I was visiting a college friend in Virginia earlier this summer, and he said there must be something in the water where he lives. Lots of people our age, which is around 40 (don’t tell…), were getting divorced. The form of the breakups varied. Some had cheating, for instance, and some did not. Some looked like “mid-life crises” and some did not. In some cases they were still friends and in others they most definitely were not. The result was the same, though – divorce.
I’d already heard from a friend in New Orleans that the same thing had been happening among his circles there. So my take was that there’s nothing in the water in Virginia or anywhere else, for that matter. This is what happens to a certain percentage of people who are around that age. They grow apart. They change. They’ve been changing and then it hits a critical mass. It gets to be too much. Sometimes this change means they feel they are no longer a match with their partner, and this can be quite painful, especially when the other partner is still perfectly satisfied. It takes two, though, for it to be a match. And this is true even if they recited marriage vows that said “until death do us part.” Maybe the current version of me would never have said that with the current version of you. But the version of me from however many years ago did say that with that past version of you. And I have to deal with that now.
There can be children involved as well as other complications, like circles of friends and assets. Sometimes a decision is made to hook up with someone else, even before the marriage structure has been dissolved. This happens a lot, really. But the truth remains that it’s not working for them anymore. The spark is no longer there, and it doesn’t look like it will return. Or maybe it will and does return. If it doesn’t, though, then there’s no sense pretending it’s still there.
I’m not at all saying to go do whatever you want even if you’re married. I’m not saying any of this is okay or not okay. I’m not saying get divorced or not. I’m just saying that we want to look at the situation as clearly as possible. From my point of view, there’s no right or wrong. There’s just the truth. What’s underneath everything? What’s the cause? If the spark is gone, then we have to admit that and tell the truth. And if the spark is still there and I just royally screwed up, then I have to own that. Maybe you will forgive me and maybe you won’t. Sometimes we’ve both changed, and I have to reevaluate things. I might come to the conclusion that I’m still in love and still in. The damage might be done at that point or not, though, and I have to live with that.
Let’s be honest – it takes a whole lot for two people to be able to live together as roommates for decades, much less in a monogamous relationship. That’s a very, very, very tall order! Just look at the divorce rate. The main reason is that we’re all changing. Some change more than others, of course. But we’re all changing to some degree. Sometimes we drift apart, or one drifts apart from the other. As I said above, that’s pretty painful when you’re the one who’s still fine with things. But we have to be honest with this natural tendency to change as we age. It’s simply a part of life. It’s a fact. A second marriage might end up working out better because the bulk of the change has already happened, and I’ve found someone who is a match for this newer version of me.
Understanding feelings and releasing is HUGE if you’re in these situations or are close to them (i.e. close friends or family are going through it). People express a lot of anger and get downright mean. They feel they’re being attacked and they fight back. Kids and friends can easily get caught in the crossfire. That’s not ideal, and it really is avoidable. It’s not easy, but why not give it a shot? We have to let the emotion pass as much as we can and then make decisions when we’re more clear. We have to really zoom out and go for a setup that’ll be best down the line. We have to see the forest through the trees, as best we can. When we’re driven by our anger, anger that’s totally normal in this situation, then we probably won’t have the best outcome for the future. It’ll come back to bite us somehow. And I’m never saying to be a doormat! Be strong, but be clear also. Be as fair as you can. And if you’re really pissed and trying to just screw over the person, then at least tell the truth to yourself that that’s what you’re doing.
This reminds me of a client whose ex-wife seems to be pretty greedy and is playing hardball with her lawyer. It sounds ridiculous what they’re attempting to do, but the law is a game. It’s a set of rules and not the truth, and some people are really, really good at playing this game. And I respect that, especially as a logical math guy – these people are geniuses. There are some brilliant lawyers out there that get amazing results for their clients. But I hope that this woman is being honest to herself about what she’s doing. I’ve worked with her son as well, and he sees through the whole thing. He’s young, but he can clearly see that she’s not treating Daddy fairly. And this is only one example that came to mind – I’m not just pro-guy because I’m a guy. Trust me – lots of guys are total idiots!
Anyway, this is not fun stuff, but it’s real. We have to tell the truth and try to get all the way to the bottom of what’s going on. We have to go deep. What’s the cause? And don’t beat yourself up! This won’t help. It distorts, and we don’t need distortion. We need clarity. Own it and feel and release any anger at yourself that you might have. And learn from it. Use it as an opportunity to grow as a person. You might see that it was the best thing that ever happened to you, or you might see that there was no avoiding this outcome. The underlying forces were just too strong. We have to get beyond all that emotion, though, since it clouds our judgment. All that we can do is try to handle a very, very tough and painful situation as best we can. We want to be able to look back and be proud of how we handled it. Even if we feel like we screwed up, we have to own it and then try to handle the rest of it in the best way possible. I don’t know what else we can do.