Most of the time, it is a catalyst to get someone out of a terrible, suffocating situation.

My fear of what it would be like was so much worse than reality. The reality has been positive compared to what I thought it would be like. I am mostly alone with my two (now adult) sons. We are very good to each other and very loyal to each other and I have a situation that is genuine supportive and it's really a good experience. Though there are ways in which I do still feel shunned, socially isolated and so on and I am clear there are ways in which that is a problem -- except, it's a problem in the sense of "I don't have some optimal situation that we all get told we should have but, in reality, most of us do not have." The reality is given the choice between putting up with all the expectations and so forth to keep my so-called support network vs having my actual freedom and actual support from a much shorter list of people, then yeah, this is so very much the better choice.

It hurt and then I was unburdened. And I didn't know how much weight I had been carrying until it so suddenly fell away. And the aftermath was much more positive than I thought it would be. The things I feared turned out to be boogiemen.

((HUGS)) if you want them. And best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 10:37 AM on November 13, 2014 [5 favorites]

I did this, more than 15 years ago now. As you will see though, there are some differences in circumstance, so maybe this answer is not very useful.

The religion: Eastern Orthodox Christianity. Very patriarchal, great emphasis on obedience, humility and renunciation, abdication of personhood into the hands of authority figures (all male) and socio-religious norms (elaborated by men).

The background: My family was multi-abusive, and a lot of what went down between us was justified as god’s will; my task was to bow my head, not demure, and let my betters determine the course of my life. So I ended up questioning the validity of church pronouncements, church authority and religious practice for a long time,before my divorce. I think this pre-existing reticence when it came to parental dictates and opinions made it easier for me to deal with the fallout of the divorce.

The divorce: I married young (18), took it for granted that I had to because of reasons, and assumed that the sacrament of marriage would imbue our relationship with all that it lacked. It didn’t. I quickly realized I didn’t love my husband, and loathed sleeping with him. At 22 I decided to break it off, knowing the shitstorm that would await.

Other people’s reaction: Nobody explicitly said to me: “We will shun you”, or “You are no longer my daughter”. But I must have heard “Only whores divorce” hundreds of times. No-one made a show of turning their back on me, but most people in my family and those connected to them virtually burst with self-righteous contempt each time they talked to me. My parents instructed my still-husband to either give me a thorough thrashing or to have me sectioned – because I obviously was either evil and in need of punishment or crazy and in need of, I don’t know, being medicated into compliance and sanity. The most mellow reactions came from those who put on a martyr’s demeanour and declared, in an act of faux Christian humility, that my sin was their cross to bear for failings that God in his wisdom had decided to punish them for.

I did have a great group of friends at that time, who mostly couldn’t care less about the divorce. I found incredible support in a friend who was going through something similar.

My reaction: I felt triumphant and liberated. The marriage, or rather the sexual aspects, had been traumatic, so breaking up also felt therapeutic, almost like convalescence. I was unsurprised by my parents’ et al. reaction, and had long despised the worldview that justified virtually casting someone out for divorcing and associated “sins” (especially if that someone was a woman). The more prissy and judgmental they or other people were, the angrier and contemptuous I became. Whilst they did not, officially, sever their ties with me, I did so myself when their passive-aggressiveness became more aggressive than passive.

Miscellaneous thoughts many years later:

- It is after many years that I realized that these events took a toll on me. At that time, outrage and anger and contempt on the one hand, and the sheer ecstasy of freedom on the other overshadowed everything else. But underneath there was also a lot of anguish, since my parents’ reaction around my divorce foregrounded, as it were, something I had long felt: that their agenda(s), and the opinions of irrelevant people were far more important to them than I was, and that they would have done anything to bend me to their will. This was, and continues to be, a very hard thing to deal with.

- As per the above, anger and contempt were my friends during a good part of my marriage and divorce (and childhood, but that is a different story). Because of them I felt no sadness, hesitation or fear, just a wonderful sense of liberation. In time, though, this strategy for dealing with tough stuff turned out incredibly unsatisfying and simultaneously hard to get rid of. So: useful at that point, but a liability n many, if not most, other occasions.

- I ended up with a severe mistrust of ideologies, promises and people, especially people in my family.

