By Sandra Beck.
This week my six-year-old son had a stomach ache. On the way to school he had an accident in his pants and since it was technically the day of obligation for my ex-husband, I called him from the school parking lot telling him that his son had the stomach flu. I was told that he would pick him up from my house that afternoon at 4:15.
I was outraged and not surprised that sick kid duty falls on me, despite the fact that I had work meetings in the city and to prepare for my live radio show in a few hours. My son was happy to stay home with me and other than making a few choice comments that his dad didn’t want him, he was relieved to be coming home.
Leaving the dad comments for the family therapist, I began to cancel my meetings from the school parking lot. My ex had told me that he was off to the gym, which really got my goat. Before I could get on the freeway, my son bent over in his seat and asked, “Mommy, when is it going to stop hurting?”
I thought about his stomach and how that paralleled my life. In some divorces, people stay friends. Some become bitter enemies. Most of us fall someplace in the middle. From what I can see from the cheap seats, it’s a lot easier to move on and heal when you don’t have to interact with your ex. When you are able to move on and forget.
When you have children, small children, and he lives one street away from you in a small town with the woman who used to be your friend and all the kids know each other it’s a lot more complicated. There are multiple daily reminders and continual interaction especially with respect to school sports and activities. Sitting alone while your ex sits with his new family at the school concert takes a joyous parenting event and makes it weird, uncomfortable and creepy.
Part of getting over the hurt is forgetting. I talk about forgiveness and the transient nature of forgiveness in other posts, but today I want to talk about forgetting. It’s much easier, I would imagine, to forget about a marriage, a spouse, or an old life when you focus on building a new life. I can tell you from personal experience that after a long term marriage everything seems full of memories and the pain is ever simmering under the surface.
When you live in the same house, the same town, share the same friends and the same experiences, it gets a little weird – like Twilight weird. There is a Toby Keith song that has a line that says, “Who is that man living my life?”
When you divorce after a long marriage (10+years), there are so many things in common and little hurts come out of the oddest moments. Not being invited to your ex-nephew’s bar mitzvah (and the new girlfriend is), even though you were a loving aunt to this child since he was born, stings. Not being updated in the ex-family events because you are no longer legally part of the family hurts. Going to your own son’s pre-school graduation and having to bring your own chair because the “family” tickets have been used by your ex and his girlfriend and her children can make it feel like you are pushed out of your own life.
These are just some of the unexpected sadnesses that come when you divorce. I don’t want my ex-husband back. I don’t ever want to live with him again. I am so glad that part of my life is over. It was miserable. I was miserable. The cheating and leaving were just sticky icing on the bitter cake. I think one of the hardest things to come to grips with is the loss of the future, the loss of the family you had pictured in your head. When your spouse has an affair or affairs, it really does a number on your vision of your life and your family. When things are not what they appear you start to question everything about that old life – was it all a lie? I have asked myself that a million times.
Recently I spoke with a man I know, who was actively cheating on his wife with his own air-tight justifications. I asked him, “How am I to know that you aren’t lying in our friendship? I mean, the relationship with your wife is one of the most important and you have almost grown children together. How can you be truthful in one relationship and not in another? I don’t think you can. I know I can’t.”
When does it stop hurting? For some of us it doesn’t. The more you value the concept of family, the more it’s going to hurt and the longer it’s going to last. I have had a lot of people over the years say to me, “It’s just a divorce. It happens all the time. Just get over it.” Many of the people who tell you that never experienced the after effects of a long term divorce with adultery and small children. They don’t get it.
My answer to them and to others is simple. “If I knew how and I could, don’t you think I would?”
It’s no fun to hurt. My little son wanted relief from a morning tummy ache, so why would we not as adults want relief from a massive, life changing heartache that requires you to rebound, rebuild and restore yourself? A divorce for many of us who took our marriage and family to heart, who made it our whole center of being, are going to struggle more than those who only put their toe in the water. Those who were betrayed, cheated on, lied to and abandoned are going to have a harder time restoring themselves than someone who left for their new life with their new wife and their new family.
We need to put things in perspective: not every divorce is the same and not everyone reacts the same. The important thing is that you recognize what it was to you and how you are going to react. Not anyone else.
I’ve always been a little late to every party. I’m not the first, or the best, or the brightest, and I have to do things in my own time frame and in my own way. I can tell by the comments I get on my other posts pertaining to divorce, betrayal and pain that we all suffer the same things – just at different times, in different intensities and on different levels. What I have learned from going through this process and watching others is that there is no one right way to grieve or get over the loss of a spouse or a marriage.
Divorce sucks and it hurts and your kids suffer. You have to let go of the vision you had of your life when you got married and had kids and that was really disorienting for me. For the first year I didn’t know who I was now because of these new labels – single mother, ex-wife, and immediately my children had a step-mother figure? It was like getting hit by a truck. On the calendar it looked like I had time to adjust. In person it was just a Mr. Toad’s Wild Divorce ride and you got off and your family was on one side of the track with new siblings and a new mother while you got out of the wrong side of the car and stood on the track alone not able to find the exit.
My best advice for Bouncing with Style after divorce is accepting that, like a death, pain follows divorce. You have to feel it, process it, and expect it to not go away just because you want it to. There is the death of a dream in this on for many of us– and that too is hard. I’ve decided that sadness is going to accompany for a while until it doesn’t. I have painted, journaled, sang, ran, lifted weights, prayed, meditated, lit things on fire and talked to a professional therapist until I can’t stand hearing my own voice.
Time does help. Keeping busy does help. Focusing on what you do have helps. Learning to live with the sadness feels a lot better than fighting it and to Bounce with Style I think you need to carry the knowledge with you that with the loss of anything important to you comes sadness.