Generosity. It’s not the typical word associated with divorce. I considered grief; that’s all too true. I wondered about guilt; it seems to be intrinsically tied into the end of marriage. But every time I came back to this word, which doesn’t seem to fit at all, it stuck.
He taught me a great deal about generosity: no amount was too much to spend on a present. For someone who liked to hoard money like it was going out of fashion – *insert current economic climate comment here* – this was a challenge. The saving and the generosity had to go hand in hand, and the two don’t often go together. I began to embrace the generous-spiritedness of it, and I think he learnt that buying small but pertinent and meaningful gifts sometimes has the greater value. It was a good exchange.
So there is an irony that the person who taught me to be generous was the one I could choose to take all from, or to put into practice the lessons I’d learnt. ‘Take him for all you can get!‘ and ‘You put *whatever* in, you should get it back out.‘ were statements I heard once divorce proceedings had started.
There was a sense that now this was over, a priority was to ensure that I came out of it alright. The fact divorce had been his decision then exacerbated these opinions; it was an option being enforced on me and therefore I was surely due compensation? It made logical sense for this to be financial recompense for all I had put into the marriage that had now come to naught.
But I couldn’t, didn’t want to and wouldn’t. Ultimately I came back to this sentence: ‘That isn’t how I went into my marriage, and that’s not how I’m going to leave it.’
It wasn’t the fact he had taught me to be generous that made me want to be generous, but what I had originally promised him. I’d promised to share everything. All my worldly goods. Not just the ones I didn’t like quite as much, or keeping hold of my pay because I’d earned it. If that, I decided, was how I had entered my marriage, that was also how I was going to leave it.
I didn’t want it to end, although truth be told I was glad of some sort of resolution by this point. Before I sound too virtuous, there were, of course, times when I felt hard done by. There were times when I would have happily have taken him for all I could have got and not cared until later. Some days it was a challenge to not feel hugely resentful.
So why be generous? I’d married him agreeing to share it all – so it wasn’t mine to steal back. It was ours, and needed to be divided as such. I knew that if I approached this angrily, one day that anger would subside and I would feel sad that there was no way I could put right the damage done. Throughout, I knew I wanted to emerge from this better rather than bitter. Counselling had helped, friends had helped, but only I could choose my attitude in how to divide up the marital home.
As you may or may not know, you don’t have to divide everything up the moment you begin divorcing – the paperwork begins with detailing how objectionable your spouse has been to require this course of action (fun!). By then though, you may have already begun splitting up your possessions. By the point this form was being filled in, I was living alone in the flat and was hoping I’d, somehow, buy him out. I’d had the old car, he’d bought a new one with the previously joint funds: I didn’t want the hassle yet still felt resentful he got the ‘new’ (secondhand) car.
Mutual generosity made this much less painful. Where the need was – that’s where the object or finances went, the reason why ‘we’ bought ‘him’ a car. In a final act of mutual working together, I hope that neither of us emerged feeling financially cheated, or bitter over the other’s eventual outcome.
If you can afford to be financially generous, do. If you can’t afford to be generous, consider where you can be: is it in time, or access, or possessions?
Generosity does not mean short-changing yourself. Generosity in divorce is often about being fair rather than grasping, and about equality rather than seeking status. We hear these words so often at weddings:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
Yet how often do we apply them to divorce? We loved our ex-spouse, we may even love them still at the time of divorce, so what better way to show a final act of love? Be generous and not self seeking. Be generous and kind. Be generous rather than easily angered. Be generous rather than demanding recompense for wrongs.
If we feel ashamed of our actions then generosity can feel like a way to compensate. We keep a record of our own wrongs, and the trigger of generosity is shame. We want to somehow repay the debt we have created, or provide recompense for pain. Being generous is a positive action. If you have caused someone considerable pain, alleviating that by smoothing a path forward makes sense in many ways and is a commendable action.
However, if we give away all we have because of guilt and shame, what are we left with? Aside from a possible lack of possessions and funds, ultimately, we retain the sense of shame and guilt, albeit slightly lessened, and are still trapped.
To be truly free of guilt and shame we must also accept generosity. Accept the gift of forgiveness from God who always offers it, and from our ex-spouse if they do. God offers mercy – not being punished as we deserve – and grace – being gifted what we don’t deserve – through forgiveness, and it is the one actual way to feel free from guilt and shame.
Have there been times I wish I had more of something since? Sure. But not because I gave it away. Generosity is a gift that is at our disposal to give. It is counter cultural to divorce, and therefore all the more resonant. Generosity in divorce is choosing to prefer the other over yourself for one final time, and will perhaps one day be a witness to them of a far greater generosity that even an ex-partner can ever offer.