- When I decided to divorce, I thought that my main reason was that I didn’t love my husband. It was only many years later (and, to some extent, after I began to read AskMe) that I realized how dysfunctional my relationship had been. We initially bonded, at least in part, because we both had a proto-feminist and “fight for freedom, dignity and equality” stance (this was a few years after a revolution in my country). After we got married his position changed completely, and so did his behavior. For example, he relentlessly mocked or threatened me when I refused to gender-perform (for example, by not being a model housewife). He frequently ganged up on me with others – “jokingly” or sort of concern-trollerish, but the subtext was, in hindsight, quite serious. There are quite a few other things, down to blackmail, using his physicality in a threatening manner etc. I was never passionate about him, but I think my disaffection progressed in lock-step with his behavior, which was increasingly domineering and dismissive of me. Whist I was in the thick of things I didn’t see this very clearly, but at a distance it is painfully obvious. I’m glad I fell out of love with him, and glad I left.

- I know his behavior was and still is congruent with some of the misogynistic beliefs of, amongst others, my parents; this continues to create a big distance in my heart between me and them, regardless of whether they disavow me or not (it’s almost like our hearts disavow each other). Sometimes this makes me feel very lonely.

- I’ve never regretted leaving, NEVER. Despite the fact that I feel like I will die without completely digesting what happened between me and my family. Despite the fact that my life hasn’t turned out to be a bed of roses since, and that I don’t seem to have learned much when it comes to choosing a partner. Still one of the decisions I’m most proud of.

- The only person I had to take care of (emotionally, logistically) was me, and I was 22. I think matters would have been quite different if I would have had to take care of the emotional needs of two children. My situation, I think, was comparatively easy.


I don't know if this rather different story is of use, but I do wish you all the best. If things become overwhelming and talking to someone would help, feel free to write a MeMail any time.

PS. In a rather ironic twist of fate, I found out years after my divorce that my grandparents, the patriarch and matriarch of the familial court of judgment had divorced at some point, and later remarried!
posted by miorita at 10:42 AM on November 13, 2014 [25 favorites]

My boyfriend was disfellowshipped as a Jehovah's Witness. This leads to shunning by the community which he had grown up in. He was lucky in that his immediate family maintained contact with him (though he can't go out in public with them and has to hide if he's visiting and a Witness stops by).

His relationship with the religion was such that he felt a lot of relief afterward. It's not clear how you feel about your religion, but if you are interested in moving away from it, this feeling of freedom could be something that helps you maintain positivity while you deal with all the horribleness.

He did feel hurt and betrayed by being shunned by all the friends he cared about. Long-term, I believe this has made him afraid to deeply care about relationships; he sees everything as impermanent. Be aware of the danger that forming intimate relationships in the future could be harder because of this.

He had one close friend who had also been disfellowshipped, as well as the woman he had the affair with that led to his disfellowship. They helped him stay sane in the immediate aftermath. If you can find people like this IRL it will be a huge help to you. If there is a more liberal religious community you can fit into, that could make your transition much easier if you still maintain religious beliefs. It would provide you and your children with community and rituals similar to what you're accustomed to.

I'm so sorry. Stay strong.
posted by metasarah at 11:46 AM on November 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm looking for experiences of people who have done things like: come out to a very conservative family, disavowed their religion, gotten a scandalous divorce, etc.
This question is specifically about the emotional consequences of losing my family/community.

20 yrs ago I left an authoritarian fundamentalist Christian church after 13 years, aged 30. Over the course of three years or so, I had lost my faith and in final consequence, left the church.
I was shunned as a result, and told that now I belonged to the devil. This was almost 20 years ago. But some of the emotional fall out is still with me, but no longer in a debilitating way.
I joined when I was 17, and when I left 13 years later I did not have a single friend who was not in the group. I had also severed ties with my family while I was in the group: this was not optional - contact with anyone including parents and siblings who were not members was only allowed for evangelistic purposes, no other context. I was pennyless, jobless, friendless and much confused because every person that had been meaningful to me in any way during those 13 years either voluntarily or as an act of obedience shunned me.

I think some of the issue you might face yould be similar. I list them as they come to mind, no particular order.

