The Ugly Side of Divorce

sometimes life's a train crashRelationships are hard. I keep telling myself this, but having gone through my divorce almost 7 years ago, it’s easy to forget just how rocky and painful those first few years were. But to ensure that it’s not all glossed over in the mists of time, three of my buddies are going through their own very fresh divorce trauma and it’s bringing up unpleasant memories of my own.

One of my friends had to call the cops last night because his soon-to-be-ex refused to let him see his children because his flight home from Los Angeles arrived an hour late and so he was, naturally, late for pickup.

Another of my friends just moved his family cross-country, just to find out that she wants a divorce, expects him to find his own place to live while still covering the rent on their brand new place in this new city and is now started to be abusive and even hit him a few days ago while he was driving the family around in their car.

And the capper, yet another buddy just had the experience of sitting down with his wife and kids so that he’d be present when she told the children that they’re getting a divorce and “daddy’s getting his own place”. He was in tears, his daughter ran to her room crying, and his son? Totally internalized, shell shocked, watching cartoons afterwards as if nothing had happened.

Oh man, it all breaks my heart and brings up such memories of my own, of my now-ex throwing an ice cream at me while I was driving once because she didn’t like something I said. I barely kept from swerving off the road. Of me not even being present when she told our children that we were getting divorced and them completely freaking out and assuming I had just walked away from our family.

Relationships are hard. We humans are complex. But why does this have to be so painful, so painful on our children, but mostly so darn painful on ourselves?

Why is it that sometimes on our journey of life, we just seem to crash?

car crashing into tree

My usual thought is that it’s to do with inflated expectations of what life’s supposed to be like, our increasingly romantic view of relationships as built around this fuzzy thing called love, of romance, of a life that’s easy and constantly delightful, with nary a cloud in the sky and certainly never an argument or even a cross word.

I know that I’m risk avoidant and hate conflict, so when I was married I was paranoid about even the slightest disagreement, quick to apologize — often for things that weren’t my fault — and try to find a compromise or even just give in so that we’d move on. Next time it’d work out properly, next time we’d talk about it, next time we’d work things out. Did that help our relationship grow stronger and encourage us to forge a strong connection that was able to survive difficult times? Not so much.

When I think about what’s going on with my buddies, it reminds me that what we’re missing in our world is a culture of making things work.

I see it in my kids and their rampant consumerism. Something’s not the latest model? Something’s broken? Let’s just get a new one! There’s sometimes even an inherent anger towards a system (or, often, a parent) that isn’t willing to supply them with the one thing that’s going to somehow make everything right. That translates directly into their expectations of what their adult relationships will be like too.

Life is difficult, but are we really all putting in our best effort to make things more smooth and calm for ourselves, our children and our world, or are we all caught up in our own personal dramas and, damn the proverbial torpedoes, are we just leaving bodies by the wayside as we plow forward with our own personal goals, however selfish and myopic they may be?

3 comments on “The Ugly Side of Divorce

  1. Excellent post Dave and so true. No one fixes anything more. It requires too much effort. Toss it and start over. Great analogy for how we treat relationships too forgetting that we are dealing w people not things.

  2. Dave,

    Great post! It takes a lot of courage to be so honest. It is the road to peace!

    I divorced when my daughter (Anna) was 2.3 years of age. The next few years were tough. I
    got into the best shape I’ve ever been in! A lot of exercise and alcohol.

    But, the one thing I never wavered on was what was best for Anna. I vowed to never disparage Anna’s mom in front of her. I also vowed to be 100% in the moment every second I was with Anna. And, I agreed to take her anytime…

    In other words, I turned a big black hole into a second coming!

    If you haven’t read my blog… I encourage you to do so. I only write it to give back to dad’s like you… ones who are looking for direction and are open-minded to do what’s correct for their children.

    Be positive, laugh, imagine… being with children is one of the best experiences. Let go and enjoy…

  3. I too divorced about seven years ago. We were married at age 20 (yikes!) for 13 years, and our two children were very young when we divorced. I still feel occasional pangs of raw pain and deep grief over what we lost and what could have been….an intact family whose roots grew deeper and deeper with each other through generations. Sometimes the loss even still can feel so huge and so tragic to me. Just so sad and so final….we four will not all walk together through this life….our journey together ended 7 years ago. The last family dinner together, the last car ride together, the last Christmas Eve together, the last day at a park together, the last birthday cake together… hurts.

