In the Prologue to her book The Dance of Connection, Harriet Lerner, Ph.D. (http://www.harrietlerner.com/) writes of a story she had heard: Two little kids in a sandbox with their pails and shovels. Suddenly a huge fight breaks out and one of them runs away screaming, “I hate you! I hate you!” In a few minutes, they are back in the sandbox playing together as if nothing has happened. Two adults observing from a nearby bench are watching. One comments to the other, “How do children do that? They were enemies five minutes ago.” “It’s simple,” the other replies. “They choose happiness over righteousness.”
This is a bigger struggle for adults and certainly for adults who feel betrayed and angry going through a divorce. Very often people in the midst of divorce or separation feel completely misunderstood by their partner. It can feel that divorce happens after years of struggling to be heard and appreciated by the other coupled with not understanding why the other does or says what he or she does or says. All in all a very frustrating downward spiral!
And of course, as adults struggling to find a way to communicate, just moving on is not an option. Through divorce we need to find some way to begin to reconcile hurt feelings and be able to talk about the things that matter after years of feeling unheard as we look for ways to communicate in an authentic voice about important issues.
People frequently develop habitual non-productive conversational patterns around conflict with each other. We all know what this looks and feels like. There are a few topics around which my husband and I often disagree. When we get into a discussion on one of them, he might say something to which I have my usual response. In turn, his response is just as predictable and when it’s my turn again, the words that spring into my head, if said, will spur a 20 minute argument that is so predictable that I could easily script it in advance. Not only is the argument predictable, it is frustrating and boring. Neither of us feels heard nor do we make room for the other’s feelings. In other words, neither of us is willing to sacrifice the struggle to be right in order to be happy.
We can choose to stop these non-productive patterns of conflict-conversation, opting instead to find an authentic voice with which to express what is most important to us. We can work toward being our best selves even in the most difficult of situations – and conversations around separation and divorce are challenging! Not only can we do it, we can do it without the participation of the other person.
In her book The Good Kharma Divorce, Judge Michele Lowrance (http://thegoodkarmadivorce.com/) recommends finding and defining the person you want to be though your divorce (the person you would like your children to remember) and acting from a strong sense of that person as you make decisions throughout the process. Dr. Lerner writes, “We can operate from a strong sense of self, even when the other person won’t talk to us at all.” And goes on to say, “The challenge in conversation is not just to be our self but to choose the self we want to be.”
The challenge of course is how. How can we find and hold onto the person we most want to be without sacrificing what is important to us? This takes work and for most of us it requires help. One of the most important things we can do for ourselves, is to get the kind of help and support we need to figure out what we want and need, how to be the strong and how to figure out how and when to communicate it. If we are successful in learning a way to communicate in this manner, we are likely to feel a lot better about our partners and ourselves as we emerge from divorce. Although our marriages or partnerships may be over, the time spent in them is not wasted nor should it be disparaged by divorce. If we honor ourselves and find a way to honor the relationship we had even if we were hurt or betrayed, we will do much better by ourselves and our children.