DIVORCE: TRAP OR CHALLENGE?

BY GRETCHEN McHUGH

There isn’t much that can be said for divorce. It hurts. But somehow lately divorce is more and more the answer, when the marriage hurts. While I am not going to attack or defend “easy” divorce or difficult marriages, I have formulated some questions for a woman who is miserable, married but who doesn’t know how much worse it might be if she were divorced.

Imagining the situations these questions raise will hopefully help a wavering wife realize not only what safety she’s giving up but also what strengths she will eventually develop as a result of the challenges her desire for “out” will bring her. These challenges are psychological, social, economic, philosophical and maternal, and set down in no particular order. They occur in no particular order.

Imagine yourself divorced – a divorcee’. Luckily the image, because of the growing ranks of divorced persons, is becoming more complex, more realistic, more individual. No more do you have to battle the expectations that you are either a dangerous husband-stealer on the loose or a bitter complaining man-hater.

At least, not as much, because the cliches are still there, Are you ready to see the world wrong side out? Can you go to a party alone and relax being you, when everyone else is in pairs? Men look at you differently. Are you ready for propositions from your friends’ husbands and from your husband’s friends? Are you ready to announce your intentions knowing that even securely married people feel the reverberations of one more marriage breakdown loosening the fabric of society and will wish you weren’t divorcing your good man?

What are you willing to face, and what will you put up with, for your children’s welfare? Of course, the biggest worry is money, on survival. Are you ready to work? What is your earning power? Can you finance more school, if you need it? You have much to gain in reassessing your talents in relation to the job market, and to society’s and your needs; it’s exhilarating – but first it’s confusing and scary if you’ve been the dependent, homebody type.

Especially if you have children to take care of, you will need an excellent lawyer skilled in family law, finance and psychology. Will you be able to tell the lawyer your marriage’s innermost secrets? Can you communicate what went wrong? Will you ask your counselor to save your marriage but if it is truly not salvageable will you be able to fight competently for your future security?

The last questions are the most far-reaching. They have to do with your future, but my experience indicates that the best time to deal with them is now, before your divorce is final, while the ”object of your unhappiness” is still around for you to figure out how you came to be so unhappy. After all, if you’re smart enough to have come this far you’re smart enough to figure out what happened. And it wasn’t all his fault – nor yours, if you happen to have the predilection.

Working out a relationship with your future former-husband while you’re still married, though it might sound weird – emotionally difficult, which of course it is – has several advantages. First. you don’t want to go out and repeat your mistakes in a subsequent marriage; therefore, learning to assess your faults and correct some of them is positive and practical. It also gives you confidence, and you’ll want lots of that. And you might even start redefining what you want in a man, as it is clear most divorced people remarry; if your wants, or perception of your needs, haven’t changed, you might as well stay married to this fellow.

A very significant result of anything you learn about yourself and improve on, is that your children will benefit – from the example not only of your more constructive behavior but also of the fact that you can learn big things. Of course, practically speaking, a reasonable relationship with your children’s father will make it easier on everybody, as you’ll be in some contact to facilitate his further fathering. The worst thing you can do to them is to misrepresent him either as a total loser or a perfect daddy you just decided not to live with. Kids have a penchant for the truth, And, especially, reassure them that they did not “cause” the divorce – they’ll be assuming the responsibility for it, for reasons I don’t understand.

Finally, if you can work out some of your grief before your divorce is final, then you get the “basket case” stage behind you when you start your new life; your energy and enthusiasm will be freed for the survival tactics you’ll be setting up for yourself.

Along with formalizing your desire for freedom in signing divorce papers, you are formalizing the fact that you have failed, that you made a colossal mistake. Being divorced says this no matter whether you feel like hiding it or not. Of course, having the truth out, having no corner to hide in, is a relief; and it can be an advantage if you are ready not to mind people knowing you learn things the hard way. Better that than hiding a big failure while parading around as Mrs. Perfect, with the ring and the station wagon, or with any other success paraphernalia that you will find yourself learning to do without.