What was very very hard was the loneliness. I missed those people so bad, and during that first year I often was on the brink of crawling back begging forgiveness just to have the human contact again. I missed the fun and humour, and laughter. We called ourselves family and those were my chosen sisters and brothers. The emotional hole was huge.
When I met a member of the church on the street, as soon as they realised I was not coming back, even those who had been really close told me I was now with the devil. Now, 20 yrs later it sounds childish, but my belief was so ingrained it took years to get rid of.
After a while I began to actually hide if I saw one on the other side of the street, and then for about a year only slept during the day and go out during night because I was so afraid I might meet someone who would reject me. At this point I began therapy, but not CBT style - I needed someone to listen, and accept. Therapy helped me to realise that the belief system was just that: one among many.

Guilt and shame.
Another emotional issue was the guilt. I felt incredibly guilty and full of shame. In fact I sometimes still do. I was ashamed for abandoning the group when really they needed me, ashamed of leaving the brothers and sisters, some of whom were my best friends ever and themselves in crisis of faith, ashamed because I lost my faith.
I felt guilty to even exist - how yould I lose my faith when god was so wonderful? I broke their trust in me.
Also massive shame and disappointment about myself and my own actions and inability to continue to believe. Whilst I did not commit anything that would be even considered worth mentioning outside the group, I had let them down by allowing my faith to slide. It is hard to remember now in detail but shame was a huge issue. I had participated in shunning others and had felt selfrighteous and sure this was never going to happen to me. I was so disappointed in myself. I needed to forgive myself. From what you shared, I think this will also be important for you: forgive yourself.

Loss of identity
for 13 years I was a fundamentalist Christian, for about 7 of those years a missionary. I was married to Jesus. this was my life, no hobbies no other interests. After I left nothing was left of my original personality. I literally had no idea what to do or think. I was raw and vulnerable. Every slight criticism stung becaue I had no faith in my self.
I suppose that in your situation this can also be an issue: your identity as a wife, daughter in law, sister in law, etc. will be gone and so who are you now?

It took me a long time to reinvent myself. 2 yrs after I left I found a wellpaid job. 4 yrs after, a wonderful partner, and six years ago now we had a child. 20nyrs after leaving the group i am a different person now in many aspects but some things in my core are still tender.
What helped me most of all was the realisation that no matter what mistakes and utterly stupid choices I had made, this is still my life and my choices, and I can make better choices now.

I felt I had only two choices: to be a victim or to move on. Limping and hurting but moving on. I decided not to style myself a victim, find identity in being a cult victim but rather be a survivor. This a choice no one can make for you.

Also, just as important was the friendship of one of my younger brothers. Because I had literally nothing at all, and in the first year unable to hold any job, my fatehr gave me the funds to rent an appartment and just live on his money for a year (he really could not afford to but made it possible somehow). My brother moved in with me and cooked and cleaned and went shopping, and most importantly introduced me to his friends, took me with him on holiday, etc. He told me when I needed a shower. His friendship came unexpected: I had only viewed him as an object for evangelism for many years.
I need to finish now (take my child to bed) but hope this is of any help in your difficult situation. Best wishes to you and the children.
posted by 15L06 at 12:01 PM on November 13, 2014 [12 favorites]

Jasvinder Sanghera escaped her abusive family in the UK and a forced marriage. (I know you weren't in a forced marriage.) Here's (some of what) she says about it: (link)

“I had to leave my own home, to be disowned by my own family, so that my children will not inherit the legacy of abuse. I am proud to say that they are truly integrated, but at what a cost! I had to become an outsider. I would have liked these changes to have happened in our community but without such personal cost. One thing I can say with conviction is that although, as a 16-year old back then, I did not know that I was making a decision for my future children, I am proud that I did what I did.

Asked what she feels to have been the most notable disadvantages in being an outsider, Jasvinder replies without hesitation: “Never sharing a birthday with my family, not being able to share the joy of the birth of a child, not sharing those special achievements, like my graduation, or other significant events in my life, but also not being there when there are deaths in the family. Not being allowed to be part of family events made me feel like I was this person who was not human, someone not worthy, not only of acceptance, but also the love and affection given to those born into a family.” With tears welling in her eyes, Jasvinder continues: “And the biggest thing which stands out is that my children missed out on the love of their grandparents, aunties, uncles - never once did they have so much as a birthday card from any of them. Being an outsider puts you also into an extremely vulnerable position: it is easy to make wrong decisions in life, to be vulnerable to getting into the wrong relationships, influences or addictions; one is profoundly alone. For example, without support and guidance, with no-one and nothing to fall back on to, I stayed in my second marriage, which was very abusive, much longer than was desirable or sensible, largely because I simply had nowhere else to go, no family to turn to, and I had no experience of life.

