I have been married for 21 years and have a 16-year-old daughter. For 16 years of the marriage, I hoped couples counseling could help us, but my husband didn’t seem to see a problem as I did, so no significant change happened. Two years ago, I insisted we temporarily separate and use therapy to fix the marriage. The inconvenient truth is that three different therapists could not help us resolve issues, and my choice was to accept the difficult things and stay married or get a divorce.
I am going through an excruciatingly difficult divorce right now, and at each turn doubting myself, fearing I’ll never recover and forever regret my decision. I came to the U.S. to get married, not knowing anyone else, and now a lifetime I’ve built with him is shattered to pieces.
They say keep the emotionality out of divorce and it’s strictly business about dividing assets, but the self-doubts, the fears, the insecurity and the immense loss makes it hard to deal with each next step. I do have a good therapist to help me, and don’t know still how I get through each day.
— J.T., New Milford, Conn.
The first and most important thing I want to do is to say a few things about "They." "They say keep the emotionality out of divorce …"
They are wrong. If you have any depth at all as a human being — and clearly you do — then agonizing emotions must accompany the decision for divorce.
I would and do have serious concerns about folks who can shrug their shoulders and divorce as a mere c’est la vie.
Divorce is hell for thinking, feeling people. It crucifies us. Deconstructs us. Pushes a painful "restart" button on our identity. Like the Phoenix bird, divorce sets fire to the nest of our identity and we are consumed. There is simply no hurrying the arrival of the woman who will be resurrected from those ashes.
All I can tell you for sure is that, if you will endure in hell, you are going to very much like and respect the woman who is thusly resurrected.
I think what "They" meant to say is keep your emotional process off the table with your soon-to-be ex-husband.
Negotiate this separation only when you can keep the objective goal separate from the wounds each of you have sustained in this marriage. And, if one or both of you is unable to separate emotions from the necessary decisions, then move the forum to telephone or e-mail.
The last resort is, well … that’s why we pay lawyers. To stay objective when we cannot.
The only husbands and wives who need to process emotions with each other are husbands and wives working hard on reconciling a great marriage. The only husbands and wives who need to fight on are those fighting hard for marriage.
"Shattered, self-doubt, fears, immense loss, insecurity" — your description of hell is spot on. All of that. And, in hell, we mobilize our three-legged Inner Circle.
The first leg you already have: an individual therapist. What a nice thing to do for yourself! Your therapist will be present to your emotional process, encouraging you and helping you comb out the pieces, bit by bit. Advocating for you. Helping you hold on to the hope of the whole and well woman whom you will someday meet.
Next we select a very small list of — at least one and please no more than three — friends. Make the list of emotional confidants much bigger, and the process starts to work against you, making you more scattered instead of more centered.
In some cases, one of those friends will be a family member. But not always. Sometimes the love our family has for us prevents them from being an objective advocate. Their pain in your pain blurs their ability to be always useful and helpful.
The last of the three "legs" is you! Your willingness to do the work of your emotions. Because hell is ultimately a place we must go alone. As a wise mentor said to me, "We must be willing to sit quietly with our sadness." Breathe the sadness in. Breathe the sadness out. Let this agony have its way with you, like a lump of soft clay surrenders to the powerful fingers of the potter as it spins helplessly on the potter’s wheel.
Endure, good woman. The Potter is making something beautiful.
Originally published in View News, June 8, 2010.