Become an Active Verb During Your Divorce

During the stress of divorce, strike "would, should, and could" from your vocabulary. These words have no place in your life just now - they will only hurt you.

You know yourself better than anyone. If you were a loving, supportive, and kind spouse, do not let your divorcing spouse accuse you of having behaved in any other way.

During my marriage I thought about my husband's well being night and day. I would go to the grocery store and ask myself, "What would Bob like?" I would think as he was traveling, "I wonder what Bob is doing just now?" And while he was at work, I would clean the house the way he liked, purchase his favorite soft drinks, and eagerly look forward to his return home. I had my own active life, so I didn't drop everything that nurtured me to accommodate him, but he was my number one priority.

During my divorce and shortly afterward he said he regarded my love for him a sham. "It was just for show, Vic." He did not believe I loved him.

But I knew what I had thought and felt during my marriage, and although it hurt me to know that he did not value my brand of loving, he could not shake my knowledge that for 32 years, through 6 years of dating and 26 years of marriage, he was the most important person in my life. I did not allow him to rewrite our history in my head, and I still cling to the belief that whatever mistakes I made (and there were plenty), I could not have loved him more.

We cannot make others happy. We can love our spouses, support them, make them our priority, and tell them we need them, but I fervently believe that we cannot "complete" them. There is a journey that each one of us must travel alone. Oh, the quest is easier when one basks in the love and support of a spouse, but when that spouse expects you to fill an empty hole within his soul, well, nothing you do, nothing you say, nothing you give can fill that needy, bottomless pit.

I found this out the hard way. The irony was, that as I matured and found fulfillment in my life through my creativity, my husband became deeply unhappy and restless. One of the last statements he made to me was that while he was able to make me happy, I could not do the same in return.

Not true. Before I learned that you cannot make another person happy, I tried to make Bob happy as best I could, whether it was through traveling to places he liked, or attending business dinners, or inviting his friends over, or loving his family as my own. But my attempts were never good enough. So, when Bob said he was leaving, the one truth I clung to and the one thing that I knew to be true was that I was the best wife I could possibly be. Bob's words hurt, but they did not strike my inner core. Interestingly, my nature is to settle back into contentment and happiness after I have dealt with the issues of a major catastrophic event. I venture to say that 6 1/2 years after our divorce I am as content as I have ever been. (And I strongly suspect Bob is still unhappy.)

As you and your spouse go your separate ways, be kind to yourself. Think of yourself as an active verb. You are good. You are loving. You are a spectacular person. And this world is a better place because you are in it.


Old Friends

Old friends visited this past week, two who go all the way back with me to college, and two who once belonged to our "tennis group" but who divorced five years before me. Of the four, three of us are divorced and one has remarried.

This was a trip down memory lane, which I find so important now that I have no one close to me who can share those special old times. In each instance my friends and I did something we used to do together, such as listen to music or fix a great meal together.

One of the couples who visited was once married, but she left him ten years ago. They arrived together in order to attend parent orientation at a local college. The divorce was acrimonious at first, but because they shared custody of three girls they had to find a way to get along. She has remarried and is as happy as I've ever seen her. But she and her children went on a roller coaster ride before settling down again. The oldest girl, 12 at the time of the divorce, acted out her anger, doing poorly in school, hanging out with the wrong crowd, and running away from home on several occasions. The youngest emerged relatively unscathed, but the middle child chose not to live with her mother and their relationship has never gotten back on track.

One friend, a male, and I had a long discussion about the fact that even if our spouses wanted us back, we had moved so far along that we wouldn't want them. Neither of us thinks we want to marry again, which surprised us, since we were the two who fought hardest to keep our marriages intact.

It was a pleasant week, filled with memories, some going all the way back to 1969. Yes, I miss having that significant other in my life and those cozy dinners at another couples' house. But I am amazed at how far along we four friends have traveled and how strong we have become.


