Early warning systems are a marvel, aren't they? If only such a thing existed in our relationships. Then we might note the barometric pressure changing, the gusts picking up, and the sky darkening before the storm.
Unfortunately, human beings aren't so scientific in their assessments of each other. We step into marriage with good intentions, and convinced that we can withstand any bad weather heading our way.
But we may not have the tools or experience to protect ourselves and minimize the damage.
No matter how hard we try, the wind howls, the rain beats down, we take shelter wherever we can and hope we'll come out okay. We manage to rebuild, but for some of us the losses are enormous, their legacy is permanent, further destruction remains a persistent threat, and the dust never seems to settle.
Since divorce, these have been my truths.
A Marriage Story
I was in my thirties when I walked down the aisle on my grandfather's arm and to greet a beaming groom at the altar. I was thrilled to be marrying him, and I considered his large, close-knit family to be a bonus.
Things moved quickly in that first year: he changed jobs, I got pregnant, we bought a house, we had a baby! And 18 months later we welcomed our second son.
I had no illusions of a picture perfect relationship, but I loved my husband, I loved our children, and I thought we would make it. As the years went on, I told myself that no marriage is without its troubles. I tried not to make comparisons. I adjusted my expectations. I made peace with my compromises, tried to please my husband, and I imagine he tried to please me as well. There was joy in our little boys, and satisfaction in our careers. Mine, however, was narrowing in scope with the growing load of parenting responsibilities.
My husband traveled extensively. I was caught in the blur of juggling kids, work, and home. I was lonely. I was always tired.
Where was our relationship through all this?
As for the storm that was brewing, ours was a clash of values among other things - too much time apart and too little communication when we were together, a division of labor that left me resentful - I worked long hours, brought in half the income, took care of the kids.
My husband had play time; I did not. He took mini-vacations; I stayed home. He asked if these jaunts were okay with me and I never thought to say no, they're not. We rarely fought.
Over time, I began waking to where we were and where we were not. I was aware of living something like marriage rather than a real marriage, but confronting that fact in Year 10 was too little too late.
I was vaguely aware of behaviors that left me smaller. So much smaller.
I am simplifying what was a complicated situation. Aren't marriages always more complicated than we think?
Our marriage unraveled. It wasn't pretty. I didn't want a divorce, but that's what I got.
High Conflict Divorce, High Conflict Aftermath
Many will refer to the high conflict divorce. How you define it may be up for discussion, but we rarely speak of the the high conflict aftermath - life after divorce that poses significant obstacles over a long period of time, complicated by:
* assumptions that "all will be peachy after divorce"
* assumptions about blame, forgiveness, and resilience
* a complex-to-navigate Divorce Industry
* judgment by family and friends
* financial realities for all parties concerned
* an emotional legacy that many will never understand.
Don't we all act out when we're hurt? Don't adversarial relationships bring out the worst in all of us? Don't some play mind games masterfully when threatened? Don't we all speak ill, wish ill, and occasionally do harm to those we love?
But most of us stop, straighten ourselves out, and then behave like responsible adults.
And some do not.
Marital Hindsight is 20-20
Sure, I've got plenty. Like anyone with a long enough lens, I can pick out firmly established patterns, actions and reactions, lessons learned from mistakes in judgment and events that were beyond anyone's control.
The long view has enabled me to change me. That's good news, don't you think?
But the ongoing and long-term impacts of a high conflict divorce aftermath are the subjects I most wish to focus on: negative repercussions to our children and their futures, to our emotional and physical well-being, to our livelihoods, to our belief systems.
As I look back, I see signs of problems even prior to the marriage. I understand now what was likely inevitable. I also see that while I wasn't unprepared for marriage, I was wrongly prepared when it came to my expectations of myself. And I was surely unprepared for divorce and woefully naive for years after. I could have used that barometer, a proper shelter, and a store of provisions.
You know the old adage "If I knew then what I know now?"