“The feeling of being an outsider at various stages of my life was acute: I attempted suicide twice, at that point in my life when the sense of alienation and the feeling of rejection seemed to be insurmountable. As an outsider, it took me a long time to recognise that I was not the perpetrator; for years, I had felt responsible for causing this alienation and for my being totally excluded from my family. I even felt myself to be the horrible person who had disowned her family, who had betrayed them, when in fact the reverse was true. I internalised these feelings for years. Sometimes, even today, people will say to me: ‘You couldn’t have loved your family or you wouldn’t have done this to them.‘ It is in those moments when one needs to find the strength to rise above, to find equilibrium again.”

Asked if she thinks being an outsider had brought some advantages, she says: “I have no regrets about the decision I made when I was 16. Thanks to that decision, I have independence, I have the right to think freely, and my children enjoy an enlightened existence. Because of that decision, I have what I can only describe to you as freedom. You cannot be free when you’re in shackles; you cannot think freely if you are chained. I am free to express myself - it might sound a small thing to some people but it is hugely significant to me. If I make a wrong decision, I am not berated for it; I can live without fear, free to make my own choices.

Asked whether she would stay on the outside or, if she could, would rejoin the mainstream, Jasvinder replies without hesitation: “To be honest, I prefer to be on the outside. With hindsight, being an outsider has empowered me to such a degree that I would not swop it for anything now. My estranged family did say to me at one stage, ‘give up what you are doing and we will accept you back’ and without a moment’s hesitation, I said, ‘No, thank you’.”

You could probably contact her @Jas_Sanghera_KN on Twitter, even if you're not in the UK.
posted by foxjacket at 12:24 PM on November 13, 2014 [10 favorites]

I had the experience of being bullied, lied about, and shunned at work. Being in that environment made me literally ill. Leaving that environment meant I got better, felt better, didn't dread each day.

You do have an option. Stay until *you* are ready to leave, giving you time to build a nest egg, get a job, etc. US law, specifically the state you're in, will decide who gets the kids, and how any assets will be divided. I wish you good luck in your rotten situation.
posted by theora55 at 1:10 PM on November 13, 2014

I grew up in a conservative patriarchal culture, I haven't ever suffered the strictures of it because very early on I appeared to be eccentric so I had a lot of license, at the cost of never being fully accepted. But here are some things I have observed about social pressure.

Firstly, people in conservative cultures lie through their teeth. They have to, or life would be no fun at all. But the appearance of a 'virtuous' life is so much more important than the actual facts: if you present the right face, say the right things at the right time, join in with the group and voice the right group opinions, you can get away with bad behaviour as long as you are discreet (as in the difference between an affair and a divorce.) Some people actually enjoy the game-playing aspects of this; of course if you don't, it is a horrible way to live your life. But some of the loudest criticism you will hear (whatever you do) will be from people who have done much, much worse. And none of the people who criticise you will be blameless even by their own standards. They just will make a good show of conforming.

Secondly, whatever you do, DO NOT be apologetic or show regret. In places where the groupthink is strong, any sign of weakness just invites attack. Power through, be proud, and act like you know you have right on your side. Don't tell anyone you're sorry and you wish it had been different, whatever decision you make. Do your best to be as happy and strong and successful as you can be, and show that side to the world. And don't grant anyone concessions because you think maybe you owe them something because of what you did. Don't let anyone get the better of you because you allow them to - I'm thinking, especially with regard to your children. If anything happens concerning your children that you are unhappy with, be strong about nipping it in the bud.

65 years ago my mother also did something that upset her family mightily. The grandchildren issue helped but she powered through because she was arrogant, progressive, adventurous and competent. People came round to her: she made her own circumstances.

Hope it goes well with you.
posted by glasseyes at 1:13 PM on November 13, 2014 [9 favorites]

I learned during my coming out that there are two kinds of conservative family: one that will abjure you and treat you as the Other, dangerous to their ideals of Living Right; and one that may dislike and/or dismiss what you are telling them but subscribes to the principle of Family First - there will be agita, but you're still One Of Them. I was lucky to be part of the second type.