Fathers are so important

As a child of divorce I was always searching for my father. My parents separated when I was 6 months old, and divorced when I turned three. My brother and I visited our father on Sundays for half a day until he moved so far away that my brother never saw him again. I made an attempt to see him when I was in college and saw him twice in adulthood.

Be that as it may, I have searched for my father all my life. His loss informed my childhood. I cried. I ranted. I railed. A psychologist examined my brother and me and declared my brother fragile. He said I was resilient and that I would survive. My mother took his words to heart, and concentrated on healing my brother, who is 18 months older than me.

Even as people told me I was fine, I bled inside. I thought that if I concentrated on being a good girl, if I just followed the rules, then my father would return. But he didn't. And being a young girl with a great big will I demanded to see him many times and in a loud voice. When I got older, my mother and stepfather and other relatives told me that they didn't know what to do with me in those days.

I was simply a little girl who was grieving. I needed to be held and told I was ok. But my mother worked all day and had two young children to raise on her own, and she in turn was exhausted.

I developed asthma and insomnia, and I would rock myself to sleep. And always, always, I knew I was the reason that my father had left us. I was wracked with guilt, and I remember being envious of all the good little girls who still had their fathers.

What would have assuaged my tiny broken heart? I don't know. That nameless, faceless psychologist did me no favor. Years later my mother apologized for not realizing how damaged I was. The result of those early fatherless years appeared during my teen years. I would be so devastated when a boyfriend broke up with me, that my family feared for my sanity. After the first two break ups, I did anything and everything to keep a relationship going. Which meant being a good girl and never saying no.

I married a man with a stable family, and I was determined to stay married to him. My children would not be children of divorce. And always, always I was a good little girl, doing exactly what my husband asked of me, and sublimating my own ambitions in order to please him.

Dads play such an important role in their children's upbringing. Even if parents must divorce (and there are times when this is the only option), it is so important afterwards that children still feel equally loved and desired by both parents. Absentee fathers and mothers damage their children almost beyond repair. I was well into my fifties before I understood the full consequences of my father's abandonment.

So on this Father's Day, I hope all divorced fathers will contact their children (or are receptive to their children's overtures.) And I hope that all divorced mothers can lay their differences with their exes aside for the sake of the children, and allow fathers to have a full role in their kid's lives.

Image from http://www.trevorromain.com/blog/archives/2006/08/


Not feeling like a failure

It's tough not feeling like a failure after divorce. I was watching Kathy Griffin on My Life on The D-List. This comedienne is brash, tough, saucy, and irreverent. Yet when she spoke about her divorce, her eyes teared up, her voice thickened, and I could hear her anguish when she admitted, "I feel like such a failure." It was the one serious moment in an otherwise hilarious show.
Those words resonate with me to the extent that I can't get Kathy's statement out of my head. My family is Roman Catholic, and yet my parents divorced when I was 3 years old. My entire childhood felt like a stigma. Everyone else's parents were married, but mine were not. Being a child, I felt that if I was just a little bit better, if I was good enough and behaved, then Mom and Dad would get back together again.

In addition, my grandmother, who was a staunch, old-fashioned Catholic, just wouldn't leave the divorce alone. She kept discussing it whenever my brother and I came to visit. We would lurk in a corner as she harangued us about my mother and the situation. We came away feeling that the divorce was all our fault, and it affected our relationship with our grandmother, who we never quite learned to love.

Fast forward to when I chose my husband. I fell in love with his stable family almost as much as I fell in love with him. His mom and dad had been married all his life. Better yet, he had grown up in the town he'd been born in. I mixed his family up with Donna Reed and Father Knows Best - the two families I craved most - and being so full of Catholic guilt, and so young and naive, I just didn't know any better.

This child of divorce was so determined not to get divorced herself, that when the worst thing that could possibly happen did, my jerry-rigged world shattered. Since then I've dealt with the loss; but I am still dealing with not feeling like a failure.

