Marriage (also called matrimony or wedlock) is a socially or ritually recognized union or legal contract between spouses that establishes rights and obligations between them, between them and their children, and between them and their in-laws. The definition of marriage varies from culture to culture, but it is principally an institution in which interpersonal relationships are acknowledged. Groucho Marx famous quote comes to mind when I hear the words “marriage” and “institution” used in the same sentence: “Marriage is a wonderful institution, but who wants to live in an institution?” I’m sure a number of people agree with that statement. Maybe I’m a hopeful (not hopeless) romantic by nature, but I do want to believe that people do still value marriage and long term relationships. However, life is on fast forward these days, and people do grow apart. People are human — some cheat, may lie (or omit the truth), or are self-absorbed that they can’t see how their actions hurt or affect others, especially their spouse and/or children. Whatever the case may be, relationships shouldn’t be so hard… in theory. Oh sure, life is hard, and in a marriage you are not going to see eye to eye on everything. That’s just plain unrealistic. You can’t expect rainbows and butterflies all the time.
Getting divorced does not have the stigma it once had. That doesn’t mean individuals going through the divorce process, and the aftermath of divorce, are immune to emotional scars. Those take time to heal. I don’t think anyone wakes up one morning and says “ah, today is a good day for a divorce.” And if you are married and feel that way, you may need to look into that. Marriage is not something most of us take lightly, unless you are drunk in Vegas. I do not like the phrase, “marriage takes work.” I do agree that you make compromises (in any relationship), and life is not always easy. But to call it work, just seems so mechanical to me. Didn’t you have reasons you got married? Wasn’t it about you both bringing different “stuff” to the table, you genuinely loved each other, you wanted a family, and you wanted to build a life together? I get it; unlike some fairy tales, the perfect endings don’t always pan out. Divorce statistics are staggering, and there are multitudes of reasons why people split up. Separations, divorces, and breakups happen every day. There are many reasons a split may be imminent. Maybe it was mutual and you both decided you wanted out. Maybe one spouse wanted something (someone) different. You grew apart. You fell out of love. Maybe it was more intense and was a result of emotional or physical abuse. Then there is the dreaded infidelity that left you heartbroken and set you back to feelings of insecurity and self-doubt. Regardless, it takes time to get back on track and for some it’s a tough road. Whatever the case, I think deep down most people know when it’s over, it’s over even though deep down they wish it had turned out differently. Sometimes you have no choice but to walk away. When that door opens some choose to play the field, some choose to become a recluse to regroup, some turn their focus solely on their kids, while others work on improving themselves both mentally and physically.
I asked a number of people who are friends and friends of friends about their divorce experiences, and the results were eye opening, touching, sad, rough and uplifting all at once. I know it was tough for most of you to participate, and I’m very appreciative you allowed me into your world. So here we go:
Main reason for your divorce:
There are numerous reasons why people split from their marriage. The majority I interviewed said that they fell out of love with their ex-wife or ex-husband. It became a roommate situation versus it being a caring, passionate, and nurturing relationship. For women, they felt taken for granted by their ex-husbands and felt that their spouse checked out and stopped contributing in all areas related to the family and household. For men, it can be a multitude of reasons: they felt emasculated by their spouse, they grew apart, or infidelity on the ex-wife’s part or their part. Finances were also a factor. Where they obsessed over money or the reverse where they relied solely on their spouse for financial support. Infidelity played a role in some cases and for the most part they didn’t try to hide it. Mental abuse, depression, lack of affection and loneliness also were mentioned.
Most, if not all, take some of the responsibility for their breakup even if they were not at “fault.” Whether or not they asked for a divorce or were blindsided by it, they do fess up to their part in it all. Some even went so far as to say they could have been more supportive and respectful of their spouse. Others had life events happen where the spouse was ill-equipped to handle it, such as the birth of a child. Surprises sometimes happen, and if one spouse assumes he or she is not ready, a whole trail of issues may follow. Others wanted to hold onto their core values while their spouse chose a different path. If you can’t align your core values to some degree, how can you build on any relationship? It’s okay to have different beliefs and viewpoints as long as you don’t expect your spouse to accept it and compromise their entire belief structure. You need to find some common ground and balance.
