Stacy Morrison had worked for Redbook as their editor-in-chief, and as a New York publisher for 16 years when her husband asked her for a divorce. She felt like she finally had it all together with a new baby and a new house and a good marriage. When it all came crashing down around her she took charge of what she had left and realized that it wasn’t as simple as “what she had left.” Stacy’s wisdom is captured in her book, Falling Apart in One Piece: One Optimist’s Journey Through the Hell of Divorce.
When I first met Stacy we were at a swanky little party, and met because of our mutual admiration of the woman who writes the blog Bossy. In one of those rare moments, we connected over the word that usually makes people run for the hills the second it’s uttered: divorce. As women, I think we were at the crux of what was defining us in that moment and fell into instant camaraderie. As writers, we did that, too, but Stacy was putting it all out there to explore and understand, whereas I wasn’t writing about it, and yet my friends and family all knew that the things I wasn’t saying in my writing were the things they wanted most to understand.
What I wasn’t saying was that I couldn’t believe how vindictive he had become, and that people were right when they told me, “If you ever really want to meet your spouse you’ll do so before a divorce attorney or the judge granting you the divorce” and “You don’t know who you marry. You know who you divorce.” and other nuggets of wisdom that I found to be painfully true for my marriage. As much as I wanted to know who my husband was in our marriage, I couldn’t figure it out until I got away from him and had enough space to breathe and figure out who I was becoming. I was the classic woman who had no idea who she married and who didn’t know who she was without certain definitions.
I was a mom and that had happened even before I met him. My own definition of “mother” never included another parent and that didn’t get much better once we were together.
I was a teacher and what I was willing to give up for my students in my time and energy always seemed to compete with what I was willing to give up for my marriage.
I was a friend. That was and is evolving as I figured out who they truly were once I told them I left my husband. When my family asked about them I would simply say, “I lost them in the divorce. He has them now.”
While I got excellent advice from friends, they didn’t have all the answers and the best things they could offer me at times were in the form of a hand held or a dinner they brought over to my sparse apartment.
On the website for her book, Stacy includes even more stories and articles that she’s written about how one even goes through a divorce. There’s so much that people don’t tell you because it truly is hell that you’re navigating. Just when you think you have it figured out, you find out something else. For me, it was mostly on the financial side. I hadn’t considered that my husband would go after my pension, but he did, and in the state we live in he is entitled to it because we were married for more than 10 years. Or that, because I made more money than he did, he was entitled to nearly $700 a month in child support. Or that he even considered fighting me for our children (two teenage sons) so that he could get that out of me.
That was the most ludicrous of all, because I was the consummate working mother who put my kids in soccer and basketball and ballet and read to them at night and was physically exhausted from trying to do it all and/or ask him to help me raise the children. I tried sitting down with him without our lawyers to discuss this and couldn’t get very far because, almost immediately, he told me that he was entitled to it because he helped me pay for my post-graduate degree. “You did the work and read the books and wrote the papers, but that degree is partly mine. You owe me.”
I had no idea who this person was because, as a couple, he never wanted much. He didn’t want to work on improving our house and he didn’t want to take a vacation because he was fine with our life the way it was. He coached basketball and played golf and got in way over his head with playing video games. Why would we need to take a trip to the Bahamas? I should have been happy with what we had.
It’s almost too obvious to state, but I wasn’t. I couldn’t remember ever being truly happy in my marriage. So, when I left, I had to learn some things the hard way. First, I had to find the difference between being “alone” and being “lonely.” Next, I realized that I parented differently when I didn’t have a partner to run things by since we did that at opposite ends of the spectrum. Finally, I had to choose joy. I write about that one a lot and my family knew that when I wrote about it I was doing so because it was elusive and I was really down in the dumps.
But, enough of all that. What I really wanted to write about, now that it’s far enough behind me, is how to be a friend when you know someone going through this. It’s not rocket science, but many people tend to back off and stay away because they don’t know what to say or they don’t know how to react to this new you emerging from the cocoon.
First, be supportive and offer lots of coffee dates and dinners. Sometimes, we have to learn to cook for one and that’s disheartening, so we might just stop eating altogether. Make sure we’re getting enough good foods. I didn’t eat right for a full 6 months and my body took a toll.
Second, call and call and call. Or, text and text and text. I need and crave that communication, but it’s really easy to retreat into my shell so that I don’t have to face the world. Going to the movies is great because you don’t have to talk. Make sure it’s a funny movie. I highly recommend “Reno 911! Miami” because it was super silly and I laughed until it hurt.
Also, send cards of pretty pictures or even actual photographs of me and my children that you have. It’s a good reminder that I have had good times. Also, I may have left all my pictures behind so I could use some. My friend, Karen, sent me a lovely sunflower that I still look at and smile when I see it. She helped brighten my day when she wrote that she was thinking of me.
Finally, keep telling me that this is a season of my life and that it won’t last forever. Whether it’s the emotional pain I’m going through or the financial burden I’m now experiencing, I need to know that it will end. I probably can’t see the forest for the trees right now, so it’s important that you keep reminding me.
Coming out on the other side never seems possible when you’re staring at your life changing. Lots of blame made me feel worse about myself, and the idea that I failed at marriage seemed too much to bear at times. It wasn’t true, but I thought everyone else had it all figured out and that I couldn’t “get” it. When you have the time to think about all these failures it just feels really crappy. I experienced some episodic depression (did you know about this? Because I didn’t.) and really felt like I would be heavy with this burden the rest of my life. It was my friends that got me through and it would be my girlfriends who let me just cry and lament over what went wrong before taking me by the shoulders to say, “That’s right. This went wrong. What are you going to do now?”
Indeed, it is the only question worth answering if you’re going to move on from this.
What advice would you give someone going through this? What has been helpful to those of you who have gotten divorced? If it gives someone the tools and words to use when a friend goes through this, it will be wisdom worth its weight in gold because in the end, all I wanted was some peace.