Recently I ran into an acquaintance I hadn’t seen in a few years. She is in middle of a nasty divorce. “This is a nightmare!” she told me. They have kids, so both custody and finances are at the heart of the dispute.
My own divorce was final two years ago and in some ways it feels like a lifetime ago. Our divorce was also extremely unpleasant and I hope never to go through anything like that again in my life. I did a great deal of reading about divorce and one of the many books I read seemed to resonate the most: Crazy Time: Surviving Divorce and Building a New Life, by Abigail Trafford. She says that for many couples, certainly not all, but for so many of us, the first two years after you separate is a period where you feel out of control, riding an emotional roller coaster, and that eventually, for most people — this passes. I know it did in my case. I was a wreck for those first two years and now I’m still occasionally a wreck, but not about the divorce… more about life and how challenging it is. And how crazy Texas seems to be, and drone strikes and the Tea Party, and how I can’t wait for The Newsroom to return.
Anyway, back to crazy time. One of the reasons the craziness happens is that often one of the people in the marriage changes their behavior and the other person is thrown. In my marriage, my ex was the Alpha dog. I didn’t mind, I was busy with my career, raising my daughter, being a caregiver for my mother–and certain things in the marriage mattered more to him, like furniture. I remember the day we went shopping for our first big purchase as a couple, a rug for our living room. I looked at all the rugs hanging in ABC Carpet and felt overwhelmed. They were mostly all beautiful and expensive, and I couldn’t have chosen one if my life depended on it. Okay, maybe if my life depended on it, but my ex had a great eye and excellent taste and he found the perfect rug at a good price and I was relieved.
Was there one that I might have liked better? Maybe, but I loved that one. Actually, it is in my living room now and many years later, I still love it. That’s pretty much how the marriage went for the most part. We were equal partners, but as the mother in one of my favorite movies, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, says: “Let me tell you something, Toula. The man is the head of the house, but the woman is the neck. And she can turn the head any way she wants.”
Just a couple of months after we separated and right after my mother died, my husband told me he found a mediator for our divorce. I felt it was too soon, that I wasn’t ready. Honestly, at the time I was in deep grief, but I went, true to form, to meet her. I did as I was asked. I could see that the mediator wasn’t very effective and my feeling was this wasn’t going to work. A few weeks later, I told him I preferred having my own representation, and I had hired my own collaborative lawyer.
He went ballistic.
You would have thought I murdered his best friend. That was when I believe I went completely on the enemies list. When someone shifts their behavior during this period and becomes more assertive, the other partner, who was used to making more of the decisions, goes crazy. And the now more assertive partner, goes a little crazy too. This is true for both women and men. I know many men who stood up to their wives. It’s not about gender, it’s about changing behaviors.
I know some people have very easy, amicable divorces, but I think they are on drugs. I don’t understand how that is possible. When you look up divorce, one of the synonyms is “sever.” And that is what it feels like — there is pain. It’s like going in for a tooth to be pulled without novocaine. What do you expect?
Even if you initially feel elated, finally free, there is still a period of insanity that most people go through. And as the saying goes, “the only way out is through.” Every trite cliché turns out to be true. Ultimately, like all of life’s trials: “this too shall pass.” Life goes on. With time and distance, crazy time will be just another poignant scene in the rear view mirror of your life.