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Your Post-Divorce Journey Back to Yourself
By Daryl G. Weinman
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2015 Daryl G. Weinman
All rights reserved.
What Is a Marriage?
If you're reading this book, chances are you are recently divorced, going through a divorce, or someone you love is going through a divorce. So, how did we get here? How did one of the happiest times in our lives turn sour, grow bitter, and eventually end? No one gets married, makes a lifelong commitment to another person, and shares their heart and soul with the thought that it will eventually end, yet more than half of all marriages in the U.S. end up in divorce. How does that happen?
We all want to love and be loved. We want to feel wanted, safe, secure, and grounded. When we find the person who we believe will be by our side forever, who gives us those wonderful feelings of security and happiness, when we make a lifelong plan to be together until the end, what happens when all of that suddenly disappears? It's sad, scary, and lonely all at once. We either feel like the rug has been yanked out from under us or we feel like we failed. Now we have to start life all over again, only we're not as young, or attractive, or optimistic as we used to be. And maybe this time, we have kids who are looking to us to figure out how to go forward. While we are spiraling to figure how to create a new life and a new future for ourselves, they are looking to us to figure it out for them, too. How will we begin again? What will this new life look like? How will we survive?
Let's start from the beginning: What is a marriage in the first place?
From a legal and technical standpoint, marriage is a contract between three parties: the husband, the wife, and the state. Each of these parties has certain minimum requirements that the others must meet before they get married and they all have some very specific expectations. Unfortunately, the requirements and the expectations are not always the same for all involved, and they are not always communicated very well to the others, either. When two people decide they are "ready" to get married, they often choose not to have the difficult conversation about their specific fears and expectations — after all, a conversation like that could "ruin the moment" and take away from the romance. However, without having that conversation and without learning about the other person's fears, ideas, and expectations, there can be some unhappy results later, when the romance starts to fade.
Let's look at each of these parties individually.
The state: The state's requirements and expectations are pretty basic and pretty clear. In order to be legally married, you have to obtain a marriage license, and in order to obtain that license, you have to meet that state's legal requirements. The requirements vary from state to state, but in general, you have to be of age to consent (18, unless you have permission from your parents to marry earlier, which in some states can be as young as 14), you have to be competent to make a contract (you must not be legally incompetent due to a mental defect), you can't be under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of marriage (which is why all states have a waiting period from the time of licensing to the time of the wedding — usually about 72 hours, to give the parties time to sober up), you can't be legally married to someone else, you can't marry a close relative, and in some states (like Texas) you have to prove that you are current on your child support obligation before you can get a license. Once married, the state gives couples certain benefits, like allowing for joint tax filing, allowing for family insurance coverage, automatic inheritance rights, the right to consent for medical treatment, etc. During the marriage, however, there is only one requirement that the state requires of the parties: The spouses have to financially support each other's basic needs (food, clothing, and shelter) so the state doesn't have to bear that burden.
Husband and wife: This is where the huge differences between men and women come shining through. Men and women each have very different reasons that they make the decision to marry, and they have different expectations and different goals. These differences are not always well communicated or understood by the other person and I believe this is the main reason marriages fail.
There are lots of reasons people get married: Companionship, social pressure, financial support, to have children and create their personal vision of a "family," etc. Generally, people get married because they feel they are "ready" to get married or they no longer want to be alone. However, I think that most often it is all about timing. Like the song says: "if you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with." If you haven't met your ideal mate at the time you're ready to settle to down, maybe the guy you're with is "good enough."
Women often get to a point where they feel they have reached an age where they want to settle down, maybe start having kids, start combining households and income, and be settled into a committed "forever" relationship. Sometimes they just want their family and friends to stop asking them when they are going to settle down and get married. Sometimes they worry that if they don't get married soon, they will end up alone for the rest of their lives. If they get to this point, they may look at the guy they are with at the time this realization hits and say to themselves, "He is good enough — I'm ready to be married and I love him enough." They may be feeling pressure because their friends or siblings are all getting married and having kids and they feel the need to be part of that social structure. They may feel that their "biological clock" is ticking. They may feel that they are getting older and the pool of available options is thinning out.