Trouble in paradise:
Most people knew early on their marriage was doomed. Some knew as early as when they were dating that it was not the best match. They wanted so much to have a family that they overlooked the lack of affection and caring so that they could build a home. Some knew it was a mistake as they walked down the aisle. Can you imagine that? Others knew soon after the birth of their first child. In one instance, the spouse felt replaced and was jealous that the attention was no longer on him but on the child. Untreated depression caused severe problems in one marriage, were the ex-husband refused to get help. It is interesting to see how long people stayed, some for years, after they had known the relationship was unsalvageable. Some sought therapy to bridge their differences. But if you are not on the same page and can’t get on the same page, therapy can’t work. You both have to be open to making compromises and listening to each other’s needs to make changes wherever possible. Overall, I think people want to know and feel that their significant other is there and present for them and their family. We all need to make compromises but when those compromises make you compromise everything you believe in, it may not be worth it in the end.
Break it up:
Everyone bickers in a relationship. You are two different people living under the same roof. You join your viewpoints, acknowledge your differences, share interests, hopefully show affection, are having sex and sharing in laughs and joy. However, unless you inhabit the same brain, you are going to have differences. Some disagreements or fights are a losing battle, and you have to walk away, others are bumps in the road that you can and should overlook. Lack of intimacy is a big one especially when your spouse is narcissistic and makes you feel insecure. Infidelity, yeah there is not much of an argument there. There are probably reasons they seek outside the marriage but cheating on someone is low. You made a vow, why not at least break it before you stray?
Sometimes it’s not an argument, it’s a simple discussion. Where your spouse may try for a month or so to make adjustments and change his or her frame of reference, but then fall back into their old patterns that make you miserable. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. You might be able to from time to time but expect one or two accidents on the carpet. Others fight over everything: spirituality, finances, sex. When one person is left to carry most of the financial load, it can strain a marriage. When sex becomes a big ordeal and discussion about feelings and emotion, zzzz snore, men will turn out the light and rollover. You have to keep it spontaneous and interesting. There is plenty of time to talk about your feelings and the connection you share outside the bedroom. You both need to be engaged. If you try to manipulate it into something just you want, you aren’t considerate of your spouse. It’s not only about your needs.
Moving forward vs. backward:
The number one reason people wished it had worked out was for the sake of their children. That makes sense to me. Divorce changes your perception on relationships. I like this response from one interviewee: “Relationships are very hard and unless both people are willing to compromise, then at some point one person will feel resentment and ultimately either just settles in and is miserable or gives up and leaves.” I’m not sure if people get over it. I was heartbroken to read one response from someone close to me. She tried to stick through the good and bad times but at the end of the day, their personalities were just too different and he made it clear he would never change for her or anyone. I’m glad she has found some peace but I know it still hurts her deeply. Looking back, would they do anything different? The gamut ran from “No, I would not do anything different” to “not sure” to “I would never have gotten married in the first place.” One of the most positive responses was “everything happens for a reason.” He went so far as to say his ex-wife enriched his life and opened his eyes to new thoughts and views that helped make him better rounded. Everyone does serve a purpose in our lives although, we may question it. If you go by your faith or just your will, you can look back in retrospect to remember the good and less about the bad. How are they moving forward? I got the sense that some of them still struggle on occasion because they want a “full family life.” Overall, the words they used were positive. They feel more independent, happy, have more confidence, think more clearly about their future, and are thankful for the support from friends and family which has helped boost their confidence.
What do you do when you are single all of sudden? Do you embrace your new found freedom? Do you enjoy sleeping in your bed alone? Or is it a tougher transition than you imagined? I think most of the divorcees I interviewed, are conflicted with how they feel about their new found independence. Overall, it was an even split between being happy to be independent or sad to be alone. You can understand why some would feel conflicted about being alone and missing their significant other. I feel that way after a break-up, I can’t imagine how it must feel when you split from a spouse. Some of my friends say, “Who needs a man? I have enough stress in my life.” It’s not a matter of needing, but it can be “nice to have.” Sometimes you just need to get your flirt on, and enjoy someone else’s company that doesn’t require a squeaky toy or another viewing of the movie “Frozen.” Others are working on themselves, letting the cards fall where they may to make sure they are ready to open themselves up to, dare, I say, another relationship or marriage. Do they still believe in love? The answers were mixed. A few have lost faith and feel there are no happy endings. I can relate to that, but I do hope they find it again. It seems that most have shifted their belief to finding happiness where they can and working on themselves so that they are open to a better relationship. Dating is different now for most of them, especially those with children, but they make time when they want to make time. It’s all in how you balance your schedule to ensure you have enough time for your family and work. Also, be it fate or destiny, whatever you believe in, you have to be open to meeting new people. If you close yourself off from the world, you may miss out on many of life’s golden opportunities. A lesson I need to remember.