    Yet I observe in my parents’ marriage of 45 years that in many ways the dysfunctional has gotten even more dysfunctional! My dad seems often worn out and beaten down by aspects of my mother’s tough-to-take behavior that has just worsened over the years. We love having grandma and grandpa together, but I cringe at my mother’s overly harsh constant criticism of a basically good guy who worked his ass off for decades to give her the very good life she has always enjoyed. He’s not perfect, but he definitely does not deserve the extent of her criticism and chronic complaining.

    My ex had a narcissistic personality disorder, and this manifested among other things as habitual reckless and delusional business and financial ventures. He created terrible chaos and instability in our family. It took me a few years to identify and get my mind around his dysfunctional NPD patterns (tough to see forest through the trees in relationships), and to heal from the painful realization that true narcissists really can regard others as disposable, and are not capable of showing deeper levels of empathy, love, or compassion. They do not miss you when you are gone. You can be replaced. And I quickly was.

    I realize looking back that my decision to walk away was an act of self love. I definitely had some serious people pleasing and codependency traits, and needed to learn to balance being an OVERLY empathetic and OVERLY self sacrificing person (ALWAYS forgiving him just for him to repeat patterns) with setting my own boundaries and walking away from such an unhealthy relationship where my needs were not met.

    I think in some cases one partner can be more mature (and I attribute this often to differences in “soul age”) than the other, and it can be beneficial to call quits on the relationship. This can serve two purposes in the greater scheme of the growth and evolution of both souls on their journeys in this lifetime. 1. One partner can learn the INCREDIBLY important life lesson of drawing boundaries and practicing SELF LOVE by walking away from an unhealthy relationship (or friendship, family relationship, etc) that lacks adequate levels of MUTUAL love and respect. 2. The other partner learns (hopefully) that if he/she habitually displays toxic traits, people eventually LEAVE.

    I see my dad and I as examples of this dynamic. I left and it has been in many ways liberating and empowering. I’m in a safer and saner place. My dad stayed, and he is very unhappy at times. She truly can be a thorn in his side, and he lives half of his life walking on eggshells! (But there is a flip side to this…read below…)

    I would venture to say that if YOU were the one who was often apologizing and for things you didn’t do, then your ex partner may have been lacking in some spiritual CONSCIOUSNESS (awareness) and maturity. Frankly, this sounds like an unhealthy dynamic of one person manipulating (maybe unconsciously) the other with some guilt, blame, and fear tactics, and may indicate that they now have low investment in the wellbeing of the marriage (grass is greener…?). You may have wanted to work things out, but sometimes this would be an exercise in insanity if the other person has mentally already checked out, and is creating the conflict. They may lack the spiritual maturity to participate in a relationship with higher levels of consciousness (self awareness, empathy, compassion, deeper understanding of self and others etc). This can be TOUGH.

    MY mother REFUSES to EVER admit she is wrong. EVER. Why would she? This pattern has worked for 45 years. My ex who was three years into a new relationship confided in me a few years ago, “I guess I’m a horrible listener. And I do stupid reckless things with money. When two women say the same thing to you, it’s probably true.”

    Yes, it probably is. But after 45 years, could I have ever convinced him of that? I still see those patterns….

    I don’t know. The question haunts me only because the pain of our family ripped apart still hurts.

    We fall in heady love with all of it’s intoxicating highs. We dream.
    We get married. We have kids.

    Raising kids and keeping it all going can be HARD. HARD. And at times monotonous, boring, tedious, and exhausting though bonded by deep love.

    I think that often in our modern comfortable world, we can want new, shiny, exciting, and fresh. The allure of a new life with a new partner can seem intoxicating and like a salvation from the confines of family life. And for a time, it can be…until it’s not anymore. In most cases, the intoxication once again wears off, and the same issues or another set do often resurface.

    I know speaking just for me, even in the dismantling of life with one with some pretty exaggerated negative traits, the pain does not ever fully go away. It is like a death and the grief has lingered.

    I suppose this is why my dad has stayed. He chose the pain of the problems in the relationship over the pain of the entire loss of the relationship.

    Sigh…. I have to admit, there are times when I’m not 100% sure which one is worse.

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