Evolution of the Self

On the paradoxes of personality

The Most Heartfelt Quotes on Divorce

What are some of the most moving things ever said about splitting up?

The quotes below, I think, will touch you—regardless of whether you’ve ever gone through a break up. They speak poignantly of so many common emotions experienced in this typically wrenching process, like grief and mourning (for hopes and dreams that now can never be fulfilled); shock and bewilderment; guilt, regret, and remorse; acrimony and antipathy; and dismay and devastation.

Splitting up can also wreak havoc on one’s sense of self. It can feel like the ultimate assault—an incalculable insult to who you are—or thought you were. It can make you doubt things that earlier you took for granted. And it can also deal a huge blow to your ability, or willingness, to trust others (and maybe yourself as well). It represents a loss of innocence: a sadder-but-wiser, unasked-for introduction into a world more perplexing and painful than you might ever have imagined.

Moreover, to add further insult to injury, the matter of dividing property can turn your tragedy almost into a travesty—trivialize your intensely personal drama and eventuate in yet more spousal bickering and discord. And contentious attorneys can further interfere with the all-important grieving process—which, ideally, might finally enable you to “let go” and “move on."

In reviewing many hundreds of quotes, I found that I could divide them into three fairly discrete categories (though not without some overlap). The present post, by far the most extensive of the three, focuses on the heartache and heartbreak of divorce. The next part will present some of the wittiest things that have been said about marital breakups. Predictably, this subject has inspired some hilarious one-liners by comedians from Jack Benny to Robin Williams, and beyond.

The last part of this series will feature what a variety of celebrities have expressed about divorce—or their divorce. And doubtless, there’s a certain “experiential authority” to them. They also possess their own ironic sense of humor, such as Lauren Bacall’s remark that “in Hollywood, an equitable divorce settlement means each party getting fifty percent of the publicity.”

Anyhow, here are some of the most emotionally laden quotes on the general misery that characterizes so many divorces. I think you’ll find quite a few of them moving—even touchingly eloquent:

It wasn't about being happy or unhappy. I just didn't want to be me anymore.” –Sarah Dessen, What Happened to Goodbye

I remember one desolate Sunday night, wondering: Is this how I´m going to spend the rest of my life? Married to someone who is perpetually distracted and somewhat wistful, as though a marvelous party is going on in the next room, which but for me he could be attending. –Suzanne Finnamore, Split: A Memoir of Divorce

Divorce isn't such a tragedy. A tragedy's staying in an unhappy marriage, teaching your children the wrong things about love. Nobody ever died of divorce.” –Jennifer Weiner, Fly Away Home

He went on for some time while I sat listening in silence because I knew he was right, and like two people who have loved each other, however imperfectly, who have tried to make a life together, however imperfectly, who have lived side by side and watched the wrinkles slowly form at the corner of the other's eyes, and watched a little drop of gray, as if poured from a jug, drop into the other's skin and spread itself evenly, listening to the other's coughs and sneezes and little collected mumblings, like two people who'd had one idea together and slowly allowed that idea to be replaced with two separate, less hopeful, less ambitious ideas, we spoke deep into the night, and the next day, and the next night. For forty days and forty nights, I want to say, but the fact of the matter is it only took three. One of us had loved the other more perfectly, had watched the other more closely, and one of us listened and the other hadn't, and one of us held on to the ambition of the one idea far longer than was reasonable, whereas the other, passing a garbage can one night, had casually thrown it away. –Nicole Krauss

Grief is the emotional contract of divorce. –Cheryl Nielsen

Whether life finds us guilty or not guilty, we ourselves know we are not innocent. –Sándor Márai, Judit... és az utóhang

It takes two to destroy a marriage. –Margaret Trudeau

People told me not to get married; I didn´t listen. No one ever listens, it seems to me now. Perhaps people should stop trying to communicate. N was not a communicator; early on, I´d insisted on communication. Now I see his point acutely. I would love to have him back to not communicate with me. I would never ask for communication again, I would simply go elsewhere for the deep fish. Also, I´m not at all sure I want to hear what he has to say in this new vista. This works out well. –Suzanne Finnamore, Split: A Memoir of Divorce

Many married couples separate because they quarrel incessantly, but just as many separate because they were never honest enough or courageous enough to quarrel when they should have. –Sydney J. Harris

Why did we divorce? I guess you could say we had trouble synchronizing. You know that carnival ride where two cages swing in opposite directions, going higher and higher until they go over the top? That was us. We passed each other all the time, but we never actually stopped in the same place until it was time to get off the ride. –Diane Hammond, Hannah's Dream

