Challenges presented by divorce

Climbing back upWhen my ex-wife disclosed to me that she wanted a divorce I was present in the conversation but it took me quite a while to grasp of what is happening. Divorce wasn’t part of my life playbook. I was taken totally off guard. I tried to protect my inner self with (self) denial and false hopes.

The first thing that changed for me was that I lost my ability to analyze, think straight, make decisions and stick with it. If you have been through this process before I am not telling you anything you don’t know.

I experienced the power of my subconscious battling my conscious – pulling me in many different directions over the course of one day. Add some self pity, guilt, anger, fear into the brew and stir it well. I could not believe how irrational I had become. I learned how little control I have about many aspects of my life. I would have provided a field day for any Jungian analyst.

I went back and forth from enjoying the presumed benefits of my new single status to being very depressed due to the tremendous loss in my life numerous times each day.

Our original plan to continue to live together in the same home and co-parent our daughter fell through. We tried hard. But it was simply too challenging to untangle our lives right in front of each other. I felt like an invisible rubber band tied around my waist was constantly holding me back when I tried to move on. On the positive side we managed all the “technical” aspects of our divorce in a peaceful manner.

My fear of loosing my marital relationship prevented me from taking an honest inventory. There was too much at stake.

Was I really living the life that I envisioned for myself when I entered our marriage? My total commitment to my marriage prevented me to ask myself the hard questions – let alone answer them. Eventually we reached the point where we both looked at each other and spoke in total truth about what was coming up for us when we looked at our marriage. Ironically we agreed on a lot of the data and I felt very connected to the woman that was turning into my ex-wife. It almost felt like being on a first date and discovering a lot of common ground. These conversations will stick with me for the rest of my life. I spoke about this process in a prior blog post.

My ex did her homework sooner than me and was way ahead in terms of the emotional divorce process. The date of our legal divorce is the same. As for our emotional divorce we are on separate timelines. At times I looked at it as a race and tried to catch up with her. At other times I tried to pull her back – not willing to accept how far she had moved on already.

My transitional period
As much as I glorified my marriage I will stay away from glorifying my single life. It is a moment in life to do some work on myself. From prior experiences in my life I understand the tremendous power of time. Patience is key. I know that many things that cause me pain today will cause me a little less pain tomorrow. I am looking at the opportunities that my new life has to offer. But I am humble enough to not label this lifestyle as superior to anyone else’s. Being humble means being less judgemental. I put myself above others when I was married and consider making the same mistake twice immature.

For now I am embracing my new life. This is a time for reading, for redefining, reemerging, reconnecting, self reflection and healing. Eventually this phase will come to an end. Living through it consciously will allow me to build a solid foundation for entering the next phase of my life.

As a creative person I now have more time to turn thoughts into ideas and ideas into reality. I know that I will look back at this stage with a feeling of accomplishment.

Some lessons learned
I still look at a committed long-term relationship as a major source of happiness in my life. I will not give up on this belief because of my divorce.

I couldn’t figure out that my partner was contemplating divorce for a long time before it actually happened. I totally missed that point. I thought I was in tune with my partner but I obviously fooled myself.

As a consequence of this I am concerned of becoming overly suspicious and overanalyzing. I still feel burdened by the experience of not knowing what was going on with my ex. I believe that trust is a key element of a committed relationship and don’t want my past experience to stand in the way of getting close to my future partner.

My trust went too far though. I let it rule over my intuitions and let it numb me. Ever heard of “blind trust”? I learned my lesson about the negative aspects of this phrase. I could elaborate much more on the risks and benefits of completely trusting someone but this would be an entire blog post by itself.

Going forward I will make more room and time with my future partner for looking deeper at each other – without fear of what I will see and what will come back to me. I will try to listen closer to my intuitions and give them a stronger voice. As a hypersensitive person I have no shortage of them.

I will still not run away from a committed relationship when things become challenging. I’ll simply try to be more persistent when I sense something in my relationship needs to be worked on.

