Thursday, October 6, 2011

Divorce Toxicity--Redux

I’m on the record as unwilling to provide advice to anyone amidst divorce. I did a post long ago where I defined my assertions as “statements” as opposed to advice. Divorce is often such an ugly and toxic process that I just can’t anoint myself with any level of advice giving authority. But when asked…

I received an email from someone late yesterday that was chock full of the proverbial bad tidings of divorce. I’ve blinded my response to him and decided to post it. My biases, opinions, flaws, proclivities and lessons are manifest here. Perhaps you’ll disagree with most of what I shared with this correspondent. That’s ok. But maybe, just maybe, there’s a pearl here for someone. And forgive my grammar/syntax…I dashed this off in a rapid stream of whateverishness.

“…and please, don't think for a minute that I'm anything but willing to be a source/sounding board for you. I'll touch on some things in this email but also _______, I'm a phone call away and tons of what you'll be working through might better be talked out live. There's nuance and inflection that just won't make it through email.

I'm gonna paste into this email a blog story that I wrote about divorce. There might be a pearl or two in there for you. But for now:

1. I continue to say that my divorce so far, has been THE defining moment of my life. More so than the birth of LFG...and you know how I feel about her. But divorce fundamentally redefined who I was and what my trajectory would be. It reordered my entire playbook. So I do not, under any circumstance, take lightly you reaching out in my direction. I'd never been laid so low and it surprises me not, that you've defined yourself as being in the same boat. So yes, it will get better...but probably not for a while. And based on how contentious things might get, there can be some real rough spots along the way. It took me 2.5 years to finalize my divorce.

2. Back off of the hooch. The nights alone are fucking least they were for me...and booze just makes it worse. Stop drinking. I was so psychologically upside down and emotionally raw that I was flat out scared to drink. I LOVE cocktails but I didn't drink a drop for the first nine months of my separation and it's one of the BEST decisions I ever made.

3. Get your ass to a good counselor ASAP and go at least once per week. If you can't afford it, then go every other week and see your Pastor/Church counselor every other week.

4. Man-up and accept the possibility that you might benefit from an antidepressant. I took Wellbutrin for about the first year of my divorce process and it sure didn't hurt. There's no shame in getting some pharmaceutical assistance to bolster your ability to cope with all of this.

5. _______ isn't old enough to know objectively what's going on but she can feel your energy. I cry when the wind blows but here's the deal. DO NOT cry in front of her. Don't act sad when you drop her off. Be happy to see her and double up on the love and affection. Don't let her, even in a vague/primal way, sense that she's in the middle of anything bad or that she's a cause of any of your pain (and LFG was 100% of my marriage was irreparable and I didn't shed a tear over my wife).

6. Are you SURE that you can't save your marriage. If BOTH of you have anything left to work on, you need to rethink this decision.

7. Don't get out lawyered. I did. And I had to cut the checks for all of it. Get a damned good lawyer but then ride herd closely. They don't become wealthy by expediting the divorce process. Don't let the lawyers stir up unnecessary shit at $375 an hour but don't let your lawyer get bullied by hers. Keep in mind that 84% of all divorces are settled without going to court. Make sure you land on that side of the statistic.

8. Even if you become bankrupt _______, you can make it back. I never thought that I'd make the money that I made and I kid you not...I lost almost all of it in my divorce. It's taken me years but I'm back in good stead. And I've got a few years on you. You'll be ok and I know that this isn't gonna land on you in a good way but here goes again...I literally lost almost everything...and I survived. You will too.

9. Begin to develop the following skill right now..._______ is THE most important variable in all of this. Therefore, she becomes the filter through which you run EVERYTHING through. Before you engage in even minor decisions, ask yourself how it will impact _______. I have, in the name of LFG, eaten a zillion humble pies and have swallowed my venom and bitten my tongue countless times.

10. Go to the book store and buy "Mom's House--Dad's House" tomorrow. And read it cover to cover. Three times.

11. You can get bitter or you can get better. Ball's in your court. I decided early on that I wasn't going to be one of those guys who "is still bitter about his divorce of years ago." I still work on it to this day and LFG's mother and I separated nine years ago.

12. Make sure you have a buddy who will check on you every day or two. I did. One of my buddies who lives out in Orange Virginia called me every day to make sure I was eating/showering etc. ... the basics. And I'll never forget him for it.

Ok, that's it for now. Let's talk live sometime this weekend if you want to. And here's the old blog post that I mentioned....”



Anonymous left the following comment on my last post and I was about to respond in the comments segment but then figured what the hell, I'll just post it. Here's the comment....

Anonymous said...

