The Red Flags of an Ugly Divorce...
I spent the day yesterday and will again today sitting in mediation with one of our clients going through an ugly divorce. That is oxymoronic because all divorce is ugly. I had a pretty good one actually but it was still hard and ugly. Uncoupling is not an easy thing to do regardless of how much money and maturity are involved. Neither of these are ever congruent either. In my experience there is never enough of either - money or maturity.
It seems to me that there is always one person who wants out and the other person is left holding the proverbial bag. One person has moved on in some very tangible ways: moved out, started a new relationship or relationships, taken money and squirreled it away, told family and friends...often times the bag holding spouse is the last to know.
I am an observer of people - I watch and I think about what I am observing. I also watch my own life unfold so my divorce was lived and observed. I wanted out about 5 years before I left. I was not happy but I could not readily admit that to myself. I had made commitments and I believed in the vows that I took and the promises I made. I got stuck there for a long time. I kept thinking that it would get better. I kept thinking that I would get my needs met and do a better job of meeting his needs. I kept believing that our marriage was a good marriage.
Three years post divorce and all I can see now is that it was never a good relationship for me. I gave away large parts of myself in order to stay in that relationship and he was the kind of person that needed me to pay that price. I mistook his initial obsession with me to be love and concern. It wasn’t. His constant communication and contact with me was to alleviate his own anxiety and I was the emotional salve. That is all. It was not about me. Ever.
I was naive and lacked any real ability to clearly see what I was doing and with whom. I saw this guy that called me all the time and wanted to spend every waking second with me. I was ingenuous in that I thought that was evidence that he loved and cared about me. In reality, he just needed me to make him feel better about him...all the time. It was always about him.
When I look back I can see there were early warning signs that I missed or chose not to see...
Like the night he was supposed to meet my mom for the first time and instead of showing up for me, he went out drinking with a friend that I didn’t like (he was not nice to me and actively worked to undermine my relationship with my ex) and got drunk and could not show up for his commitment to me. RED FLAG!
Or the night of his bachelor party when his brother, brother’s wife, two kids and two dogs showed up at our house and decided that they were going to stay there with us instead of going to their hotel. It didn’t matter that my girlfriends and I had plans that evening together at the house that were ruined and completely derailed because of my ex’s family. Did he care? Nope - he went out anyway and left me to deal with his family drama. RED FLAG!
Or the fact that he refused to understand why I did not want to have our wedding be a drunkfest. He insisted and demanded that there be plenty of alcohol at the wedding for his friends and family despite the fact that more than 50% of the guests were my friends and family and were sober. The fact that more than 50% of the people in attendance had almost perished from alcoholism made not the least bit of difference to him. He spent no time at all thinking about how to make our wedding less about getting drunk and more about having fun. The two were equated and he was not even willing to try to figure out a win/win situation for us. RED FLAG!
Or all the times that he insisted that his son from his first marriage come for the summer and then was not available to take care of him. I would be the one that would take the child to and from summer camp. I would be the one that would pick him up if he was sick or injured. I was the parent even though I was not a parent yet. When I would become overwhelmed, my needs were inconvenient and unimportant. The child’s needs prevailed and I was to suck it up and deal with it. The fact that I put that child’s needs above my own was never recognized or commended - just expected and insisted. RED FLAG!
In retrospect, I can see how very blind I was to how one sided my relationship and ensuing marriage was. I look back now and think to myself: What the fuck was I thinking? There is no way that I could have been thinking...I mean seriously, it feels as though I was brain dead. And the above examples were just the ones that came immediately to mind...there are many, many others that are dispositive of our ultimate demise.
I do not mean to say that it was all his fault...it wasn’t. I had on blinders and could not see what my relationship was really demanding of me so I stayed and kept trying to improve its quality to no avail. The fact that I dated then married this guy is totally on me. I was the one that had the ability to see this and make a different decision but for whatever reason, I could not.
