Divorce is not easy for anyone involved. No one is spared the drama and fear that comes from the words, “I want a divorce.” Once they are uttered in a relationship, the trust collapses. There may be a way back from the brink, but when one partner plays the D-card, the other partner now knows the gun is cocked and the safety is off.
How Divorce Scorched My Life
I wish my then-wife had asked for a divorce. She didn’t. We were in couple’s therapy and she sort of let it out, that she had been to see an attorney. “Just to understand my options,” she said, after the slip. And that was the end of my marriage. Even the counselor was surprised that she had not discussed this nuclear option in THERAPY before consulting an attorney.
When my then-wife got the “divorce package” talk from her new confidant, they were claiming to be looking out for her best interests and the best interests of the children. However, her incentive was to land a client. The current movie, Marriage Story, is a good example of how a divorce attorney can go for blood, even when no war is necessary.
In our case, my then-wife had been attending couples therapy with me once a week for a couple of months. Not once in those sessions did she mention divorce. My guess is that she was already in preparation for the coming war. She liked to build spreadsheets and financial projections. I’m certain that she was modeling the best and worst scenarios for her financial future without me as a husband. She wanted me as a provider, but she wanted me to be a twice a month break for her, rather than a full co-parent.
When Co-Parenting Gets Hard
As our divorced life rumbled along, my ex-wife would behave in ways that I couldn’t understand. She would do things to deliberately hurt me. I learned over time, never to return fire. Mean texts. Don’t respond. Mean emails asking for help. Respond only to the requests involving the parenting of our children.
Six Masterclass Lessons on Divorce
- I cannot make my ex-wife happy
- When she is an ass, I can respond with kindness or not at all
- Returning rapier-witted messages (text, voicemails, emails) felt good for about 5 minutes
- Her anger was her own
- When she made requests couched in “for the kids” it was usually something she wanted for herself, but was using the kids as a trump card
- As the custodial parent she had 100% of the legal power
When she decided to freeze me out of all parenting discussions (not co-parent as we had written in our parenting plan) I had only one option: to sue her. She knew I would never use that option. She, on the other hand, had used the lawyer-option preemptively, and without warning. Withing mentioning it in couples therapy where we are trying to get 100% honest and transparent about what is going on in our marriage. She failed the honesty test. She armed herself for divorce before giving me any indication that she was thinking about divorce.
The Freeze Out
Oh, there had been indications of the coming storm.
- Zero intimacy
- Lighting-quick anger at minor issues
- Stormy moods
- Not getting up with me and the kids as we ate breakfast and prepared to leave for school
But the real coup d grace was her visit to the divorce attorney WHILE WE WERE IN THERAPY TO SAVE OUR MARRIAGE. And not bringing her complaints and frustrations into the counseling process. Oh, she complained a lot. Therapy had become an open season bitchfest of all the ways I was not making her happy, I was not reliable, I was depressed, I was not reliable. To this day, I would bet she is still framing our divorce in terms of what I didn’t do to make her happy. And of course, divorce attorneys know how to play that card.
“You’re just not happy. He’s no longer the man you married. How about if we get you $1,600 a month, you can keep the house, and it’ll be like a vacation for you every 1st, 3rd, and 5th weekend? You can keep everything in your life about the same. We just remove your deadbeat husband, who is no longer serving your best interest, or the best interest of the children?”
Into the Darkness of Divorce
In Dark Nights of the Soul, Thomas Moore talks about ways of coping with unbearable loss and sadness. His words comforted me during my early convalescence phase after the divorce. I was staying with my sister, in a mother-in-law room in her basement.
Moore says that honoring these periods of fragility as periods of incubation and positive opportunities to delve the soul’s deepest needs can provide healing and a new understanding of life’s meaning. Dark Nights of the Soul presents these metaphoric dark nights not as the enemy, but as times of transition, occasions to restore yourself, and transforming rites of passage, revealing an uplifting and inspiring new outlooks on life.
He talks about writing your story in epic terms. Like the Oddessy. Join the cannon of so many sad souls, working out their pain in words and stories. By recording your journey, you are processing and filtering all that is happening to you. It gives reflection and mindfulness. I can create a sense of calm even in the midst of the storm. And in the end, it leaves behind a tale of survival.
This Blog is My Epic Journey as a Father
As Odysseus struggles for ten years to return to his wife and son after the fall of Troy. In a similar epic battle, I have struggled with my own sirens, cyclops, and raging seas, and I am almost home. Today, I am building a relationship with a new foundation of trust, mutual admiration, and MOST IMPORTANTLY, the ability to fight for what hurts. If my then-wife had stood up in therapy and yelled, “This is what is hurting me in this marriage,” we might have been able to take advantage of our sessions to work things out. She chose, instead, to poison the marriage with her isolation and anger, and then lash out at me as the cause of the toxic relationship.
I learned, by writing this blog, that I could respond with kindness. If not kindness, then I could maintain a mindful silence. I learned to burn up my anger here on this blog, and on my original anonymous blog, The Off Parent. And while I can imagine this blog would cause my ex-wife a bit of pain, I’m certain her potential grief is a small price to pay for my sanity and survival.
This is a survival story. It contains many traps and enemies. And at the heart of it, flawed but still optimistic about the future, stands a man who has bared it all. Right here on these pages, I have attempted brutal honesty, even when I don’t like the picture I am drawing of myself.
A Homecoming After Divorce
Today, I love where I am. I am building deeper friendships and relationships with my children. (17 and 19) I am continuing to push for 50/50 parenting as the starting point for couples navigating divorce. And I am building a relationship on the idea that we are either continually turning TOWARDS our partner, or we are in the process of leaving them. Always ask for what you need. Your partner cannot read your mind. And that angry look your giving them may not convey what you’re hoping to convey. Talk about it. Give your partner the benefit of the doubt. Then lean-the-fk-in and reason things out together.
Once my then-wife chose the legal remedy for her anger and self-imposed loneliness, she was crossing a bridge between us and setting it on fire. And she never pointed out the bridge to me. And I’m not sure she was aware of the depth of the chasm she was bringing into all of our lives.
Check out The Pre-Natal Agreement on Amazon.
image: me and my son checking out the new iPad
As a certified life coach, I’ve been helping men and women find lives after divorce. If you’d like to chat for 30-minutes about your dating/relationship challenges, I always give the first 30-session away for free. LEARN ABOUT COACHING WITH JOHN. There are no obligations to continue. But I get excited every time I talk to someone new. I can offer new perspectives and experiences from my post-divorce journey. Most of all, I can offer hope.
More articles from The Whole Parent:
- Dad’s Divorce Journey: 9-years Later I Still Feel the Loss of Kid-time
- Heal Your Heart from the Fear and Loss by Opening with Vulnerability
- Self-Care and Appreciation: Can I Love All of Myself Right Now?
- 3 Required Traits for Building a Lasting Relationship
- The Big Three Marriage Issues and the Hope of Counseling
- 8 Lessons from My First 2 Divorces
- Dark Nights of the Soul: A Guide to Finding Your Way Through Life’s Ordeals – Thomas Moore
- Rising Strong – Brene Brown
- A Good Dad’s Guide to Divorce – John Oakley McElhenney
- How a parent’s affection shapes a child’s happiness for life – Motherly
- Dads now spend 3 times as much time with their kids than previous generations – Motherly
- The Science of Dad and the ‘Father Effect’ – Fatherly
- Fatherless Children Statistics: Absence + Involvement | Statistics – National Fatherhood Initiative