Melissa Etheridge and Mel Gibson. You have to be a hermit not to know about their messy relationship blow ups! They have made headlines recently, and both couples have come out with their fists swinging.
I recall the first conversation I had with a lawyer days after my ex moved out of the house. He identified two ways in which an unhappy spouse leaves a marriage. "Some spouses feel guilty when they leave," he said, "and they will be quite accommodating. You need to take advantage of this period and get the best deal you can. Then there's the second type of separation, in which the spouse will torpedo the relationship by lying, stealing or cheating and generally behaving like a louse."
What kind of break up characterizes your separation? I was lucky in that my ex felt guilty for several months. This allowed me to gather my thoughts and attend to my future. Then he met his new girlfriend (and future wife) and his attitude changed. Cruel words were spoken that I recall vividly to this day. But I never had to deal with the nightmarish and unreasonable behavior that so many abandoned spouses must go through.
I discovered one important survival trick soon after Bob moved out: while I could not save my marriage, I could control my behavior. I decided to take the high road and have largely stayed there. Research has shown that people who are able to face the future with a positive attitude and move on recover faster from the pain of divorce than those who wallow in self-pity or rehash old wounds. Here are my suggestions for those who are struggling to cope:
- Live in the moment. Don't blame yourself for past mistakes or live with regret. Don't fear the future unknown. Take each day as it comes. Reward yourself for small successes. Be KIND to YOURSELF and trust that one day you'll find contentment again.
- Don't react to a quarreling spouse. By not engaging with them, you take away their power to hurt you.
"In some cases the best way to deal with an unreasonable spouse is not to deal with him or her. No amount of discussion, debate or arguing will change the mind and attitude of a person who is bent on thinking and acting unreasonably. If your spouse truly believes you are a "jerk", then there is no amount of energy you can spend that will change that perception." - From the blog A Woman's Divorce
- Take charge of the things you can handle. Don't wait for your spouse to take all the action.
- Don't fool yourself into thinking your spouse will come back. If your spouse has left with clothes and some furniture and moved into an apartment, your marriage is over. My lawyer did not beat around the bush. He told me this in no uncertain terms - I just was not ready or willing to listen. I actually believed that Bob was going to therapy with me to mend our marriage. He was actually going to make the best divorce deal for himself.
- Pick your friends wisely. Surround yourself with people with positive attitudes and who have only your best interests at heart. (Some friends revel in the drama and add fuel to the fire. Stay away from them.) Don't force your friends or family to choose sides, especially when kids are involved. Take the high road.
- Listen to your instincts. Don't let others talk you into taking action that you know in your gut is wrong. My family tried to talk me into moving out of my house and to take other drastic action. I have since my divorce made changes in my life, but they were all done on MY terms and on my timeline, not someone else's. If a spouse is totally unreasonable, use a professional mediator to speak on your behalf.
- Forgiveness is a powerful drug. Forgive yourself. Forgive your spouse. Let petty things go. Concentrate on survival issues and on healing and growth. Don't dwell on inconsequential matters. Don't play the blame game. By letting go you will feel instant relief. There are couples who will spend all their assets on lawyers fighting over inconsequential possessions for months, even years. My friend, a great lawyer, advised me: "When you are both slightly unhappy with the division of your assets, then your negotiations are done."
- Yes, of course you need to vent your frustration, hurt, and anger. But do this in a "safe" environment. Exercise will help to keep your emotions under control. My mom allowed me to sit for 10 minutes on my pity pot before I had to get off. Those ten minutes, during which she listened quietly as I ranted and raved, allowed me to release a lot of steam. After a while, I simply ran out of anything to say.
- Cliched as it sounds, time does heal wounds. I am still sad that my wonderful marriage did not last, but I am stronger for having survived a time that I truly thought would kill me.
- The angry face of divorce, Andrea Brandt