Remember the scene in "When Harry Met Sally" when Meg Ryan describes a scene where she is 31 years old, living in New York City, and she is in a cab playing "I Spy" with her friend's daughter? She says that the little girl pointed to a man and a woman with a child on the man's shoulders and says "I spy a family" and it made Meg Ryan start to cry. Why? Because at that point in her life, she feels sad and lonely and sorry for herself because she feels ready to start a family, she feels societal pressure to start a family, and she hasn't found "the one." That is a dangerous place to be in. That is when bad decisions get made. That is when we settle for the next guy that comes along.
Timing is a huge reason that people make the decision to get married, and it isn't generally the best reason. When people make the decision because they are feeling pressure (sometimes from others, but more commonly it is the pressure they put on themselves), they ignore the big red flags that may be waving brightly in front of them. If they choose to put on blinders, they don't ask the important questions because they know they may not like the answer. They convince themselves that they can handle whatever the problems might be (because they are "so in love" and they are so "ready" to be married) and they will believe that they will get through whatever differences exist or may come up in the future because they are determined to succeed and to be happy. They want the relationship to work so badly that they ignore certain realities staring them in the face from the beginning.
Case Study: Delia was 27 years old when she started dating Doug. She was coming out of another relationship that didn't work out and she was now ready to find "the one." All of her friends were married or getting married, and even her little sister was married. She was feeling the pressure to have her permanent date to family and social events, plus she was ready to start a family. Delia and Doug dated for a little less than two years before Delia told Doug one morning that they needed to make a decision — they needed to decide if this relationship was moving toward marriage, or ending. Four months later, they were married. There were so many red flags that Delia should have noticed, but she chose to shut her eyes and pretend they weren't there (or maybe she just convinced herself that they weren't very important). After all, they would be able to work through it, right? They were mature, responsible adults and they were in love, so it would all be ok, right? Delia ignored the fact that Doug had a very poor relationship with every one of his family members, she ignored the fact that Doug had very few friends, she ignored the fact that he had been married before and had a very poor relationship with his ex-wife. In sum, she ignored the fact that Doug had poor interpersonal skills and didn't "play well with others." "No matter," she thought. Delia was a very social and outgoing person. She was a nurturer and caretaker and felt that she could bring Doug into her world and "fix" his problems. She ignored the reasons that he had such poor relationships in his life and decided that with enough love, in the right environment, it would all work out. During the marriage, she tried to overlook his excessive drinking and use of marijuana on a daily basis and refused to recognize that this was Doug's way of self-medicating because he was a very unhappy person (she wanted to believe it was just an immature phase he was going through and that it wouldn't last). She believed that if they acted like a happy couple and if she acted lovingly toward him, that they would actually be happy and actually be in love. But that wasn't reality, and over time, the relationship deteriorated. Delia got tired of defending Doug to other people, trying to explain that he didn't mean to offend them, and that he was really a good person, just misunderstood. She got tired of being called ugly names by Doug and being accused of cheating on him every time he got drunk and got his feelings hurt. She also got tired of having to deal with her own life all by herself and without a true partner, because Doug was too self-centered and too lost in his own problems to ever support her through her difficult times. If she had opened her eyes and paid attention at the beginning of the relationship, she would have seen clearly that all of these traits — his poor interpersonal relationships, his depression and low self-esteem, his dependency on drugs and alcohol, and his inability to show love, support, and compassion for another person — were all there from the start. She made the decision to put on blinders to all of this and marry him anyway. You can probably guess that this ultimately led to divorce.
Case Study: Annie initially married her high school sweetheart from her small hometown in North Texas. Her husband was a rodeo clown, which was a fun lifestyle for the short term, but not much of a long-term plan for Annie. The marriage didn't last long and Annie found herself in her early 20s and already divorced. She dated for several years but by the time she was approaching 30, she felt a lot of pressure to get remarried to "the one." Her friends were all married and starting to have babies and she felt that life was passing her by. At 29, she met Rob. He was a little older and was divorced with two children. She could see that he really loved his girls and that he made a very comfortable living. She felt like he would be a good father for the children she wanted to have, a good provider, and basically that he was "good enough." Annie and Rob married and had two children, but things began to deteriorate pretty quickly. Rob was verbally, emotionally, and sometimes physically abusive to Annie. He was a control freak when it came to their finances and he was extremely jealous of any man who spoke to Annie. Annie hung in there for 15 years because she lived a very comfortable lifestyle, she wanted to keep her family together for the sake of her kids, and because she was in terrible fear that if she left, she would have no way to support herself. However, after 15 years, the abuse was too much and she finally ended it.
