On a vacation in Zagreb, Croatia, I walked down a cobblestone street and came upon a small building with a sign that read, “Museum of Broken Relationships.” The words seemed so out of place, I was drawn in.
I realized upon entering that it was a museum of sorts, but one that houses recent items. The concept was to ask people from anywhere in the world to send one item (of any size and shape), so long as that item represented a relationship that has ended. The person was asked to write thoughts about that “broken” relationship to include with what they sent. I was fascinated by the objects people selected and the distinctive emotions expressed in that small building. Everyone around me seemed absorbed, too, moving slowly from object to object, from story to story. The collection was somehow bigger than the sum of its parts. A generosity.
After I left, I sat outside the museum processing all that I had seen and read. I found myself focused on the word “broken.” What a powerful word; one that has so many implications. In my work with divorcing, or divorced couples, one or both people may feel broken. They view their divorce as a failure and may, at some level, see themselves or their partners as ruined. The divorce itself can feel like an indictment.
The implication seems to be that what is broken cannot be fixed. It is, plain and simple, destroyed. Immutable. It is rewarding, then, to work with couples and encourage them to see that while what was may not be salvageable, the relationship, especially if children are involved, will continue. It is a choice to be made, what this relationship, post-divorce, will be. New ground. Each party has immense power: are they willing to move forward, or will they remain stuck in the past? I have found many times in what seemed irreversible that the pieces of the relationship can be rearranged to create something better than any of us would have imagined at the outset.
We have all experienced relationships that have broken. Our job as human beings is to stay open to creating something new and different. It takes courage to work toward a relationship in this way, particularly when trust has eroded. For those willing to engage as co-parents and ex-spouses in a constructive manner, though, rewards are tangible. By abandoning blame, even of oneself, for past wrongs, and moving past divorce, the greater good of the family becomes primary.