The consensus was that they broke the news of their divorce or split as a couple to their child or children. They made sure to tell them how much they both loved them and that it was better if Mom and Dad (Mommy and Daddy) lived apart. However, some didn’t have that option of a united front and although their child or children are adapting, they didn’t get the opportunity to have both parents present to break the news. Heartbreaking! Children are so vulnerable and absorb so much. I’ve seen the impact on a few, and it’s tough. When children are young, they don’t fully understand and may act out because they miss the other parent when he or she is not around. Or they want so much to see the other parent, they suggest that they their parents get back together or move in together so they can be around both parents. That’s understandable; they don’t understand the complexities that lead to this new life change. They just want their home back. A seamless transition is not always possible, but shielding them from the aggravation and frustration you have towards your ex-spouse is crucial. You are their rock, their touchstone. Most of those interviewed say their children have adjusted but have their moments. It is best to let them vent, reassure them that they are loved unconditionally, and let them get their feelings out. Most of my female friends have full custody of their children with little to no support from their ex-husbands. Some share custody 50/50 with a team parenting style which is the ideal situation for most. It’s rare you hear about a man who has full custody. As one of my friends once told me, “oh, that is never the case.” Surprise! I found one. His focus is on the well being of his children to ensure they have stability, do well in school and follow their interests. That’s the way it should be and kudos to him. By allowing your children to communicate openly and having them know that there is a safe place to land speaks volumes!
Money, dating, support:
Keeping all the balls in the air is tricky at times. Managing finances, working full time, raising children, being social, and finding “me” time are no easy tasks when you piece them all together. Being a divorced parent makes it that much tougher. Especially for those who act primarily as both parents. Having a job that gives you the flexibility to be there for your kids, participate in your children’s activities and the income you need to support you and your children is ideal. It’s not the case for everyone. Dating can also be tricky. How do they find time? My Mom always says if you want to make time to see someone, you find it. I agree but sometimes (not all the time) you have to allow for extenuating circumstances. Also, I’m a firm believer that you don’t subject your children to people you date until you date exclusively. It is confusing for them. Plus the ex will more than likely want to know who you are bringing around your children. Meeting the ex is probably not easy on anyone. Support from friends and family help most of them get through the rough patches. It is the most important support system. Some notable comments were:
“Friends and family are extremely important. It keeps some normalcy and groundedness for me and my kids. We have as normal a family as possible without their dad being there with us.”
“Friends and family are so important during these crucial times. They are the ones that encourage you to move forward, encourage you to gain confidence, and value yourself.”
“Friends and family are very important! It’s important not to judge. Every divorce is different. I’m the only one in my family who divorced, and it’s hard as they are critical.”
“My friend’s support has been awesome. I don’t think I would be as “together” as I am today without their help and support.”
The holidays are probably one of the toughest times for single parents. The children may like it because they get two of everything — double the celebrations, double the gifts. Win! Win! I liked the response that they kept their family traditions going regardless. Others spend it together as a “divorced family.” As she put it, “it’s not your normal divorce.” For others, it’s a sour reminder of their broken family. Thoughts of what could have been for the holidays haunt them. I get that sharing it with family and your children is tough when you are alone but that just means it is time to create new memories. It can be a very lonely time, but it also can be a miraculous time. It all depends on how you look at it. Try to put the focus on your family. Maybe it’s time to build new memories and look toward future ones versus dwell in what could have been.
What I learned:
I know some very strong people! They know they’re capable, and they know their worth. Some of my female friends confirmed to me that they don’t need a man to raise their families. They can be independent. I admire that. However, I do hope they don’t go it alone for long and that they meet a fabulous man who can help them find love and hope again, and maybe possibly carry some of the load. I learned that marriage is not easy, but I’m still not going to say the words “it takes work.” It requires a lot of yourself, and it requires a lot from your spouse. You have to be a willing party. Divorce is sometimes inevitable, and it is a major adjustment. No one said it would be easy. The divorced folks I know are incredibly resilient and make the necessary changes they need to make in order to have a full life and find peace and joy where they can. My hat goes off to all the single and divorced parents out there.
-  Haviland, William A.; Prins, Harald E. L.; McBride, Bunny; Walrath, Dana (2011). Cultural Anthropology: The Human Challenge (13th ed.). Cengage Learning. ISBN 978-0-495-81178-7. “A nonethnocentric definition of marriage is a culturally sanctioned union between two or more people that establishes certain rights and obligations between the people, between them and their children, and between them and their in-laws.”
By| Gina L Cafasso