One reader wrote to ask, “Do we have to go through divorce in order to learn our lesson?”
His question jolted me with a reminder of how dire and desperate the situation is for too many of us. Just four short years ago, my husband and I approached the holiday season with the word divorce on our lips. It was the worst Christmas of my life, yet I was so embroiled in the “need” to divorce that I couldn’t even see it. I thought we were alone in our experience, and that our pending divorce was a “special” case and necessary for us as individuals. How wrong I was.
Now, in response to this reader’s heart rending question, I’m posting my modified response to him. So far, most of us are uniformed about the negative affects divorce can have on adults, children, and families. My husband and I certainly didn’t know until it was too late. We are among the blessed few who used the information we found post-divorce, to reconcile and amend our own catastrophe. Even fewer know that there is now vibrant and nourishing support available that can bring transformation and powerful joy to almost any marriage.
Because of the innate biology of our attachment bonds, marriage fosters one of the most basic drivers of humanity–embedded attachment to another. For the same reason, divorce is likely to promote suffering.
Here is what my reader wrote:
My marriage of 11 years is about to end because my wife “fell in love” with someone that lives 1500 miles away and is also divorcing his wife. They reconnected via Facebook and she shared our marriage problems with him. Although he is bankrupt, he had the money to fly here to meet her without my knowledge of course. She says she is sorry but has not ended her relationship with him and wants to go to marriage counseling only to find closure. We have two children that are 2 and 4 years old, a girl and a boy. She does not want to hear about statistics or divorce facts because our situation is “special” and I do not “understand” what she feels for him. Her therapist is telling her to move on and I am devastated.
And my modified reply:
NO! You do not have to go through a divorce to learn the lessons, nor (I hope) does your wife. Your wife is saying verbatim the things I said to my husband after I met and fell in love with “Joe.” In my case (and I suspect in your wife’s) a couple of things were going on. First, we’d had trouble in our marriage that had not been remedied, along with some significant life stressors. But perhaps more important, falling in love –even over a great distance–triggered a major, overwhelming chemical shift in my body (eg infatuation/lust) that flooded me with endorphins, oxytocin, and other “good feeling” chemicals that rivaled feeling high. This can happen to anyone who becomes emotionally intimate, and it (rather famously) inhibits rational thinking.
But we were oblivious the support and wisdom that could have helped us. We could not see that:
• Divorce was never going to give us what we thought we wanted,
• That it would create powerful consequences of chaos and pain in our lives (and our children’s’ lives) for which we were totally unprepared and that we could have easily remained blind to because of the “normalizing” of divorce in our culture,
• And that the same challenges that had troubled our marriage would follow us to our next relationships–along with a host of additional complications.
Here is what I think might have turned things around for us, and I hope they’ll help you. If you want my advice:
1. You could try getting in touch with Michele Weiner Davis at Divorce Busting: http://www.divorcebusting.com/. She has helped thousands of couples rescue their marriages in near-divorce conditions using a very positive, solution-based approach. Crucially in such circumstances, she helps people find ways to talk to their spouses such that they can actually listen, and communicate effectively. Read her books (especially The Divorce Remedy: The Proven 7-Step Program for Saving Your Marriage). My strong suggestion is to go see her, or talk to her counselors by phone. Also read her article at the Huffington Post, and the array of gripping and useful comments:http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michele-weinerdavis/the-biggest-divorce-dont-_b_787677.html.
2. If you have children read Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce by Elizabeth Marquardt, an excellent introduction into the emerging science we have on the alarming effects of divorce on children.
3. Read and show your wife the books: After the Affair: Healing the Pain and Rebuilding Trust When a Partner Has Been Unfaithful by Janis Abrahms Spring and Michael Spring, and Not Just Friends: Rebuilding Trust and Recovering Your Sanity After Infidelity by Shirley Glass and Jean Coppock Staeheli. Had I read those before my divorce, I *might* have understood how universal this is, and how not “special” it is, but rather a very predictable response to outside emotional intimacy.