I think the inbound piece of a relationship is often underrated. The state of a marriage doesn’t really depend too much on what the outside world thinks. Outside support feels good but it doesn’t change the fundamentals of a relationship. My ex and I were a poster child couple for all our friends and family and this somehow prevented us from taking an unbiased look at our relationship. It turned out that their truth wasn’t exactly our truth.

I will not set up myself for failure by entering into another marriage anytime soon. The statistics show that 50% of all first marriages fail. For 2nd marriages the rate climbs to 70%. That alone is a reason to think more than twice.

I am able to separate any negative sentiments I am a carrying inside myself from holding grudges. I can decide which feelings I want to hold on to and what to let go of. This is not exactly a new lesson for me but it is worth reminding myself of it once in a while.

Will I say “yes I do” again?
It is way too soon for me to answer that question.

I feel that being in a relationship – as in being fully being present – is more important than how I label it to the outside. I am very intrigued by the self-discovery and discovering-each-other process that can happen in a committed long-term relationship. Therefore the “relationship light” lifestyle doesn’t really appeal to me.

Does this have to be within the “institution” of marriage? For many reasons I see the role of marriage morphing into something different than what it used to be. Until our society has caught up and adjusted to the changes in modern day family life we are challenged to define for ourselves how much of the traditional elements we’d like to carry over into our own lives and what to let go of. I believe that this is a discussion we should all have with our partners – blocking out the noise from the outside world.

Finding out where your partner is at
I feel that at the beginning of the discussion both partners need to throw all standard conventions over board and need to envision their relationship as they’d like it to be. How about both partners doing this a piece of paper without your partner seeing it? Then you exchange what you wrote down. If you are both on the same page you can enter into the next round.

If you put something on your list because it sounds good or try to win your partner over you are setting yourself up for failure. Eventually you will get busted.

Repeating this process once in a while with total honesty might also present an opportunity to check in with your partner further down the road. The rewards of this potentially painful process might be greater than the risk of some unpleasant surprises. The sooner one partner learns about issues of his/her spouse the less overall pain is caused and the more options both partners have.

Without truth you are the looser

Final notes
Of course I wish I would have known sooner about the feelings of my ex. But at the end I have to give her credit for the courage she had. She ended my life as being the fool on the hill. I went from blaming her to blaming me. Eventually I reached the point of letting go of blame and just accept what happened as a part of my life. I much rather have both us living in integrity than living a dream that doesn’t exist.

I still think highly of my ex wife. I am grateful for our post-divorce life allowing for both of us to move on but still being in close communication where it still matters. Raising our daughter clearly tops that list.

As for personal growth: What better opportunity is there than dealing with big challenges in life? And isn’t personal growth one of the big focus areas for all if us highly spiritual people? No I am not trying to cheer anyone on to go through the same process. I am just offering a way to look at the cup half full.

Divorce is uncharted territory for me. I do take pieces of advice.

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  • Francisco Gonima

    As you already know well amigo, much of what you share here resonates for me as well. I praise you for sharing your journey through this forum.

    I would offer a perspective that came to me as I read your words on trust. After my divorce, I walked the same path that you describe on "trusting her". I realized eventually though that what I was describing as "trusting her" or trusting in the relationship was not an entirely honest assessment on my part.

    In truth, if I placed blind trust in anything, it was in the mental model that I had of the relationship, the archetype, which is different from the actual relationship itself. As life happened with its ups and downs, the reality began to shift and I failed to appropriately shift with it because it was easier to just remain attached to the positive mental model. As a result I got hurt, but it would be unfair for me to say that it was because of misplaced trust in my ex. I got hurt because when I woke up to reality it was so distant from expectation that it triggered an extreme amygdala response in my brain and in my soul that locked up my emotional CPU.

