Last week, I talked about the paradox of “already is but not yet.” I noted that marriage and divorce were strange bedfellows, having something in common regarding this paradox. Marriage is not as simple as “I do” and “I will.” Marriage claims a reality already here, but then the partners spend the rest of their lives realizing the reality not yet here: An Entire Marriage.
Divorce is like that, too. Just in the converse. Divorce is not as simple as banging a gavel and mailing a decree. No mortal human being could possibly anticipate every ramification of divorce. It’s a work in progress. It evolves. Its reality is realized over time, for good or for ill.
I’m saying my private practice is replete with divorcing and divorced people who “already are but not yet.” They are divorcing or are divorced, yet they have yet to choose An Entire Divorce.
Now, please, there are no rules. And, if there are, no one made me the arbiter. You can shape your divorce and its aftermath any way you like. My argument here is not about right or wrong, morally good or bad. I’m simply making an observation.
Getting divorced is one thing. Choosing An Entire Divorce is another. Most divorced people find themselves, months and sometimes years later, regularly stumbling upon dimensions of character, behavior, words and attitudes not yet surrendered to An Entire Divorce.
If you decide to be divorced, or, tragically, if your mate decides that for you, it’s important to bring an intention to An Entire Divorce. Otherwise, the psychic baggage of an unrealized divorce tends to have unhappy consequences. It tends to hold you back. Weigh you down. To impede healing and wellness.
If thriving marriage is about waking up each day with an intention to seek and nurture connection, symbolically and actually, then it follows logically that a healthy, healing path for divorce is to wake up each day with an intention to seek and nurture separateness. Symbolically and actually.
Here’s perhaps the most dramatic example of not choosing An Entire Divorce. It might shock you to notice the number of divorcing and divorced couples who continue a sexual relationship. I mean with each other. Mine is not a moral incredulity; rather, a concern and critique of contradicted symbols. Sex is for forging connections. Divorce is for forging separateness. How can this not be psychically dissonant and destabilizing?
But, for most divorced people, the “not yet” part of divorce is more subtle. Months and years later, each is in possession of property and keepsakes belonging to the other. Perhaps bank accounts still bearing both names. Holdings, assets, liabilities and debts still conjoined. Some of this is unavoidable in a modern world. But still, it is more than economic weight. It is symbolic, psychic weight. Want to get well from a divorce? My encouragement is always to move with all speed to separate these symbols. As soon as possible.
Or how about the divorcing and divorced people still fighting and vilifying? Here’s a cosmic truth: Hatred and enmity are bonding events. They are a great intimacy. Or, as I often say, the only couples who need to sometimes fight and argue are couples working to build a healthy and thriving marriage. You decided to divorce. So why are you arguing? It’s no longer relevant what you think of your ex or what your ex thinks of you. Of course you’re likely not a huge fan of him/her. That’s why you decided to divorce!
Divorced people should call before they drop by. They should knock on the door before entering, even if they have a key (for co-parenting reasons). They ought not be rummaging their ex’s fridge, cupboards or drawers. Presumptions of intimacy should be monitored and avoided.
Decorum, honor, civility, decency - yes! Always. Especially if you made babies together. A “forgiven regard” of warmth that allows the practice of authentic empathy and kindness? If possible, then I say bravo to you. But friendship? Careful, here. It’s not a requirement, nor the necessary measure of “hip and cool.” A few divorced couples actually are lucky enough, over time, to discover an authentic friendship. But pushing, pretending and posturing at “Let’s be friends” just to provide ego-relief for yourself and everyone around you is … well, it mostly impedes the embrace of An Entire Divorce.
I paraphrase therapist/author Jay Haley (1923-2007): Divorce is possible legally, but perhaps not ontologically. Every time your remarry, you just add another person to the marriage bed. No wonder it’s such hard work to choose An Entire Divorce.
Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Las Vegas Psychiatry and the author of “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing” (Stephens Press). Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.