4. If your marriage is plagued by a sense of either of you “walking on eggshells” (you know who you are) please know that even this frightening experience can be transmuted into a depth and connection between you that may seem impossible to you. People who are walking on eggshells are often in relationship with pain, shame, grief, or lack of self-worth, either with their partner or themselves, or both. Steven Sosny’s Love Without Hurt: Turn Your Resentful, Angry, or Emotionally Abusive Relationship into a Compassionate, Loving One, will invite you or your partner to let your deeper values and inner worth, shine.
5. When things are less dire learn about the primal imperative and undeniable strength of our intrinsic attachment bonds. Read and keep by your bed the book, Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love by Dr. Sue Johnson, a pioneering founder of the new “love science” and also anything by John Gottman, another wonderful pioneer. These innovators– along with Michele Weiner Davis and others–are showing us the joys, fulfillment and meaning that are truly possible in marriages where people have better education and communication skills that allow the natural, urgent and primal depth of their attachment bonds to prevail and flourish.
All these resources are exceptionally useful to anyone contemplating divorce, even without the added snag of “outside love.” And know this: thousands of other couples who truly believed their marriage was “dead” or “not working” or that their need for divorce was a “special case,” discovered otherwise. Give yourself and your family the most precious gift of all this holiday season: become educated about what divorce will really mean for you and your loved ones and what you can do to stop your divorce. Then, open yourself to the magic of the season and what is truly possible in the marriage you stand to lose.
Like so many others, Rachel woke up one day to find herself divorced. Yet today she is joyously remarried to her ex-husband.
How did this happen?
Rachel Clark is a science writer and biologist with training in the sexual behavior of animals. Years back, she received a Master’s degree in Zoology, in which she studied and published on alternative male mating strategies. After working as a science writer with Cornell University’s Program on Breast Cancer and Environmental Risk Factors RachelI began a freelance science writing career that spans more than a decade.
Her writing has appeared in Nature news online, the Earth & Sky Radio Program, Living Bird Magazine, various science textbooks, in publications of the Joint Fire Science Program, and many others. She’s a member of the National Association of Science Writers and the Society of Environmental Journalists.
From this you might guess Rachel’s got a passion for learning. And it’s true. Growth excites her—and that hunger to grow is, in part, how she ended up divorced. Like so many thousands of other people, she had come to believe that she was stunted in her marriage; and that for many reasons it had come to a necessary end. But her divorce did not solve her “problems” and, rather, brought on many more difficult and painful challenges.
Her husband, like Rachel, is an investigator; he’s a scientist. Cerebral talks and figuring things out had always been part of their union. So even though they’d endured the finality and ferocity of a divorce, and even though were both in love with and living with new partners, and even though they had truly believed their marriage was over—in their quest to understand their intense post-divorce difficulties—they began talking.
Almost overnight there reawakened an unexpected passionate friendship. Together they began reading books on marriage, the science of attachment, affairs, and divorce. Stunned, they learned they’d succumbed to a culturally universal urge to flee their marriage; an urge that, in reality, had almost nothing to do with the marriage itself.
The flood gates broke as they let themselves admit that they still had a fierce emotional bond. And as they bore witness to their history, partnership, social network, marriage, extended family, children, and the life they’d shared together, they discovered that they had created the most vital adult relationship of their lives. Emerging science confirms the power of that bond…Nothing could ever replace it.
Today her beloved (first and second) husbands and her make their lives in the beauty and abundance of the Pacific Northwest with their two sons. They’ve been together for nearly 20 years, give or take the Divorce Time. He devotes his life energy to their family, community, and the mythic totem species of our region, the salmon.
Their boys spend their time reading, playing with Legos, and requesting yet another dinner party with their close family of friends. Rachel and her husband occasionally glance at each other over their heads, relief plain on their faces; they are so thankful they no longer endure the stress of their former split.
And Rachel? She finds joy in yoga, the delights of local food and their backyard chickens, writing, reading, her friendships, and especially, in the sacred art of growing in her marriage, loving her husband, and together, shepherding their greatest privilege: their children. Most nights you’ll find Rachel nestled in bed with her boys and husband, reading yet another Harry Potter chapter aloud…but rarely speaking of He Who Shall Not Be Named.
Rachel is currently writing a memoir of their experience. If their story can help avert the pain and trauma of even one unnecessary divorce or inspire another couple’s reconciliation, their heartache will have been worthwhile.