Learn more about Children and Divorce on this site. Click here.

Starter Wife, 2

Too bad. Starter Wife, which I so enjoyed in its first week, has completely degenerated into an unrecognizable soap opera. Instead of dealing with the issue of divorce and separation in any realistic way (there were at least a few moments of truth in the first episode), we find our heroine falling in love with a homeless man, the head of a movie studio missing, and an odd assortment of people moving into her beach house.

Divorce isn't entertaining, but couldn't they have interjected some elements of realism into Episode Two? Ah, well. This new development will free up my Thursday evenings.


Dividing one's assets

As I was going through my separation, I recall a conversation I had with a young co-worker. She was 27 years old, an art student, and she’d been divorced for one year. Her marriage had lasted five years. During the bulk of it, both she and her husband had been students. She told me grandly that she didn’t believe in any woman asking for alimony or asking for anything from her ex. She had left her marriage with nothing, and she felt that all women should do the same.

I looked at her astounded, saying, “I am only asking for 50%, nothing more and nothing less.” I wasn’t even asking for alimony. In fact, at the time, 50% of my salary went to Bob; while only a small portion of his much more considerable earnings supported me. I remember this young lady quarreling with me and disagreeing to such an extent that I felt defensive. After that one conversation, I let the matter drop. My energy was limited, and I needed to preserve my wits for more important things.

During the years, I have not forgotten her statements, and have pondered over them often.

I might have agreed with her had Bob and I divorced after five years. He and I were students well through our thirties. We had purchased a house, but its proceeds went towards paying off our education. We were living in apartments filled with second hand furniture. Our cars were old and rattly, and we hardly owned anything more than the clothes off our backs.

After five years, I would have still been 29 and going to school. In addition, I would have had no trouble finding a well paying job soon after my education. I also would have had no trouble dating, being the gregarious, sociable sort. Plus, so many men I knew during that period were still single. In my fifties, the reverse is true.

Flash forward 21 years. I had been out of the job market for a considerable amount of time, supporting my husband’s career rather than my own. We owned a house, a vacation spot, an expensive boat, three cars, stocks, bonds, pensions, IRAs, and insurance policies. We had accumulated 26 years of memories and STUFF.

Dividing one’s possessions is never easy, not when emotions are involved. But I suppose, the separation of our combined assets would have been much easier after five years of relative poverty. After 26 years, we were faced with the prospect of dividing a considerable amount of accumulated “wealth”.

It’s all a matter of time and perspective, isn’t it? Just don't let anyone talk you out of what you know to be right for your situation. When the time comes to divide up your property, you will need to hang tough.

Here's some advice about dividing your assets:

Dividing Assets: Who Gets What Where

Divorce: How to Get it Right and Get on With Your Life


Starter Wife?

I admit, I'm a Debra Messing fan. And I had great hopes for Starter Wife, the new mini-series on USA channel on Thursday nights. After all, shouldn't it be easy for first wives to identify with Molly, who learns with a sudden shock that she is a 'starter wife'?

Molly's lifestyle is unrealistic compared to mine, but I understand why the producers decided on a Hollywood background: It's more interesting to watch a continuing series about the rich and famous.

While there are some realistic touches (the waffling friends; the change in lifestyle; the constant shocks as the abandoned but perfect wife goes through one situation after another) I was saddened to see the series descend steeply into Soap Hell. Towards the end of the first episode, I felt I had very little in common with the beauteous Molly.

It's too bad that this mini-series didn't stick to a more substantial premise. Last year one young lady told me, "My first marriage is for practice; my second marriage is meant to last." Huh? Is this the new attitude among the young? If so, this t.v. series has missed out on a rich goldmine of topics and an opportunity to delve deeply into this issue.

I'll continue to watch the show for a while, hoping I can relate to it. But I won't stick with it if it remains trite.

This critical Washington Post article sums the show up best.