I'm sorry to hear about your situation; you know your famly better than anyone here and if it's clear they're all of the first type, that straight-up sucks. But. There may be members of your family who will break from that mold. I don't know, maybe there won't be. But if there are, give them a chance to be there for you.
posted by psoas at 1:30 PM on November 13, 2014

Secondly, whatever you do, DO NOT be apologetic or show regret

Also, do not justify, defend, argue or otherwise engage them on topics where you know they will judge you negatively. Explaining anything to them will just signal to them that they have some say in your life, that their opinion matters, and so on. Just do not engage them. Notify people as neutrally as possible of things you need to tell them ("I am leaving my husband and I and my children are moving to another home.") and do not explain why the marriage did not work, why you had an affair, why you are choosing to divorce, etc.

Them being judgy and hateful and hostile is not really about you at all. It is totally about justifying their own life choices and this fuels extremely ugly behavior, in part because if they let themselves believe they really had any choice, it would hurt to much to live with the choices they have made. When I was very ill and decided to get divorced, I had several different women who all had serious health problems and apparently unhappy marriages tell me vehemently that I absolutely could not afford to leave, it would be the death of me, etc. They were quite strongly opinionated and unsupportive and it was clear to me they were really saying that they felt trapped in an unhappy marriage by their health problems and they justified putting up with it because they felt sure it would kill them to try to leave (or even try to push back against whatever their spouse did that made them unhappy). I just did not engage these women on this topic. I was clear this had nothing to do with my life and it was totally about them projecting their personal crap onto me and trying to justify to themselves the icky choices they felt forced into making.

Life got a lot easier for me once I realized that most people are not lying to me in order to deceive me. Most of them are lying to themselves and would be unable to keep lying to themselves if they spoke the truth to me. The jig would be up. And I just take a great many things so much less personally than I used to. Most toxic people are just trying to protect themselves and keep their delusions and mental constructs alive because the truth would hurt too much -- the idea that, no, really, they didn't have to accept such crappy things.

So simply do not engage such people. It will only fuel their attempts to lecture you, talk you into or out of something, berate you, etc.
posted by Michele in California at 1:31 PM on November 13, 2014 [9 favorites]

I came out in a very conservative culture -- I was disowned and have not spoken to my only living parent in in over a decade. People who don’t really understand my culture said things like “they will get over it with time” (meaning both my parents – my other parent is now deceased) and “you’ll see -- they love you and they will talk to you again in time.” I did not expect that to be the case and I was (sadly, but not surprisingly) proven correct.

The emotional consequences were difficult. Very much so. But I got through it. It was hell, but I did. I – like you – had a strong network of friends – and a partner at the time -- to support me. That really helped as did talking to a professional.

Over time, some of the younger people in my extended family re-established contact with me and we’ve grown close. That has been great and my partner and I have been invited to many family events by my younger relatives: weddings, parties, etc. Mind you, members of the older generation are still very cold or ignore me entirely -- which is hurtful. But I don’t feel isolated anymore. I have family members and chosen family who love me. It took time, but I am in a good place.
posted by Lescha at 1:32 PM on November 13, 2014 [5 favorites]

Hey there!

Quick backstory: I'm a gay man married to a formerly married man who is a father to three children with his former wife. I am 19 years younger than my husband. We met when I was in graduate school and working nights at a gay bathhouse, and he was on a work trip contemplating his life after realizing his sexuality was more complicated than heterosexual and was at the root of his depression. I was living in DC, he was living in CA. His depression was so bad that he was contemplating suicide, and after our initial hook-up we started to talk. Fell in love in the process. He came out to his wife, I quit my job and we moved in together in California.

So, yes, we set off a pretty big bomb when all of this came to pass. This was seven years ago, and the dust has long since settled and everything works quite well. He and his wife divorced--it was tense at times, but it was all done out in the open without acrimoniousness (she found a boyfriend and he moved in with her immediately). Custody of the kids is shared, and they stay with us most weekends and for several weeks each year during their school breaks.

Initially, people simply didn't know how to talk to us. The scent of scandal was too potent for some of each of our friends. For some, that lasted longer than it did for most people as they got to know our new partners better. The kids were all pretty young (6, 8, and 13 at the time), so they all handled it admirably--especially because their dad stopped being so depressed. His apparent happiness was immediately apparent to them, and far outweighed the scandalousness that adults tend to focus on and gossip over. The 13 year old took it hardest, and was uncomfortable about homosexuality for a while, but he grew out of it.

