Me in my "going away" outfit on my wedding day
When I was in the throes of divorce it was hard to imagine that I would ever be truly happy again. It seemed everything that I believed in had been challenged: the loyal and true husband I married who I thought loved me, gone; the family and the team that would always be together, invaded; the safe home we lived in, taken; the traditions and belief systems about marriage and commitment, attacked; the solid base for our children to count on, confounded. Our vows had been minimized. Our relationship suddenly marked with shadows. Social structures and friendships, confused. Our family story went from "happy" to "broken" with a single pop. It was the death of life as I knew it. For the longest time all I could do was weep. I sat in that dark, quiet wake of our divorce for a good long time. I mourned the incredible loss that had affected every aspect of my life. I mourned all that had been taken from my children. I cried from a deep primal place within me that reached into the essence of my soul and then I sat up and asked, so now what?
It has been a long four plus, almost five years, since the sale of our home which will always mark the beginning of my journey of discovery that was to follow. Through a commitment to myself and to find meaning, I was determined to learn all that I could about this huge life-altering trauma that I had been hit with. Even though I didn't want to hurt so much I knew that I had to move into the pain to see what it was. Thankfully, rather than harden me, the pain broke me open and has allowed me to see all kinds of things that I had not paid attention to when I was married. It seems strange for me to say now, but the divorce, actually, has been a huge gift. I feel that I have gone from dormant to awake, all the windows are open and air is flowing. I am so happy and grateful to not be married to my ex, that it's like being on holiday all the time. Who would have known?
I heard a great line from the comedian, Louis C.K., that "good marriages never end in divorce." He is right. Why would a good marriage end in divorce? I was so focused on family, I overlooked how much fun I wasn't having with my husband. Once our divorce was final, I started doing everything that I wanted to do to busy myself, things I never would have done if I had stayed married to my ex. Within the last couple of months I have really been noticing that, wow, I am so happy. How come? The answer: I am not married to my ex. For years in our marriage, I had to brace myself against his negative energy. Now everything feels positive. I am mystified that I had been strong enough to put up with so much in our marriage, but not strong enough to see its effect on me.
My ex and I had our differences from day one which is probably why we were drawn to one another. Our differences seemed to compliment each other. Outwardly, we had a lot of similarities, prep schools, mutual friends, comfortable backgrounds, although he was Canadian and I, American. Both of us had travelled, skied in Europe and Aspen with our families, had parents who collected art and antiques, had grown up in rooms with chintz-covered sofas and lined curtains with fringe trim. Both of us appreciated well-made clothes. However, our natures, emotional makeup and family styles were very, very different. People call me, warm, and him, cold. I was fun-loving and wild, and he was reserved and controlled. My family and Catholic education ingrained in me to think of others, count your blessings, participate in life with a smile and try to make a difference. The emphasis at home was to have a positive attitude and a sense of humor, that we could get through anything because we loved each other, were family and you could always count on that. Anger was not something I knew about growing up. If I got in trouble I was told to write an essay about what I did wrong and how I could have done better.
His family and Canadian British-style school system taught properness, duty, being cheerful and pleasant, with disobedience punished by caning. He grew up with a strong sense and appreciation of family as well, although my ex had a much different tone at his home. They were just more serious and low-key, more like a classical symphony as opposed to our lively Broadway musical. Humor was measured and always appropriate. He also grew up with outbursts of anger that damaged the skeleton of his family and gave them all varying sizes fractures and breaks that were well hidden by the refined, polished exterior. Where I was honest to a fault and saw value in expressing my feelings as my parents always encouraged speaking up, he kept things hidden and locked within himself as his parents were more reserved more inclined to never discuss things.
You cannot blame people for what they had no control of growing up. However, when you start your own family, the importance of dealing with those earlier wounds is imperative if you don't want them to bleed right into your new life. When children arrive, the tendency is to fall back on your own childhood experience for how to parent. Our childhoods rose up in us like soldiers. My ex and I leaned in such different directions about things it became like a tug of war. I was fighting for my children and for my life and for him and for our marriage.
The way we approached life and how we connected to people was also so different. He shifted his personality depending on the person. I was the same. What seemed like artifice to me was a way of being in life for him. My e had a different side that he would show us at home, too. When he would have his angry outbursts, I too often excused them because I felt it was a leftover wound from his childhood, only to enable more of the snarling behavior. I still don't know if he thought he had done anything harmful to any of us with his anger. I wanted our marriage to work so I kept fighting for him, hoping for change. I am not sure if the true him was the man I thought I was married to or the one who left.
Leading up to his leaving his lack of kindness towards me increased as did my lack of respect of his behavior. Without even realizing it, which makes me shudder to think, I had become so accustomed to the way that he treated me, that when my ex left and went off with this woman who worked for us, I actually thought his leaving was the betrayal. The betrayal and abandonment had started long before that.
There are many factors that are central to two people understanding one another. As the Hoffman process espouses, "Everyone is guilty, but no one is to blame." We all have pasts and family histories. Empathy is necessary as all those traits come with us into our relationships, like it or not. We have ingrained patterns, attitudes about money and working, a built-in capacity for intimacy based on our life experiences. Either we blindly repeat everything we came into the relationship with or we choose for ourselves what to bring into the marriage. If there is "no discussion" or willingness to communicate and share who each other really is then the relationship isn't real. It takes a lot of effort for both people to cultivate a relationship that is alive, changing, growing, vibrant, exciting and intimate, one where you want to be kind to your partner and you consider them with your actions, where you want to be honest and courageously represent yourself every moment you are together so that your relationship can be authentic, and you willingly adjust your behavior because you don't want to hurt them.
It took years for me to make sense of my divorce. I picked myself up from the rubble with my heart searching for the way out of the pain. My eye was on change and my focus was on being positive. My answer was not to wallow but to get up, take action and keep moving through the difficult passageways. I took action to do things that could shift my thinking. I sought professional help. I spent time talking and listening to trusted and wise friends. I wrote. I got my finances in order. Exercised, slept and ate well. I leaped at opportunities and jobs that took me to Oman and South Africa and Morocco. I travelled with a museum to Berlin and Vienna looking at art. I did the Hoffman process which I would highly recommend. I went on a writer's retreat. I moved twice, cleaned out closets, gave things away. I still have a lot of storage bins to clean out (the ridiculous new expense of our times). I have had a boyfriend and some other hugely enjoyable fun with men friends. Never underestimate the importance of pleasure to heal.
Somewhere in the midst of all my searching, it became apparent to me that whatever happened in my life, it was up to me to write the happy ending. I wanted my children to see that, too. It has been a long road and a lot of hard work but today, I feel blessed and rewarded. I don't ever want to stop growing and learning. I want to help those who are struggling with divorce and tell them to be patient with themselves and to have hope. There is a lot of good that can come out of a divorce. I am so grateful to be out of that awful gloom and into the bright light of awareness. I am truly so happy. Who would have known?
The Author happy again post Divorce!
Photos Courtesy of the Author