My daughter wrote about the on-going impact of her parent’s divorce on her blog the other day. Although I was incredibly proud of how eloquently she shared her thoughts the candor in what she wrote tugged at my heart and left me feeling both guilty and sad. Deep in my soul I know that no matter how successful I might be in all other aspects of my life I failed at the most important one—creating a home and building a life that kept the family together.
I think that as a family we’re all in places in our lives now where the sting of what happened back then is a distant memory–just a sort of dull and annoying ache but nothing like that first gut wrenching pain that tore us all apart. There’s no doubt that when I was going through the breakdown and divorce—it consumed me. Upon reflection I accept I handled things all wrong. I put blame on others when I should have been more honest with myself about the destructive role I played in the demise of what we had. I said and did things that I forever wish I could take back—but I can’t. And that’s something I have to live with for the rest of my life.
And I have to shamefully confess that for me the pangs of regret I continue to feel are more about what it did to my children than about what it did to Bob or me for that matter. Maybe this is a good thing. I don’t know—I mean you have to move on—but I can’t help but wonder what long term issues we both continue to cope with that grew out of that crisis in our lives. But, we have both gone on to new lives, other relationships, are in completely different places in our lives now. But I fear my children have been left in a vast wasteland like so many other kids of divorce—a wasteland that is full of broken dreams and confusion over their family relationships—at least with their parents and this new blended family thing they’ve inherited whether they wanted it or not.
Nothing is easy after a divorce and it’s certainly not the answer to most marital problems. First off, there’s the “amnesia of self” you have to deal with in terms of all those events that happened in your life B.D.—before divorce. How do you deal with them? Do you stop talking about anything dramatic or exciting or unusual that happened in your life that happened with “him?” For instance, my ex was attacked by a hippo when we were married to one another. I mean he was literally in the hippo’s mouth. Now, that’s not exactly the kind of thing that is easy to forget about or just relinquish like it didn’t happen or doesn’t exist. Does my divorce from him mean I can no longer talk about that event in my life? For a penultimate story teller like me that’s like being challenged for sole custody to your kids in the divorce settlement—there’s no way!!
And important passages in the future annals of your family—graduations, birthdays, holidays, weddings, funerals—become much more complicated. Right after the separation and divorce it seemed like tough choices were always there to be made. Who do you invite? Who do you visit? Who can be a part of things? If mom is there is that going to be a problem for dad? And if you invite both of them and one or both brings their new significant other how is that going to play out? No, it’s not easy at all.
Whether it was the reality or not I continually felt like I was the one being left out which left me even more hurt and angry over another loss in my life. I suppose if Bob and I had been communicating better at that point in our lives I would have learned that he probably felt the same way—the kids were favoring me over him and he was on the short end of the stick when it came to support from the kids and extended family and invitations to things going on in their lives. But we weren’t communicating that well and my perception of what was taking place just fueled my anger and hurt all the more.
And then there’s the family. I mean the ones that “belong to him.” What about them? You’re bonded to these people. You have a history with them. You know all the family stories and have relationships with them that go way back in time. You want them in your life. You love them. And even though they may share your feelings to keep in touch maintaining relationships with them become much harder—particularly once people remarry. And at the base of it all is the fact that they’re his family not yours so you have to keep that all in perspective as you begin to forge a new relationship with them. At times it feels like you’re walking on very thin ice—worrying all the time about doing or saying something that might put too much weight on something very fragile—causing you (and them) to fall in. Just another one of those nagging little things that makes a divorce such a complicated thing.
The self help books that I devoured during that period of my life advised that if you work hard at being amicable and civil with one another things can be satisfactory. There’s no doubt that’s true. But the truth of the matter is it will never feel completely right anymore. And if I feel that way, I’m sure the kids feel it even more– like they’ve been cast in some schizophrenic family horror film—forced to play roles they may not like or want to be a part of but will take on nonetheless out of their love for their parents.
Couples that manage to stay together are a continual source of fascination to me. I work with a lady and her husband who I find myself drawn too—full of awe in the seemingly easy loving rapport they’ve carved out for themselves. You get this sense they fit one another like a pair of well loved shoes worn so beautifully to the unique shape of “them”. Their relationship like those shoes feels so good because it supports them so well. In some ways my colleague and her husband don’t seem very much alike at all. The initial impression you get is that they really are an unlikely pair. She’s much more gregarious and vivacious; he’s more quiet and pensive. But the longer you listen to them talk and watch them interact with each other you have this growing sense of awareness that their unique personalities and who they are as individuals just seems to dovetail into one being like two adjoining pieces of a puzzle and that this merging of two into one contributes to the strength of their marriage.
Watching them and others who seem to so easily navigate what I found to be the torrid waters of a marriage I have come to the conclusion that one of the keys to being good with someone else is being happy with who you are as an individual. For all the faults I found in my spouse that led to our divorce the real issue is I failed me and did a darn good job of finding the faults in me by myself—I didn’t need his help in that process at all. I was a master of self deprecation and devaluation. So the real source of my discontent was more about my discontent with who I was and much less about my discontent with “who we were.”
I didn’t see myself as being smart enough, or slim enough, or athletic enough, or good enough. I recall that at the time I threw those feelings of insecurity at his feet and blamed him for making me feel that way. Did things happen in our marriage that contributed to those feelings? Yes. But after all these years I have to reluctantly admit that my underwhelming sense of self worth caught us both in a downward cycle that became impossible to work our way out of when we both crashed at the bottom after years of struggling in that whirlwind.
I watched the movie “It’s Complicated” the other day. It’s one of the best movies I’ve seen in quite some time. The movie touches on the dilemmas of a divorced family so well—the regrets, the wondering if you could have saved it, the complexity of being involved in a blended family for everyone even those within the extended family…and the joys in new beginnings.
Today I’m happily remarried to a man that I feel good about myself with. Have I conquered all my feelings of insecurity and self doubt? No. But I find that I don’t bring him into my struggle with myself like I did with my first husband. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m older and wiser now or that all that therapy I paid for during my divorce years really did pay off. Maybe it’s just that I feel less at-risk of a divorce because I’ve been through one and discovered that indeed life goes on and you do survive. Maybe this sense of survival makes you more flexible with this second chance you’ve got to carve out a life with another person and find happiness in a second marriage. Regardless of the reason the important thing is that you are acutely aware that whatever you do you’ve got to give it your all to make it work.
I hope none of my children or my husband’s son ever faces a divorce in their own marriages. I hope they’ve learned lessons from their parents’ mistakes on ways to build stronger relationships, better marriages, happier homes so they can avoid going through one of the most painful things you can ever experience in life. And I also hope that my ex-husband, someone who was so meaningful in my life in so many ways and such a powerful force in helping to shape who I am today and the lives of our children, I hope he finds the happiness and love that he so badly craved and rightfully deserves. That’s all I want. Not much. But, like I said, it’s complicated.