I have 2 young friends going through miserable divorces right now. You seem to have come through your divorce with some sanity and cordiality towards your former. How about a nice long post on how you know it’s time to get one and how to go through it with grace for the sake of the children? I think you could write with intelligence and certainly wisdom while looking back. Then I could refer my 2 friends to your site to learn about clothes. (They need a refresher course!) Please include if you can how you settle the custody and vacation issues. My views are outdated and your sweet daughter seems to lead a lovely life.

And my response.....
Let me first say that I’m sorry that you have two friends amidst the divorce process. I wouldn’t for a moment profess to be competent to provide credible advice regarding how to navigate through the toxicities of divorce. How could I, one who failed at marriage provide credible advice? What I will do is offer a few “statements”…how’s that?

1. First...Get over yourself. Yes you are hurt and pissed off. Yes you want the world to see your point of view because of course, it’s the true one-the correct one-the one that should be the script-the narrative for what has and should happen. I would like to say that the birth of LFG was the defining moment of my life. It wasn’t. My divorce was. Don’t kid yourself into believing that just because your divorce may be a no-fault endeavour that the toxicity is somehow attenuated. It can still become messy and you can cling to your desire to be right-to win…however the hell you might purport defining that culmination…and the dollar and emotional costs of being “right” will stun you. I’m not saying become a doormat and allow yourself to be treated unfairly. All I’m offering for consideration is the option of seeking a fair and just conclusion with minimal “score settling”. Dragging it out is appetizing to only one constituency in the process…your attorneys.

2. Second...Family Law is an oxymoron. There are good divorce lawyers out there I’m certain of it. However, keep in mind that it is not in their best interest for you to get over yourself and manifest a fair agreement overnight. Like me, lawyers are paid by the hour and they would starve if they settled all divorce cases in thirty days. I am not a lawyer basher. I’ve had in my professional life, my butt saved by good Counsel and I gladly toot the horn at an intellectual property lawyer here in Old Town any time I see him in traffic. I take great pride in knowing unequivocally that our little consultancy paid for the sports car from which he toots back. And he deserved every penny of it for saving our ass. Less than stellar lawyers will accommodate your desire to extract some revenge—gladly—at 325 an hour.

3. Third...Your kids should be a filter not a lever. I’m not a proponent of the death penalty. It isn’t efficacious and I believe that vengeance is the currency of God. The reason that LFG’s mom and I resolved the custody-access-vacation issues in fifteen minutes, with a legal pad and pen, is because we both filtered our custody concerns through little LFG. She was two years old and deserved parents who intended to do right by her. We had and still have strong differences on many things. We are blessed to not have meaningful differences when it comes to LFG. The remaining issues involved in our no fault divorce, unfortunately required 2.5 additional and expensive years.

If I could advocate the death penalty, it would be for those who use their kids as levers in the divorce process. Kids are NOT as resilient as the cliché suggests and they need to see two parents behaving civilly to each other. It often requires eating huge portions of humble pie and biting of one’s lip. Do it. Do it. Do it for your children. And guys…leave the macho “I’ll show her a thing or two” shit in the car. The only thing you’ll show by using her kids as a lever is just what a small and emotionally weak little pussy you are. Ok, so you caught your spouse smoking crack naked with the neighbor. I’m not saying that you have to hug them and smile when you see them. Just because LFG’s mother and I can go to lunch with LFG doesn’t mean I insist that your circumstances will ever be that civil. Just be decent when you have to. Trust me, if your former spouse is the turd you think they are, your kids when old enough, will discern it on their own.

4. Fourth...Written Agreements are worthless…unless you commit to behave in the spirit of what said covenants dictate. Again, it may take some lip biting between bites of humble pie to manage this but it’s better than ending up back in the legal arena…at 325 an hour.

5. Fifth...SunTzu said that “No one wins in a prolonged conflict”…Don’t let your quest to be “right” become your Vietnam.

6. And finally…If you have kids, I would suggest that you read “Mom’s House-Dad’s House” cover to cover. I was so miserable and devalued that I skipped the chapter on post-divorce dating. Why should I? Dating was the last thing on my mind. There’s a reason why I suggest that you read this superb book…cover to cover.

Ok. That's it. Just statements. Not advice.


LPC said...

Five years. It took me five full years before The Divorce gave up its place at the top of my What Matters list. Agree. Remember you are the grownup, your kids are kids. And grownups need good lawyers who will honor your wishes and work with full force for your benefit.

Marsha said...

How I wish I could get these words in front of my sister and her former husband. My niece and nephew, already incredibly damaged, descend daily into into ever-deeper depths of despair because their parents are more interested in winning than living happily.

It's hard not to judge. Thank you for the reminder that it doesn't have to be this way and that I should, at all times, keep in mind how hard divorce can be even under "good" circumstances.

Susan R said...