As much as I would love to be able to say that it was his fault, I can’t. The fault lie in me. On some level, I knew that I was selling out but I didn’t seem to be able to stop it. I have learned since that I am particularly susceptible to passive aggressive people. I allow them to hook me into staying when I really want to leave because I allow myself to be duped by their subversive conduct. I have done a lot of work in this area and now can spot the passive-aggressive at 50 paces and I high tail it out of there as fast as I can. If I don’t, I am screwed.
So what does all this mean? It means that despite all of the many things that I can list that my ex-husband did or said that were not great, I am the reason that I married him and I am the reason I was so unhappy. I cut deals that I could never live up to. I took positions that were not sustainable for me. I am not alone. Every divorce I see has the same elements...every.single.one.
I am about to say something very controversial...The failure of my marriage is 100% on me. That is not to say that my ex-husband didn’t have flaws, issues, problems but this was a relationship that I should have never entered to begin with...and I think that I knew it on some very fundamental level the entire time. I covered up my knowledge with dogma and trite sayings. I covered with reasons, excuses and swallowing a lot of unacceptable things. I did this for one reason and one reason only...
My worth was dependent upon someone loving me and marrying me. Somehow I got the message that if no one would marry you then you weren’t lovable. You weren’t worthy. That is why I married him. He was willing to marry me and I needed that validation. It pains me greatly to admit that but I did. That is why I stayed even though I was unhappy, that is why I gave away large chunks of myself, that is why I became someone completely disconnected from herself, that is why ultimately I left. There is no other person on the planet that can make me feel and believe that I am worthy. None. It is an inside job. Always has been and always will be. This is bad news...at least it feels that way for me. I always want some external solution to be a good one for me. Something tangible that I can receive from one of you that will make me whole and feel better. You would think 49 years of trying this would provide me sufficient evidence but this is a deep seated belief (erroneous as it may be) that I apparently am going to spend this lifetime working out and on.
Today I am glad that I married that guy. I can see that my marriage was the vehicle for me to come to know me better. Reviewing that marriage, I get to see how willing I was to throw me away and negotiate away large parts of myself in order to feel loved, wanted and worthy. Without that marriage, I would not be sitting here in the dark writing this - completely able to take 100% of the blame for the failure of this particular relationship. Without my divorce, I would have never gained access to this part of myself - that can really look at me and see that in my desperation for love and affection, I gave away me which was the end of the most important relationship that I have ever had...the one with myself.
Divorce is ugly and hard and lonely. It shakes your whole world to its foundation. Things, people and structures of your life often crumble from the vibration. What I have learned is to let them crumble. As I stand on the ruins of that marriage, I have a different vantage and view. I can see the horizon of my own life in a new and interesting way. I can see all the ways that I allowed my need for approval to be my undoing.
In the end, I have gained far more than I lost: my children, my self respect, clear seeing of why I married and the bravery to look at me with objective distance which allowed for a fundamental shift in my orientation back towards Erin. Today, I am grateful for it all. I am grateful that I gave me away, that abandonment of me made me miserable, that the misery made me re-evaluate my decisions, that the re-evaluation made me realize that I had to leave, that the courage to leave gave me a lot of wreckage to sort through which led to the conclusion that I was not a victim of my ex-husband, I was a victim of myself. In swallowing that very hard and ugly truth, I placed myself back on the path to me. And while one day I hope that I can find someone to share my path with...I know that the only way to share the path is to own my own path completely.
I was always trying to give my life to someone...turns out I had to have a life of my own to share not give away. Everyone already has their own life, they don’t need mine. For me, I have to just live my best, most authentic life and stop trying to be something and someone I am not. I have to see my own value and be uncompromising in my devotion to my path. It is the only way that I can hold my center while engaging with you. I have to be willing to tell the truth even though it might mean that you leave me, stop loving me or tell me I am unworthy. I have to be willing to break my own heart over and over again. And that is ugly but the truest thing that I know.