At the time of marriage, there are certain basic agreements that spouses make, but somehow even those basic agreements seem subject to interpretation (and misinterpretation) and manipulation. For example, most people seem to have an implicit agreement that once they are married, they will not have a sexual relationship with any other person — in other words, they agree that they will be faithful to their spouse. Seems pretty basic, right? So, how does this basic agreement that seems so black and white become varying shades of gray during the marriage? For example, if after several years of marriage, the husband tells the wife that he has always had a fantasy for having sex with two women at the same time, does the woman have to agree to allow him to do this? Should she participate? If she agrees to allow it and chooses to participate to placate her husband, does it violate the basic agreement of their marriage — is one or both of them being "unfaithful"? What if they meet a couple who wants to "wife swap," and they agree to do it — if they both do it, are they both breaking their initial agreement? Or are they modifying the agreement along the way? What if one of them has a one night stand (or two) with a stranger when they are out of town traveling for business? There is no emotional relationship, just a brief sexual encounter. Does that count as a violation? What about a secret emotional relationship with a person of the opposite sex (without the sexual component) — is that cheating? People find ways to justify their behavior and to explain how their behavior didn't really violate their marital agreements.
Maybe at the time of the marriage, both parties felt that it was a true agreement or commitment, but then something changed along the way. If a commitment can be modified or manipulated by one of the parties later, was it ever truly an agreement — a true meeting of the minds? Again, maybe we see things the way we want to see them and believe what we need to believe to achieve the goal at the time. Maybe we agree at the time because the agreement achieves the short term goal — but maybe it is not a true agreement that can stand the test of time.
At least on the surface, I think most people can agree that part of a marriage relationship is that each person will emotionally support the other during difficult times. But what does "support" mean? It generally means different things to different people. Even though both will say they absolutely want to "support, care for, and nurture" the other, there is no real agreement on this issue unless their definitions are the same.
Let's look at an example in the marriage of Delia and Doug. During their marriage, Delia was having terrible pain in her lower back and was eventually diagnosed with a ruptured tumor that needed to be removed and biopsied through outpatient surgery. Doug drove her to the surgery but left the hospital to go back to work during the procedure. He was not there when the doctor came out to speak with him, nor was he with Delia when she awoke. Delia woke up alone and had to wait for Doug to show up to give her a ride home. When Delia awoke in the hospital alone, Delia felt scared, lonely and abandoned. Doug felt that he was taking care of her by dropping her off and bringing her home, and he couldn't imagine why he should sit around the hospital and miss work until Delia was ready to leave. The following week, when Delia went back to the doctor to get her biopsy results, Doug went to work and let her go alone to receive the news (he couldn't understand why he would need to hear the news from the doctor — Delia would just tell him what the doctor said when she got home later, right?). Delia was terrified because she had already lost her younger sister to cancer, and didn't know what to expect at that meeting. She really wanted Doug to be there to hold her hand, receive the news with her, and discuss options for next steps, if any. She tried to convey this to Doug, but he thought she was over-reacting and said he didn't need to miss work for such a minor doctor visit. In Doug's mind, "supporting" Delia during this time meant making sure that the bills were paid and the household was handled. "Support" to Delia meant sitting by her side when she awoke from surgery, and holding her hand when she received the news about the tumor. Neither of them was necessarily violating their agreement to be supportive of the other during a difficult time, but their definitions of "support" were so different that there never really was a true understanding in the first place.
Excerpted from Your Post-Divorce Journey Back to Yourself by Daryl G. Weinman. Copyright © 2015 Daryl G. Weinman. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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Table of Contents
ContentsChapter 1 What Is a Marriage?, 1,
Chapter 2 Feelings During Separation and Divorce Process, 21,
Chapter 3 Post-Divorce Phases of Social Life, 35,
Chapter 4 When You Realize You Are On Your Own, 59,
Chapter 5 Take Care of Your Mental Health, 67,
Chapter 6 Support System, 87,
Chapter 7 Take Care of Your Financial Future, 95,
Chapter 8 Kids, 111,
Chapter 9 Learning Effective Communication, 131,