Daily I walk around my small, picturesque town with a thought bubble over my head: “Person Going Through A Divorce.” When I look at other people, I automatically form thought bubbles over their heads. “Happy Couple With Stroller.” “Innocent Teenage Girl With Her Whole Life Ahead Of Her” . . . “Young Kids Kissing Publicly.” Then every so often I see one like me, one of the shambling gaunt women without makeup, looking older than she is: “Divorcing Woman Wondering How The Fuck This Happened.” –Suzanne Finnamore, Split: A Memoir of Divorce

Some people think that it’s holding on that makes one strong; sometimes it’s letting go. –Unknown

Marriage isn't a love affair. It isn't even a honeymoon. It's a job. A long hard job, at which both partners have to work, harder than they've worked at anything in their lives before. If it's a good marriage, it changes, it evolves, but it goes on getting better. I've seen it with my own mother and father. But a bad marriage can dissolve in a welter of resentment and acrimony. I've seen that, too, in my own miserable and disastrous attempt at making another person happy. And it's never one person's fault. It's the sum total of a thousand little irritations, disagreements, idiotic details that in a sound alliance would simply be disregarded, or forgotten in the healing act of making love. Divorce isn't a cure, it's a surgical operation, even if there are no children to consider. –Rosamunde Pilcher, “Wild Mountain Thyme”

Divorce is a fire exit. When a house is burning, it doesn’t matter who set the fire. If there is no fire exit, everyone in the house will be burned! –Mehmet Murat ildan

The leaving happened slowly, gradually, as these things do, and before we knew it, we were lost to each other, as if a magician had whisked a cloth off the table, leaving the dishes there, jolted. And when we looked back it was all a blur, time on fast forward, hurtling to an inevitable conclusion. –Kathryn Stern, Another Song About the King

Losing a mate to death is devastating but it's not a personal attack like divorce. When somebody you love stops loving you and walks away, it's an insult beyond comparison. –Sue Merrell, Great News Town

The divorce papers remained unopened in the crisp yellow envelope. He had thrown it on his desk without a backward glance. Between his lashes, his dark chocolate eyes burned with fury but there was something else in the depths that she hadn’t seen in a long time, passion. –Suzan Battah, “Rekindled Flame”

“I love you as the mother of my child": the kiss of death. Mother of His Child: demotion. I am beginning to see this truism: Mothers are not always wives. I have been stripped of a piece of self. –Suzanne Finnamore, Split: A Memoir of Divorce

How can I explain to her that I just can't come home? It's too soon, it's too late; I do want to be with Helen every second of the day but at the same time I don't want to be with her at all. I want to have back what I felt at the beginning. I could no more leave her then than leave my arms or legs. / How do you find the beginning, though? There are no roads or signs. You start to doubt it even exists. –Cath Crowley, The Life and Times of Gracie Faltrain

An unresolved issue will be like a cancer with the potential to spread into other areas of your relationship, eroding the joy, lightness, love and beauty. –Joyce Vissell

Even the jerks earn some of our affection. We can be glad they're gone and yet still mourn the good parts. –Shannon Hale, Midnight in Austenland

Together we agree that there are few tableaus more pathetic than a woman poring over a plethora of self-help books, while in a small café across town her husband is sharing a bottle of Pouilly-Fuissé and fettucini Alfredo with a beautiful woman, fondling her fishnet knee and making careful plans to escape his life. –Suzanne Finnamore, Split: A Memoir of Divorce

...you're not dead—you're dormant. –Cheryl Nielsen

What's the truth? The truth is what happened to you and him or her, over the years, and what didn't happen. The truth is what you said and didn't say, how much you tried, how you changed, and whether you were lucky. I believe in luck. I think luck plays a huge part in success. Or failure. In the end, who cares about the truth? You still end up divorced. Finally, the biggest asshole wins. Sort of. At least the biggest asshole takes home the most stuff. If you consider this winning then have at it. You're an asshole. –Margaret Overton, Good in a Crisis: A Memoir

Divorce is the one human tragedy that reduces everything to cash. –Rita Mae Brown

Divorce is one of the most financially traumatic things you can go through. Money spent on getting mad or getting even is money wasted. –Richard Wagner

Divorced men are more likely to meet their car payments than their child support obligations. –Susan Faludi

I don’t miss him, I miss who I thought he was. –Unknown

Note 1: Again, here are the links to "The Wittiest Quotes on Divorce" and "Celebrity Quotes on Divorce—And They Should Know."

Note 2: If you can think of anyone for whom this compilation might “speak,” please send them the link to it. Moreover, if you'd like to explore some non-quoting posts I've written for Psychology Today, click here.

© 2012 Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved.

-----I invite readers to join me on Facebook and follow my psychological musings on Twitter.

Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D., who holds doctorates in English and Psychology, is a clinical psychologist and author of Paradoxical Strategies in Psychotherapy.

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