“In our house, we don’t do that.”
“If you want to join us, that behavior is not tolerated.”
“We don’t do that here.”
Learning how to play in the sandbox, get invited to the party, or fit into a workplace culture. Each requires that we understand the rules. If we follow them, the group lets us stay in the game. If we break the rules, we risk rejection or outright ouster.
Teaching what is taboo doesn’t always come from an employee handbook or a friend plainly telling us. We learn from observation.
Growing up, my Catholic working class childhood taught me the taboos of my world. Being idle. Being ungrateful. Thinking you’re something special. Missing mass on Sunday. Getting divorced.
Despite it being a religious tenet, I never heard my parents say that divorce was “bad” or “wrong.” I simply observed.
In Little Italy in a Nebraska city in the 1960s, I knew that Nancy in my third grade class at St. Francis Cabrini was the one child whose parents were divorced. I heard the hushed tones of a family secret when my cousin spoke of Uncle Jerry’s “first wife.” I saw my mother stay with my father through the decades of his deterioration into the darkest depths of alcoholism.
No one had to tell me divorce was taboo.
By the time my own divorce was initiated, I’d been a divorce lawyer for over a decade. Still, for the longest time I never considered divorce an option. Not for religious reasons, but because the divorce taboo was firmly entrenched. You simply made a marriage work, especially if you had children.
Taboos teach us the allowable limits of our tribe. Avoiding the forbidden territory of taboos sometimes serves us well, but sometimes not. The unacceptability of being ungrateful continues to bless me each day, but the prohibition against being idle contributed to years of borderline workaholism. The unspoken societal standard for staying married stopped me from looking at divorce throughout years of counseling to try to save our marriage.
In divorce, we come face to face with the forbidden. Spoken or unspoken— whether based upon religious teachings, cultural heritage, or family experience—we are taught the taboo. If no one in your family has ever divorced, if your family religion prohibits it, or if you have been divorced previously, the message is magnified.
We must ask: Will I toss the taboo or take it as my own? Where do I see myself in the future if I remain in this marriage? Can I be safe? Healthy? Whole? Is the marriage already over? What is it costing me to stay in this marriage?
Only you know the answers. Some taboos serve us well. Others cost us dearly. Retain or reject the divorce taboo? Trust your wisdom to know that while others may tell you the rules, you have the wisdom to decide which to accept and which to reject.