The worst part for me was losing (temporarily) the relationship I had with my best friend, who had had an absentee dad growing up. She thought I was tearing my partner away from his kids, and resented us for it. We didn't speak for almost two years. But we were all at a mutual friend's wedding at one point--with the kids--and she saw how wrong she had been.

The worst part for him was the long, drawn out divorce. As amicable as it was, it took a long time to get the terms sorted out and legally finalized (almost four years, which is hard to even write now). His ex-wife's new boyfriend has been unemployed the entire time, and the structure of the law in California has essentially guaranteed that we subsidize his living expenses. But, in our estimation that whole gross side of the story is an absolutely tiny price to pay for our compensation: living the life we want to live together.

Life-changing events are tough and exhausting, but I hope you hear the little nugget of truth in our history: my husband is so, so much happier than he was when I met him. Consider the quality of your own life, over which you have complete control. Perhaps people in your life will be distant forever, but perhaps they won't. Time passing does unpredictable things, whatever your culture.

I wish you the best of luck, courage, fortitude, and comfort.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 3:05 PM on November 13, 2014 [10 favorites]

Reading from the above, I think the following is bad, and possibly extremely bad, advice:

Please don't move in with your affair partner. If possible I strongly suggest ending it and delaying the separation for a year. Get your ducks in a row, work on your marriage. If it doesn't work anyway I imagine your husband will be a lot less hostile, and who knows, you might escape being shunned.

Really, how utterly traumatic to your children this will be. I hope it's worth it.

We know nothing of these areas of your life, so it's hard to assess whether the first part is even in your range of interest. I did the exact opposite of this advice, and it got us (both) through the trauma that followed, and eventually passed.

I don't know how old your kids are, but if you're in the US this is such a common experience as to be almost the norm. Your children will adapt, and have experiences of their own, but to call it trauma is to impugn you personally without any evidence of the need to do so. You are not traumatizing your children by ending a relationship that is causing you duress--you are saving them from trauma.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 3:12 PM on November 13, 2014 [7 favorites]

One other thing - people may surprise you. People who I thought would react poorly sometimes had calm reactions ("I wish this wasn't true, I wish you weren't doing this, but I love you, and this doesn't change that") and people who I thought would be there for me weren't. When things this fundamental happen, people react in really unpredictable ways. Be open to the possibility that some of your family may surprise you.
posted by RogueTech at 7:48 PM on November 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Since you're a mom: it will break your heart that your own mom won't think or feel that you are worth questioning her beliefs to keep you in her life. You will realize that you have decided to love and keep your children in your life even if they make what your consider to be great mistake. Your children will be the better for you solidifying the concept of unconditional love in your own heart. A painful lesson, so expensive to learn as the price is the grief you will bear, but priceless to those who are the recipients of your love and acceptance.
posted by anitanita at 12:35 AM on November 14, 2014 [5 favorites]

Your situation is awful and I really feel for you.

My father disowned me four years ago. I felt like there was no floor, no stable surface upon which I could stand. I could labour a description of all the rampant abandonment emotions that welled up and over. It was awful but as mentioned above, the antidote is Time. Birthdays, Xmas, holidays are emotionally fraught, but don't fill these times with assholes to distract you. Ask nice and kind people to include you in their plans, don't be ashamed to ask.

I mainly wanted to say that a few years on, I feel liberated from a cage. My anger at my abandonment shifted (with the help of therapy) and I started to believe in myself and my right to find my own happiness. My life filled with different opportunities, experiences and love. My range of experience extended out from my Square Life to one more experimenting and seeking. My pain about family is never going to be erased but I am much less often prone to anxious tears, or if I am, I forgive myself. I remind myself that I have guts and light inside that hasn't been extinguished by this terrible wound.

It takes time - the first year is excruciating. The second year mournful. The third year I felt like I was transitioning into a sense of liberation and right now, I feel proud of myself for finding the courage to stand up in the world when things have been hard. Harder than most people know.
posted by honey-barbara at 12:58 AM on November 14, 2014 [5 favorites]

« Older Best ways to search for grants/funding for school...   |   Everyday it's a-gettin' closer... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.