My ex-husband came with a number of serious flaws and some truly fabulous old ladies. Most notably, a great aunt we’ll call Josephine, who epitomized the gracious Southern Dame.
Well into her seventies, Josie was beautiful in a way that had nothing to do with preserving the trappings of youth. It was all about elegant carriage, a keen eye for a well-cut pantsuit and a glowing complexion that was even more lovely for its lines.
Naturally I asked her secret. “The key to lasting beauty,” she confided, “is a grateful heart.”
I love this for a lot of reasons. First of all, I’m convinced it’s true – so I try (with varying success) to make counting my blessings as routine as applying my SPF. But I also love that this gem of a lesson – indeed, this gem of a woman – came to me through a man and a marriage that also brought a world of pain. It feels fitting, because I’m sure that when Josie counseled gratitude, she wasn’t simply suggesting I should appreciate life’s high points. She was much too smart, and had lived too long, for such a narrow view.
A truly grateful heart grows larger and richer through the very experiences that might otherwise cause it to shrink and harden. And while I’m sure it would have saddened Josie to see my marriage end, I like to think the path I’ve followed since would have made her proud.
But will it make me beautiful? Who knows. The good news is that when pressed, Josie acknowledged she did, on occasion, visit the Elizabeth Arden counter.
People often wonder about the appropriate response when someone gets divorced. I’m in the camp of a resounding “mazel tov!” A congratulatory exclamation of warm wishes and good luck makes every kind of sense as a rough chapter closes and a new one begins.
I am not insensitive to the sadness and pain that inevitably accompany a split. But the end of a bad marriage is a step, however painful, in the right direction – and that’s to be applauded.
So please, please, save the “I’m sorry” for when you accidentally introduce your newly divorced friend as her ex’s wife.
If you’re like me, you’re reading a stranger’s divorce blog because that’s a whole lot easier than talking about the subject with your friends. But I hope you’re not like me, because if there’s one piece of advice I’d like to foist on the unhappily coupled (or uncoupled) of the world, it’s quit brooding and start complaining out loud.
Of course yakking about your troubles easier said than done. After all, if you never talk about it to anyone, it’s practically as if the problem doesn’t exist at all, right? Plus there’s that so-wrong-but-so-strong desire to be perfect that afflicts pretty much everyone. And don’t forget the silencing power of plain old embarrassment.
For me, it took about three years of therapy and painful experiences too numerous to recount before I finally picked up the phone and spilled my unhappiness to a friend. I’d recommend getting there more quickly if you can (and sharing on this blog might be a good start).
As I came tearfully clean, I was amazed to see that the sky didn’t fall and the earth didn’t swallow me up whole. In fact, it felt pretty good. When it was over, I still had a miserable marriage to contend with, and a scary divorce ahead. But I also had a friend to help me handle it – a friend who loved me no less for being, in that moment, about as far from perfect as it’s possible to be. And in the end, that made all the difference.
True and important: Talking out loud about your relationship problems is not just a great way to get beyond a bad marriage – it’s also an essential skill for saving a good one.
I’ve got a problem with the phrase “my ex.” It might just be that it makes me feel like a character in a bad country song, but I think there’s more to it.
It’s the “my” part that bugs me. I prefer to reserve that descriptor for the positive things I cherish: my family, my friends, my work, my fabulous haircut. And while the man I once married is not so bad as exes go, cherish him I do not. So without conscious effort, I’ve become an expert at avoiding the possessive.
Of course my discomfort with “my ex” is silly, and probably a little juvenile. As the father of my children, he is unquestionably “mine” – bound to play a significant role in my life. And to pretend anything else would be a disservice to the kids. I understand all of this, and work hard to live by it.
Nevertheless, when it comes to casual conversation, I’ll keep the “my” for myself.
When I realized my marriage was over, the predictable array of scary topics ran rampant in my brain. I worried about my kids, of course. Then there was the issue of money. And what about lawyers? And where would I live?
But it might surprise you to learn that in between all the hand wringing and nail biting, I somehow found time to indulge a racy fantasy or two. Or three. Right there in the midst of what was surely the saddest and most frightening experience I’d ever had, I couldn’t help but dance a little jig over the prospect of new, and better, sex somewhere on the horizon. Fulfilling sex was one of the many doors to happiness that had closed in my marriage – and one of the first that I realized I held the power to re-open.
Just a day or two after my Big Decision, I sat in my therapist’s office. “Has your fantasy life changed?” she asked. I was shocked. Although on one level I was enjoying my unexpected friskiness, I was also a little embarrassed. After all, I’d decided to divorce less than 48 hours earlier. Didn’t dignity and propriety demand some kind of dry spell?
But like the good therapy patient I am, I spilled the truth. The doctor’s smile washed over me like a balm. “Congratulations. That’s one of the healthiest things you’ve said in a long time,” she told me. And she was absolutely right.
I spent two years tucked in the corner of a therapist’s couch. My husband sat to my right, my shrink faced us in her chair. Week in, week out, that was my place and I occupied it faithfully, even when I went to therapy alone.
It was in one such solo session that I decided to leave my husband, and made plans to break the news to him there in the office at our next shared appointment.
I arrived bleary-eyed, buzzing with queasy anticipation. As I took up my miserable corner perch, my shrink (God bless her), casually remarked “perhaps you’d like to try a different chair today.”
What a concept. How easy it was to shift from one piece of furniture to another, and view the familiar office from an entirely new perspective. How simple to break a pattern and suddenly see the world afresh.
I learned a powerful lesson that day about being stuck, breaking loose and choosing to define your own point of view. From my new post in the armchair, ending my marriage felt less like the desperate escape it had seemed, and more like the well-considered, rational and self-affirming decision it was.
A person “backed into a corner” is someone with no choice. But on that day, I knew that choices were, in fact, just about all I had left. And with a nudge from a very wise therapist, I was finally in a position to make them.