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Divorce: 10 Things I Learned
by Vicki Lansky
For anyone who hasn't been divorced, trust me, divorce is never what you
imagine it to be. Here are a few insights that may save you a trip to
court, or at the very least, give you some idea of what may lie ahead.
Everything listed here might not apply to everybody. There will always be
exceptions to every rule, but it covers most of us.
1. It takes longer to get your divorce behind you than you think, or can
allow yourself to believe.
I did not come up with the term "good divorce." I'll credit that to
Constance Ahrons, author of the book "The Good Divorce." "A good divorce,"
she says, "is not an oxymoron.
I thought I had it together after a year. Then I thought I had it together
after three years. Then I was impressed when I could say I had been
divorced five years. Then I was devastated that I could be brought to tears
in seconds after eight years when something inappropriate, I thought, was
said to me. I guess it's always "there," but fortunately with each passing
year it feels longer ago, less important and more comfortable. But unlike
your child's owies, it's never quite all gone. As that old saying goes,
marriage may not be forever, but divorce is.
2. Going through divorce is a physical experience.
This one took me by surprise. My body seemed to experience a death-defying
whirlpool. I hate speed, roller coasters and the feeling of one's stomach
dropping when on a turbulent airplane ride. But I can remember having all
those feelings -- simultaneously -- while just sitting in a chair after we
separated. Yuck! Fortunately this usually passes in three to nine months.
Shorter than #1, but not short enough!
3. It never works out according to plan -- yours, that is!
And even when it does, it's only for a short time. Life after divorce is
always changing and you won't have a lot of control over those changes. We
often get hopelessly caught up in parenting plans when we first separate,
and, while that is important, it doesn't usually prepare you for the
ongoing changes and negotiations that go on for years -- changes that you
don't always like but learn to live with. There is the ongoing tradeoff of
deciding which battles will catch your children in the middle, and figuring
out when one must learn to lose a battle to win the war. Or should I say
the peace -- the peace of mind your children need. Life takes twists and
turns that will never be in the "plan," so you must learn to go with the
flow or be hopelessly mired in your own anger or disappointments.
4. Parental time (a.k.a. custody) and shared financial responsibility
(a.k.a. child support) are NOT tied together.
Though they might be tied together in the eyes of your mother or your
mother-in-law, these are two separate issues. When you confuse them or make
them cause-and-effect items, you do a squeeze on your kids. It seems like
such a natural ("If he doesn't pay support on time, well then the kids just
won't be ready on time or at all" or "I'll be damned if I'm going to send a
check this month if she and her honey are going on a ski trip with the kids
-- that's not what I'm sending support for.") but this is not a life
situation where each month comes to an even tally. It never is even.
Equitable is the best you can hope for. Marriage isn't even, so divorce
sure ain't gonna be.
5. You never outgrow your wish to be the favored parent.
Remember when your kids asked you who you loved best, you knew what a silly
(but honest) question it was because everyone likes being first in the
hearts of those they love. Unfortunately in a divorce, when parents aren't
together to hear news in a shared situation, your child will tell one
before the other. It doesn't mean you're the less favored, secondary or
unfavorite parent, but it sure does feels like it. So you have to learn to
forgive yourself when those competitive feelings crop up from the dark
depths of your soul and learn to laugh at them. Remember you're not alone.
6. Divorce doesn't "fix" your ex.
If your former spouse was cheap, never on time and thoughtless before the
divorce, he or she will continue to be tight, late and prone to saying
stupid things in the divorce. The things that you tolerated in marriage
under the perfume of love will infuriate you in divorce. You thought you
were done with putting up with "_____" (fill in the blank), but it
continues just like it was in your marriage. You have to learn to accept,
overlook and forgive, or else you are going to expend lots of wasted
emotions on someone you're not even married to. You can only be angry with
or hate someone you care about. (Ain't that a bummer!) Also, your lawyer
can't make your ex-spouse be a sensitive person or parent, so don't waste
unnecessary dollars trying to have your lawyer get "through" to him or her.
When you can begin to replace the word "wrong" (as pertains to parenting
skills, money values, personal habits, etc., etc., etc.) with the word
"different," you'll have come a long way toward acceptance.
7. Divorce, unlike marriage, is FOREVER when there are kids.
Unless you really wish to lose your position as a parent (which is THE
hardest on kids), you will have family occasions, graduations, shared
holidays, christenings, weddings and funerals that will continually bring
you together over the years. Those knots in your stomach at shared public
events, especially in the beginning, are known only to others who have been
through divorce. No one else has a clue. Approaching your ex first with a
friendly word at such events puts everyone else at ease and is a worthwhile
practice. And with practice, and some history, you may find those stomach
knots actually loosening. Mortal enemies have been known to actually become
friends, sometimes good friends, and many find they can be kind of
8. If you don't hate your exiting spouse when you first separate, you will
within three months to three years.
It's next to impossible to skip this one, though it always seems to come as
a surprise. Why, I'm not sure. Now you both have different agendas and no
way will your priorities (usually money concerns or kid issues) be the same
as your ex's. It's okay, and sometimes even important, to be angry with
your ex (for a certain amount of time -- not forever), but it's not okay to
share or show that anger with your children or in front of your children.
Not easy, but for their mental health, their need for a safe haven and
their need to love both parents, you've got to keep these volatile feelings
to yourself -- or limit them to your therapist or support group.
9. The day your ex remarries is really painful.
The only thing worse than hearing from a third party that your ex is
remarrying, is actually hearing the news from your ex. Obviously this is a
no-win situation. No matter how glad you are that your ex is your ex, you'd
never take him/her back, and you're thankful you're divorced, it's still a
painful time. It's that last nail in the coffin of what was once your
marriage, and your hopes and your dreams. If you know anyone whose ex is
getting remarried, don't let them spend that day alone. And if you know
your ex is getting remarried, don't spend it by yourself, unless you really
enjoy digging a dark hole and crawling into it. (Obviously the kids will be
attending the wedding and unsure of how to be of comfort to or deal with
the other parent.)
10. After all this, know that there is still such a thing as a good divorce.
Yes, you read that line correctly. Now this is not to be confused with
divorce is good, but there are ways of turning this lemon into lemonade.
Read up on how to do it. There are lots of books to help you -- I've
written one. Making peace with life's changes is good for you, for your
kids, and for your life. Divorce is not the path to be recommended easily,
but it's not a terminal illness, or a contagious disease either.
Astonishingly, in my studies I found half
the divorcing couples we interviewed had civilized, and many amicable,
relations with each other.
Another surprise was that almost everybody
wished to be on better terms with his or her ex, even the ones who had bad
I'm tired of the doomsday reports and the label of the
'broken home.' We have been so inundated with negative stories of divorce,
that men and women need to hear the message that they can make their
families work better, minimize stress, and not feel like total failures. In
a good divorce, a family with children remains a family -- one that is
sufficiently cooperative to permit kinship bonds to continue.
Perhaps if we begin to revise our expectations of what divorce means, all parents who
divorce can do so with civility and respect."
Vicki Lansky's practical, common sense approach to parenting and household management is familiar to thousands throughout the world. Her books, audiotapes, newsletter, media appearances, magazine and newspaper articles and reviews, make her one of America's most popular and visible parenting figures. According to one parenting newspaper, "If you have young children and you don't use Vicki Lansky's books as a reference, you are working too hard!"
Visit her website at http://www.practicalparenting.com
The Practical Parenting Catalog is available in printed form and can be sent to you free-on-request by calling 1-800-255-3379. It is also available as a free handout for groups. Just let us know how many you need for a 3 month period.