Although Sally was legally married for nine years, her and her spouse started to separate after seven years. The separation for Sally was an agonizing time…
The most tortuous time was the period leading up to deciding I was finally going to divorce. We separated for three months and did our own thing. On the last day of that three months I got a job offer to start a news bureau in Silicone Valley which would mean moving from New York City. So after this really long discussion we extended the separation for another six months. It ended up being another year and a half and after that I packed my bags, went back to New Jersey and went back to the marriage.
Pretty soon thereafter I was struck with this gripping, tormenting sense of loneliness, that it wasn’t going to work. I couldn’t quite stay in it, I couldn’t quite get out of it. That period leading up to the final decision was absolutely corrosive. There were times I just thought, ‘take me.’ I don’t think I was clinically suicidal – I just wanted to disappear, to start all over again and I just couldn’t quite take that leap.
While we were separated, we were saying, “don’t ask, don’t tell,” so we could see other people. I did meet someone and fell in love. That helped me see that being in a relationship could be very different from what I’d experienced.
Therapy helped. I dragged my husband there some of the time and there was a very telling moment in a couples session when the therapist said, ‘I don’t tell many people this but I think for you each to try and change for the other or to accommodate the other, you will be changing your own natural course.’ She really did us see on different courses. I remember my husband saying, ‘I am what I am. This is who you have. This is what there is.’
Seeing the therapist on my own also helped me to understand what these emotions were and I could begin to unravel my sense of self-identity from that which I’d been given by mom and dad. I started to separate my own gut instincts from the shoulds of growing up Catholic.
Then before I had decided finally to divorce, a good friend of mine sent me a book by Pema Chödrön – When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times. She’s a Canadian American but her tradition is Tibetan Buddhism. She became my guide. Much of her book is that even though this voice may say, ‘but what if or if only things get a little better, I’ll be happier. What if things change?’ It’s just that it’s heaven on earth, hell is on earth, you’ve got all the grist for the mill to live as full a life or as empty a life as you want. Somehow her words and her heart really resonated.
It was never easy. In fact I hated seeing people with wedding rings on especially on Valentine’s Day.
Like Sally, I found the most challenging time of my divorce to be the months before I made the decision to leave the marriage and my husband had agreed to a divorce. Unlike Sally, we didn’t try separation. I’m curious about separations when there are children involved. I wonder what sort of impact the uncertainty has on them ?