When marriage ends
In my morning reading, I came across an article in Forbes Woman that struck a chord. It concerns Stacy Morrison, former Editor-in-Chief of Redbook, speaking about her divorce and its aftermath in her new book, Falling Apart in One Piece: One Optimist’s Journey Through the Hell of Divorce.
This isn’t the stuff of celebrity media fodder – Tiger Woods or Sandra Bullock and their much publicized personal woes. Nor does it resemble similar scandals in the political arena, as we saw last Spring with revelations of indiscretions from South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, or former presidential candidate John Edwards, shown the door by wife Elizabeth earlier this year.
There is no love child, no serial infidelity, no single cause to point to for this particular marital meltdown. Rather, there is something potentially more universal.
It appears that what distinguishes this story is something rarely aired when it comes to divorce: the gray area of “I don’t know why.” Furthermore, the “successful woman” is subject to the double-edged sword of envy by others as one who seemingly “had it all,” yet she still faces what many of us must – divorce in a haze of disbelief, divorce without answers, divorce with costs beyond imagining, and a dizzying aftermath of coming to terms with a new reality.
More prevalent than we know?
While “not knowing why” offers no trappings of a flashy cause célèbre like flagrantly broken vows, it may be a more common experience than we realize. Our children ask why and we search for responses. We murmur platitudes and try to accept them. We sweep our own grappling for comprehension under the proverbial rug. And many of us struggle with the (professional) requirement for a public face, whatever the reality of the private one.
Reading an excerpt from Ms. Morrison’s book, I experienced a sort of jolt back in time, nearly nine years. My own story was – and is – considerably different from hers. But I recognize the feelings she expresses: a kind of shattering and bewilderment, life as you define it spinning out of control.
Dealing with no answers
We may be easily caught up in snippets of sensationalized scandal, gawking and moralizing, or secretly satisfied to witness a lifestyle we’ve coveted suddenly fraught with problems.
I suspect in Ms. Morrison’s journey there is substance and relevance to both men and women. There are vital questions about caring for our children as single parents, as well as navigating the terrain of “I don’t know why.” After all, without explicit signs or obvious infidelity, how do you reconcile the disappearance of love? The discarding of shared history, merged families, parental responsibilities?
How can you fix what you cannot identify? How do you deal with the disintegration of everything you’ve come to recognize as “normal?” How do you move on?
Motherhood: Impossible expectations
It’s difficult enough managing marriage, work, and children with two parents and a support system. When one of the adults drops out of the picture, life implodes. The parent who takes on daily responsibilities – man or woman – is left holding the bag. Generally, this is the woman. The massive changes required – whether or not she was (once) the primary breadwinner, or even a good breadwinner – are frequently taken lightly or dismissed altogether. By friends, and potentially the family court system.
While the cargo in that bag I just mentioned is the most precious of all – our children – it doesn’t lessen the enormity of the task at hand. On the contrary; expectations of motherhood (already impossibly high) are now overloaded even more. There are new challenges, not the least of which is helping our children to navigate traumatic emotional territory, as the composition of the family unit changes.
Worse, our own expectations as mothers are no longer remotely achievable. Most of us must, inevitably, find another reality. A sometimes frantic, figure-it-out-as-you-go approach that makes our previous juggling act look like a vacation. And we do it. We just do it. Day by day, sometimes hour by hour. And at great cost, on all fronts.
As for why my own marriage of more than 10 years ended? I have only guesses, and knowledge that we “looked good” from the outside. Clearly, I didn’t see what I didn’t want to see.
Those who go through the end of a marriage must reinvent themselves. It may involve a journey of small revelations and behavioral adjustments, or something more dramatic like a new career, a new city, or even a new country in order to start over. Certainly, there is inner work that takes place – or should – to rediscover the post-marriage self.
Even with a well-established reputation, Ms. Morrison’s path wasn’t an easy one. Juggling single parenting – for the primary custodial parent – will inevitably affect the tenuous balance of work and life, and for most of us, career will suffer in some way in order to parent well. The author goes on to say:
… until we stand up and speak the truth of our lives to the people we work for and the governments we support, then we’ll continue to shoulder the impossible.
While Ms. Morrison has come out the other side very differently than I have – most notably through her ability to successfully co-parent with her ex – many of her words hit home. Her excerpt leaves us with this thought:
Five years later, I can honestly say that my divorce is the best thing that ever happened to me. Because I am at peace, and not just with my divorce. With myself.
I have much admiration for this statement, and I understand it. Personally, I cannot say my divorce was the best thing that ever happened to me, nor that I am at peace with it. I still have no answers, not only regarding the end of the marriage but for the years since. Where I wholeheartedly agree with Ms. Morrison’s experience is in this – I am, indeed, at peace with myself.
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