Guest Post by Judy Nelson
In every marriage there’s a division of labor, certain tasks you take on, certain tasks your spouse does. Living alone after divorce means there is no longer someone to share those tasks. You’re responsible for them all and that can be intimidating. You might not know how to do them but that doesn’t make you stupid. It just means you haven’t had the experience. When it comes to home maintenance, a good instructor and a few simple guidelines is all you need and before long you may be thinking, “Who needs a handyman after divorce?”
In this guest post Executive Coach, Judy Nelson shares how she came to realize she already had the skills she needed to handle the simple home repairs.
“I don’t know how you’re going to survive without me,” my soon-to-be-ex husband said. “You can’t even identify a Phillips.”
“Who is Philip?” I asked.
“Oh, jeez,” he said, eyeballs rolling to the back of his head. “See? A Phillips is a special kind of screwdriver. You have to know those things to make basic repairs.”
“Like what?” I asked.
“Like, the shower needs a new washer. What would you do if I’m not here?”
“Call a plumber?” I said.
“Right, and not be able to take a shower for two days—and pay a fortune? Come on. I want to show you something.” Still inclined to obey orders, I followed him to the master bath.
“Get in the shower. No, I’m serious,” he said, when he saw my look. “You’re going to change the washer.” Then, he left the room.
Too well-trained after 18 years of marriage and too stunned to react quickly, I got in the shower fully clothed, stood there, and waited. In less than five minutes he was back, a toolbox in one hand and a glass of wine in the other.
“So change the washer,” he said.
“I don’t even know what a washer is,” I said, “much less how to change it!”
“I know. That’s why you’re going to learn.”
“But I don’t know how.”
“How do you think I know how?”
“I take things apart, one piece at a time. I lay them on the counter in the order I removed them. Then I look to see which part isn’t working, fix it or replace it, and put it all back in the order I took it apart. Here’s the new washer,” he said, handing me a round rubber thing. He took one of the tools, twisted something that came off, and he laid it at the end of the counter. “Now,” he said, “replace the washer.” And he left the bathroom again.
I’m not sure how long I stood there shifting my gaze from the toolbox to the shower nozzle and back again, but I do remember drinking most of the wine. Eventually, I reached up and twisted on the shower head. Nothing happened. I tried harder. Nothing. One more time and something gave. I pushed, and it gave some more. Then something fell off. I caught it and laid it on the counter. Then I twisted something else, and it gave. On the counter. A push on something else and that gave, too, along with a screw. Soon I had six things laying on the counter, in exactly the order I had taken them out. Then I saw a black rubber thing that looked exactly like the new rubber thing he had given me. I took it out, put the new one in the old one’s place and started putting back the pieces.
At that moment, he reappeared. “Great!” he said, carrying a bottle to refill my glass. “Now you’ll need the Phillips to put it back together.” He extracted a screwdriver from the toolbox and showed me the four-way prong. “That’s a Phillips.” Again, he left.
Fifteen minutes later, I emerged from the shower.
“I did it!” I said, proudly.
“Maybe you’ll make it after all,” he said.
The truth was that I didn’t know what a Phillips screwdriver was. The only screwdriver I knew how to use involved vodka and some orange juice. Had it not been this event instigated by my ex-husband, I probably would have hired a plumber and not taken a shower for two days, and paid an expensive bill for a simple repair.
Surviving divorce requires a lot more than a working knowledge of repairs. You have to know how to look differently at all of the challenges you will face alone–and the constructs that create them. You also have to know how to take things apart and fix what’s broken. Most of all, you have to know how to put it all back together afterwards.
It’s not too unlike what I was facing in the shower repair. I had to take my time and figure out how everything worked together to get to the part that wasn’t. Lucky for me, my ex-husband taught me the system to get to the bottom of the shower repair: take it apart in pieces, keep them in the order that you encounter them, fix the problem, and put it back together again. To be honest though, I would have to call a plumber if it got much more complicated than the washer problem.
Every life needs repairs, especially after a marriage breakup. Some of them might be simple enough to handle yourself. Other times, you might need an expert. Of course, let’s not forget the times that we thought we could handle it ourselves only to discover halfway through that this job was bigger than we thought!
People who are best able to deal with life when their marriage collapses are realistic about what they can and can’t handle on their own.
So my ex-husband was only trying to make me more self-sufficient, but what he succeeded in doing was teaching me how to fix and repair problems in life in general. In this way, he was a resource—and I was able to stop being irritated with him long enough to learn something.
There was a time when I never thought I’d say this but I am grateful to my Ex. Over 30 years later, I am a successful businesswoman—and I can repair just about anything if I have to. I made it after all.
The lesson from this experience? There are tools, resources and support sources everywhere—including from an about-to-be ex-husband—if we’re willing to look, listen and learn.
Judy Nelson is a seasoned Executive Coach who helps leaders transform their senior management teams. With more than 35 years as a CEO, Judy uses her experience and exceptional credentials as a lawyer, social worker and certified professional coach to help strengthen leadership styles and team performance. In addition, she is a certified consultant for the Workplace Big 5 Profile™, a tool that gives you insight into how your personality affects your leadership style. She lives with her husband in Southern California.
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