Recently I decided to take a much-needed step in taking care of myself by visiting a counselor. I would say I’m pretty good at thinking things over and diagnosing what I think is the problem, but I found myself needing to just vent to an objective person who could give me some insight and solutions into my struggles. I don’t have to tell anyone going through a bad marriage, divorce, or step parenting that it is HARD at times to keep your head above water and remain sane under all the stress!
Obviously, counseling is not a hard sell for me. I studied psychology, I work in the human service field around many people crying out for help with their mental health issues, and I have often been known to say “we all have issues, and everyone could benefit from some counseling…” If you are in any way associated with a divorce (a spouse, parent, child, and so on), this is doubly so!
So, what could my counseling session yield that would stand out to me as truly profound toward my own life as a divorced woman, remarried wife, parent of children of a divorce, and stepmother? My take away message was this: we are all in a hypothetical car trying to move ahead, but each one of us in the interwoven web of divorce relationships is either in neutral, reverse, or engaged and moving forward.
This is not just about me. It’s not just about my ex. It’s not just the story of my kids or my step kids. This involves all of us, plus my husband, and even his ex. Everything we are and do is now interconnected in a giant family system where we are all players.
If my ex and I make some switches in our schedule to accommodate special circumstances, it effects everyone in our tapestry because now my stepkids will be distraught by not being able to see their siblings, my household budget will be swayed in another direction to cover meals, gas, and other expenses on unusual days, and so much more.
What about all of our emotional states moving into, through, and out of the “tunnel of divorce"?
Well, imagine us all in a car trying to reach some destination. Those of us who are effectively healed from the divorce and ready to move on with life will be able to jump in, put the car in gear and go.
Some of the passengers in the car are clearly stuck in the past and are only able to go in reverse. These people hold onto either their hatred and ill will from events of the past, or like at least one of my stepkids, they romanticize the past, imagining it to be so much better than it was; therefore, they resent the call for forward movement.
Some of us in the car are simply stuck. These passengers want to move forward, but usually the actions of others keep pulling them back, keeping them from rolling ahead. This is where I discovered my husband has been. He is so over the past and has made tremendous strides to overcome anger and hard feelings from him and his kids being left by his ex. He is happy now in a new marriage and wants to forget what used to be; but, every time he turns the key in the ignition, his ex’s drama that continues to be inserted into our lives keeps pulling him back into the past- whether he wants to or not!
Imagining my own extended family trying to navigate this car, I could visualize how futile the effort would be to get anywhere (at least in a reasonable amount of time and without even more stress) if members are firmly stuck in various stages of movement. The short of it is that you can’t truly move toward meaningful progress as long as one or more members of a team are frozen in place.
When I reflect on my life as it has progressed through my divorce, I can recognize myself and others around me as we have flowed in and out of these various stages of healing and ability to move on. I wasn’t always in drive. For a very long time I, too, was lodged in neutral because my ex and I were continually embattled in one disagreement after another. Even when I felt ready to jump to the next stage, I could just as easily be pulled back to neutral, or even reverse by either my ex’s actions to engage me in past issues or even my children’s needs to take it slow and understand what was happening.
My kids are now in “go” mode, but I recall both of them, at their individual pace, reverting back to neutral or reverse as they processed their emotions and gained more mature comprehension of divorce and what it would forever mean to their lives. As a parent, I needed to let them take their time and help them gradually move forward.
Once most of my issues with my ex died down to the point where we really only communicate about the kids and are able to do so in a positive and productive way, and once my kids were back on their feet and ready, I have been able to remain in forward motion.
It’s important to note, however, that it’s normal and to be expected that not everyone in a fairly large system will be ready or even interested in moving along at the same rate of speed, if at all. Even my husband’s drama with his ex has subsided some, but there is still a lot of mileage being racked up in the past that continues to draw him in against his will.
The analogy of the car is a useful tool you might use to assess where you are at post-divorce and your readiness to move on with a new relationship. Just as importantly, it’s important to evaluate other members of your family web to review what gear they are in and how ready they will be to accept new relationships in your life- and theirs.
What gear are you in?