    There's a great book out there on this very subject called "Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why" by Laurence Gonzales. In his analysis of the neuroscience and behavioralism of extreme wilderness crises, he uncovers that those who survived, independent of levels of survival expertise, were those who held the freshest and most honest mental models of their situation and acted accordingly. Those who perished by contrast were those who failed to let go of a mental model of what was supposed to be and as a result made choices resulting in tragedy. This was even true of ex green berets who died on family rafting trips in the US!

    My trust in my ex was never misplaced. It was my excessive and arrogant trust in a mental model that I subconsciously chose to avoid updating for fear of what that would represent. As a result, I continued to make the best choices that I could, but based on atrociously inaccurate assumptions. The result of that is of course well known to you.

    As the saying goes- it isn't the things that we don't know that get us…it's the things we felt sure we knew but had wrong.

    I too remain unsure about my interest, willingness or ability to marry again. What I hope though is that if and when I meet the person that motivates me to take a look good at the question, I will hold myself accountable for continuously living in the actual present state of the relationship rather than walking through a backed up copy of its state at some past moment long gone.

    One thing is for sure though, I hope I get the chance to apply the lesson.

  • I know you hold yourself to the highest standards. It is always easy to blame the failure of a relationship on someone else. We both know that a chance for personal growth is being passed with that attitude. Some people say I am too hard on myself.

    In order to move on I need to look on my shortcomings. It was of course more comfortable to sit tight and hold on to something that would allow room for adjustments without fear, anger, resentment and the likes. The approach you are suggesting requires being fearless and open to change. I was not that man in my marriage. It was quite obvious that our relationship was changing and I didn't have the tools at hand to act accordingly.

    I wasn't ready to question the fundamentals of our relationship. As much as I am calling for fresh perspectives on relationship I also held on to a very traditional model of marriage being for life. I still think a lifelong relationship is the right goal to have but in modern times it must be achieved differently. We have more awareness and higher expectations and that needs to factored in.

    In my case the worst pain was already over once I finally woke up to reality. That's because I held on for a long time. In order to grab something new in live you have to let go.

    I was actually thinking about a whole separate blog post on trust. You laid it out very well. Thanks for being such a good sport in the quest of finding personal happiness!

  • klaus, thank you for posting this. as ever, you strike powerful chords & you strike them well. "patience is the key" is so true & i applaud your continued optimism about finding happiness in long-term relationships.

    i have been married twice & the second one (with the much-talked about – at least by me – ms flawnt) has been blessed with a daughter on top of everything else. i ended my first marriage, which had its moments & left my italian wife for my current wife. a decision which i do not regret though i regret the immature & unnecessarily cruel way in which i did it. in return i was settled with bad karma & with a lifelong ire by that said first wife which i deserve. fifteen years on, some of these wounds have finally healed (at least for me, and i hope for her, too). there were no kids, which was no more than luck.

    ms flawnt who is on her 3rd marriage (what are the odds there?) & i on my 2nd do not believe in the statistics you quoted. systemically speaking as a therapist, it is true that the loyalty bond of each additional marriage is weaker than of the preceding ones. but this does not equate to the new relationship being doomed if it is lead in respect for previous relationships & if both partners remain conscious of the gift that is love.

    in any case, i am not one to give advice, except through my stories in the most sublimated manner, but your story touched me & i wish you all conceivable luck & strength on the road ahead!

    ff

  • Of course I'll be looking to beat the odds ;-)

    I also don't want a weaker loyalty bond in my next relationship. I am one of those hopeless romantics who is either all in or all out. If I am questioning what the heck I am doing I am much better off staying on my own.

    I think Francisco laid out a great roadmap in his comment above. I rather focus on my part than sitting back and questioning my partner or the state of our relationship. It is a constant effort not to fall into this trap.

  • Of course I'll be looking to beat the odds ;-)

    I also don't want a weaker loyalty bond in my next relationship. I am one of those hopeless romantics who is either all in or all out. If I am questioning what the heck I am doing I am much better off staying on my own.

    I think Francisco laid out a great roadmap in his comment above. I rather focus on my part than sitting back and questioning my partner or the state of our relationship. It is a constant effort not to fall into this trap.