It doesn’t look like yours.
My neighbor’s divorce?
It doesn’t resemble yours – or mine – or that of a friend in Massachusetts or another in California.
It’s possible that the only commonality in our divorces is this: the marriage ended, and it was painful.
If you ask me, that’s as far as it goes unless you’re willing to dig deeper.
What do I mean by that?
Factors that Influence How You Feel About Divorce
Consider the following:
- Did you use mediation or go through family court?
- Was your divorce adversarial or high conflict?
- Were financial responsibilities executed as promised by both parties?
- Have custody and visitation provisions been followed or run into problems?
- Are your children dealing with emotional and behavioral issues during or following divorce?
- Has there been “unreasonable” interference by your ex in your life?
- Has there been interference in the children’s lives, including parental alienation?
- Has the reason for your divorce left you scarred or hesitant?
- Are you deeply in debt? Has your career been compromised?
- Do you have a strong post-divorce support system?
Is it clearer now why my divorce is not your divorce, or anyone else’s – as each divorce depends on how you answer the questions above – and so many more?
If you used mediation, for example, but I was mired in a prolonged adversarial divorce, isn’t it logical that my feelings about life after divorce would be different from yours? Isn’t it logical that finances might be compromised, along with my ability to trust – not only men but our divorce-related institutions?
What if painful or conflicting events drag on so long and go so badly that you feel as if your beliefs have been irrevocably broken?
More Interpersonal and Logistical Factors
How about the difference between a 5-year union and one that lasted three decades? What if you married at 18 as opposed to 35? What if you divorce at 28 as opposed to 58? What if you have four children versus one, or a child with special needs? What if the reasons for the split are so wrenching and the scars so deep that healing seems impossible?
A secure job or career can be a stabilizing factor, whereas plunging back into the workforce of necessity after years away can be a terrifying prospect. Will you have time to get your head on straight first? To put the pieces back together as you reconfigure yourself as a single woman – emotionally, and possibly physically?
If you have a 50-50 custody split, you potentially benefit from more time to adjust to your single self. Then again, you may have a contentious relationship with your ex regardless of the custody or visitation arrangements. Every hand-off may result in a scene for you and for the kids.
But let’s say that my neighbor has every other week to herself, as her ex takes over with the children and without drama. Her experience of parenting and socializing post-divorce bears little resemblance to my own, as a full-time, solo parent.
If we’re not used to being on our own, getting used to being an “I” instead of a “we” can be grueling. If we find we enjoy being on our own, divorce may come as much-needed relief. Personally, I generally thrived when I was on my own.
Bridging the Divorce Gap: Why It Matters
As I sit across the table from a wonderful man, I recognize that his experience of gray divorce is dramatically different from what I lived through. His split came when his children were nearly grown; my split came when my boys were still little. He and his ex divided assets fairly, both had regular employment, and there were no issues of child support. My situation, on the other hand, would qualify as a shriek-worthy, unpleasant roller-coaster.
He is unafraid of trusting again – including the institution of marriage. Me? My level of trust? It is informed by my experience of these past dozen difficult years.
So how do I get him to understand the way I feel? We speak calmly, we listen to each other, and he doesn’t push me in ways that scare me.
How do I get you to see that what was easy for you was tough for me? How can I understand that what was easy for me has been dreadful for you? We would have to approach each other openly but honestly, realizing that we need to listen with an open mind and be compassionate and respectful of our differing narratives.
I look at my experience and realize that marriage both made me and “unmade” me – it set me back in some ways from which I will never recover, yet I gained lessons that I cannot imagine living without. Likewise, divorce damaged me and taught me. And of course, from my marriage I have two wonderful sons.
If our experiences are divergent, I believe that bridging the misunderstandings among those of us who have divorced is an integral part of the healing process. More importantly, we can potentially reach out and help each other. This isn’t about which is harder or worse; it’s about opening up to the fact that all divorces are not alike, that we as people are not alike, and judgmental comparisons are utterly unhelpful.