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Jill Brooke

Jill Brooke

Posted: December 24, 2010 11:18 AM

Two families have been attacked and we have witnessed the crime scene.

Except it wasn't discussed as a crime in the New York Times but instead as a celebration of "love conquers all and forget the kids."

Last week, the New York Times 'Vows' section published the wedding of Carol Anne Riddell and Joe Partilla, two people who jilted their spouses after meeting at their kids pre-kindergarten class--sacred ground--and their attraction was so consuming and intense that they felt compelled to be together.

Acknowledging that life is messy--talk about understatement--Mr. Partilla said they viewed their options as either to act on their feelings and break up their marriages or to deny their feelings and live dishonestly.

"Pain or more pain" was how he summed it up to the Times reporter.

In telling their spouses, Partilla said that they did "a terrible thing" as honorably as they could. Notably absent from the story were comments from the jilted spouses, one who later called it "revisionist history."

As the paper of record was forced to explain in a statement, "The 'Vows' feature gives a close-in account of a wedding every week. We don't attempt to pass judgment on the suitability of the match, the narrative of the romance, the quality of the ceremony or the flavor of the wedding cake."

Speak to any divorce expert and we'll tell you that this scenario sadly happens all the time. Riddell and Partilla may think that they are trying to be respectful to their exes' crushed dreams but rarely does it feel that way to the spurned spouses who are bloodied with disappointment.

Just ask singer Shania Twain.

Her husband, Robert "Mutt" Lange rocked her world when he left her for a good friend. The woman's husband, Swiss executive Frederic Thiebaud, commiserated with Twain as often happens and their shared grief deepened into love and as of this week, an engagement.

As Shania explained, "Having gone through the suffering of his family splitting at the same time and under the same extreme circumstances, he understands me better than anyone."

Yup. The trauma shapes you forever and even though the couple has rebounded, it never really is a victory.

For the spurned spouses in both examples, they are faced with the Herculean task to resist bad-mouthing the ex and maintaining a stiff upper lip while sending their little ones off into the arms of the person who broke up the family. Ouch. Do you think that hurt every goes away? It may diminish but it can never be erased.

Considering how divorce has been trending, Carol Anne and Joe's story could have had the glow of 'modern life takes unexpected turn and we're going to make the best of it.' They could have been cast as tragically heroic figures in a remake of "Dr. Zhivago" except that the storyline has veered off unexpectedly into a version of "Dr. Strangelove."

It is not as though the Times "Vows" feature hasn't been criticized for glossing over what led to the cutting of the cake at remarriages covered in the paper.

New York magazine outed the Times a year ago for their "gross habit of including people in the "Vows" column who very clearly cheated on and abandoned a former spouse or lover before getting hitched to the current one, then went on to revel in it so their exes can relive that period in all its painful glory."

However what this story--and the disgust targeted towards the Times for what one reader called "glorifying home wrecking"--has exposed is a tipping point I think in our culture for feasting on a steady diet of dissolving marriages without acknowledging the long lasting consequences.

Something palpably happened where, in the cultural consciousness, a voice emerged from deep within and collectively screamed "enough already" of this non-stop relentless pursuit of personal pleasure stomping on the commitment to the family and your kids.

And when these life-altering decisions are cloaked by using the term "soul mate," which really is a way to bring a mystical halo around love when in fact it really is about 'how do I spin story so I receive a get-out-of-jail for free card,' it smacks of selfishness. Please find a better excuse for breaking up a family. Finding so called soul mate has become such a cliché. Maybe that is what turned so many people against this couple --and the Times. Isn't it time for us as a culture to delay immediate gratification for a moment and weather some difficult times with the promise possibly of a better tomorrow? Many relationships do self-correct.

If it wasn't for the fact that there were kids involved, perhaps the outrage would not be as strong. Angelina Jolie busted Jennifer Aniston's marriage and people still like Brad Pitt.

The problem as my colleague Dr. Mark Banshick, who is a child psychiatrist, says, is that the children get no vote in this. "It is kind of like how we adults run up massive public deficits and don't think about how our kids will have to pay it back," he says. "And in divorce, no matter how good, there is much to overcome."

How a couple meets does impact the outcome. Carol Anne and Joe's future as well as that of Robert and Marie's coupling will face immense challenges since second marriages have a 66% divorce rate because of the difficulties of divided loyalties when blending families. In fact, many believe the divorce rate is highest in these blended families when the parent partners with the person who was the cause of the break-up. One study revealed that only 7 percent of these relationships usually make it to the altar.

But I do know of one success story. Ellen Fisher, now a teacher in York, Maine was a child when her parents' divorce made headlines in the Times four decades ago. Her father had an affair with her mother's friend and then the jilted spouses got married too. "Complicated," was how Ellen Fisher described it.

However, Fisher has a forgiving nature and understood that people often meet in social arenas and sparks can fly. In time she says, family life finds its own rhythm.

Now an adult, Ellen feels as close to her stepmother who was the cause of the split as her own mother. "My mother may not have liked her, but over forty years, I developed my own relationship with her and love her deeply," she told me.

Ellen Fisher's stepmother Margie Morgan says time can heal wounds if you are patient.
"We've had a very long relationship to work things out," she says. "The pain of the divorce is ancient history."

But not to Ellen's mother. Nor her ex-husband. And some of her siblings haven't had the same resilience.

Divorce is always a crime scene with victims. Some survive and thrive and others just live with the scars.

 

Follow Jill Brooke on Twitter: www.twitter.com/divorcemama