Divorce can be a significant and blindsided gut punch, or the thing that we've been wanting and anticipating for the last several years.
My last client—let's call her Angela to keep from violating coaching ethics—was going through a divorce with Mark, let's call him, her husband of 12 years. By all accounts, the divorce should have been a lot cleaner, and thus a lot less dramatic and hate-filled, than it turned out to be.
They were divorcing because there was no more physical intimacy. They had not had sex in several years (nine, to be exact), and they both acknowledged that the gap since the last time was so wide that neither got excited about the other in that way anymore.
Angela and Mark both wanted the divorce, hired a mediator, and had only one disagreement about how to divide the assets. In our first couples coaching session, he brought her hot tea, and they laughed hysterically about how awkward it was when they last tried to have sex.
And yet, in my one-on-one relationship coaching session with her, each word and facial expression was delivered with the heat of a thousand suns. When I got around to asking her what lit the fire of anger so deep within her belly, I got the following answer: I'm 47, and I have to start over!
Ah, that makes sense. And, I sort of knew that to be the source of her disdain, but verification was of the utmost importance; mainly because there are several reasons that divorce brings out the worst in people, and the reality of starting over is just one of them. Here are several more:
- We feel stupid. The competitive and intelligent "us" cannot stand the fact that we were duped for so long! How in dog's name can we be COOs, pediatric RNs, and account executives for the three biggest Fortune 500 companies, and yet have gone so many years without realizing what was going on in our marriage and how we were really being treated? This wake-up call can really wake up our tempers.
- Our juggling act just got a lot harder. What? I already do most of the stuff around the house, work a full-time job, take care of most of the children's needs—and now it's all on me. And for what?
- We may be forced to deal with an immature and thoughtless ex. I thought we were adults. I thought our age and experience implied a certain level of civility. But I guess not. That just makes my blood boil.
- A schedule is never really a schedule with an ex. It's more like a guideline to the possibility of a schedule. So, that Tuesday and Thursday at 6:00 is really that hard to manage for you? Got it. I guess my one night out with friends will have to take a rain check again.
- Children can wind up feeling like they did something wrong, or just aren't that important. If anyone wants to see the worst of me, do or say anything that breaks the heart or spirit of my little ones. Just go ahead and try me.
- Letting go of ego is difficult. Going the distance in the divorce process seems to imply some sort of race. And, with races come winners and losers—and dammit if I'll be that loser. We've made this a war with several battle lines drawn, so give me your worst because I'm already there!
Whether blindsided or with eyes wide open, divorce can bring out the worst in us. Only our own awareness of this reality and some strong emotional intelligence can quell it.
Written by Chris Armstrong
Chris Armstrong is a Certified Relationship Coach. His advice and columns are rooted in modern realities of men, women, sex, and love. He has been published more than 500 times in various media outlets such as MSNBC, Elephant Journal, Huffington Post, Divorced Moms, Your Tango, The Good Men Project, and She Knows, to name a few. Chris has had more than 450 clients and has run more than 75 workshops and seminars. Contact him via www.MazeOfLove.com.