Holy Divorce Court Batman! You sound very healthy. As a child, coming from divorced parents, I so wish they (both of my parents) would have had been able to read some of your pearls of wisdom, however, you would have probably been about my age, so it wouldn't have even been a thought.
Even though I'm not a divorced parent (I'm knocking on wood and throwing salt over my shoulder right now)I have to say how much I admire your parenting and the time you maximize with your daughter. I'm impressed with how, even though you were going through a tough time, your love for your daughter has and does come first and you obviously have a wonderful bond with her.
On a more personal note (you can tell me to mind my own damn business, no offense will be taken)do you ever consider getting married again, or does the thought scare the hell out of you?

Main Line Sportsman said...

Wise beyond your years Sir....

Golf Tango Hotel said...

You are a good friend to your friend in need and this is all very good advice and I hope that he will heed it, as in the long run it will help both him and his child.

I went through this seven years wife told me she wanted out and I was devastated....we had 3 young chidren at the time. Honestly that is what got me through it, knowing that I had to be my best for them and that was what was important. As a result, I gave up a little bit more than if I had engaged in a knock down drag-out with her, but in the end it was worth it. It hurt to hear reinvented versions of the truth, but I was better off for not making it an absolute war. I am a lawyer myself (not a divorce lawyer mind you) but at least I knew how both hers and mine would try to drag it out and I was able to control that by giving more in the beginning.

I can say that with respect to the kids, we did act grown-up, and did not make them pawns. We were all better off for it...

Our situation ulitmately turned around and we actually remarried over this past summer, after being divorced for 5 years. I agree with you that if there is some way to save the marriage before going through the process of splitting assets and the total disruption and upset that a divorce can cause, all will be better. Good luck to your friend and he is very lucky to have a friend like you.

ADG said...

GolfTango...I'm gonna make sure that my correspondent reads your words. And what a great reconnected with mama.

MainLiner...wiser but broker than a broke d_ck dog. Somebody hold me. Get Linc to check to see if that gal's outta rehab.

Susan...I'm not against marrying again. I talk a lot of shite over here but I'm wired for monogamy. In about ten more years.

Marsha...I'm sorry for your niece and nephew. always...well said.

ilovelimegreen said...

You might be broke, but you are immensely generous with your wise words.

Preppy 101 said...

My one good friend who is divorced still says to this day that it would've been easier if he had died. Pretty powerful words there. xoxo

yoga teacher said...

My wasband and I had our agreement worked out, but were advised to each have lawyers, who duked it out to thousands of our dollars, which we had earned together. But the hardest part was the second Thanksgiving, when I sucked it up and invited his much (and I do mean much), younger girlfriend to the full family dinner. She didn't last, but our relationship did, to the point where he was the one at my mother's side when she died this summer. Long story short (too late), when you keep the kid(s) in mind, sometimes you find the decency you'd lost in each other.

CeceliaMc said...

When I think of divorce I think being at the home of my friend when his father came home for the first time after leaving the family for a young woman (who he would later marry).

He drove up in a brand new car, which he thought would excite the kids, and ethusiatically asked if they wanted to take a ride.

"Your car sucks and everybody hates you!" My friend yelled. (I still mentally yell that when I'm really upset with someone.)

You've given some great advice, the best being to always..always..always... put your child's psyche front and center.

Let me tell you though that not every man has a photo of himself carrying his baby in a knapsack.

They have to have started on that mentality from the first positive pregnancy test.

You did &and I so love that about you). My man did. However so many damn men don't.

That's such a sad part of our culture.

ADG said...

YogaOne...I keep a WORD document on my computer with email comments etc. that resonate with me or teach me something. Your comment will go there. It's huge and rich on many fronts. Thanks.

CeceliaMc...thanks. I'm not, nor should ANY father, start fishing for accolades re what I define as basic/decent/mandatory behavior.It seems primal/instinctual to me that despite ones personal pain, you put your kids first.

Anonymous said...

My first wife cheated on me and battered my ego for serveral years before a longtime family friend, who one night over drinks became a periodic recreational lover, told me that I didn't have it in me to leave my wife. True, I had endured a lot, including my wife's unsuccesfully attempt to sleep with my boss on his luxery sail boat while I was away for my brother's state playoff footbal game. But this very beautiful family friend and older woman, whom I had known since I was a senior in high school, nudged me hard. I went home one evening and said I'm leaving. True to form, the first weekend was a real bummer, and I called my wife from my new apartment on a Saturday evening, lonely and depressed, and suggested that I come home. She said O.K. but there would be conditions. Thank God that statment enfuriated me, and I had second thoughts. Four single-living years later I met and married a lovely woman who has been my excellent companion and best of buddies for the past twenty-three years. So, yes, the pain will pass and better times can come again.

Anonymous said...

Further to my earlier comment about my twenty-three year happy second marriage, I know about deeply loving a child. Had my first wife and I had children, I probably would have accepted her conditions and returned home. What a sad life that would have been for me and probably for any of my children in the long run.