Those who have been following my blog know that my purpose is to write about the parenting experience of a divorced dad. To this point, I have focused largely on the “parenting experience” part. Today I want to take a moment to focus on the “divorced dad” end of the spectrum.
Marriage, when it works, is a wonderful thing. Two people pledge to spend the rest of their lives with each other, support each other, raise a family together (sometimes), help each other through the hard times and enjoy the good ones. Your spouse becomes an integral part of your individual identity, and if you have children so do they.
When marriage doesn’t work, it can get pretty ugly. Couples that once thought they couldn’t survive without each other have their relationship degenerate to the point that they can’t survive with each other. There can be screaming, there can be blame shifting, there can be bitter acrimony and extreme cases can even involve violence.
Psychologically, a divorce is a catastrophic shattering of oneself – even when it is clearly the best option for all parties. It is a fundamental redistribution of you as a person, and that can lead to some pretty dark thoughts. In the vast majority of cases, there is plenty of blame to go around, and accepting too much or too little can be equally damaging. There are some mental traps that are easy to fall into for both sexes, and I am here to tell you about a few.
First of all, you are not damaged goods. I cannot stress this enough. I have seen this attitude in others and I have felt it myself. By marrying the person you thought was truly your other half, you swung for life’s fences. Without risk there is no reward, and you risked it all for your former spouse. They did the same for you. Neither one of you could have foreseen how things would turn out, but you tried. The fact that it didn’t work does not mean you have some fundamental flaw, and does not mean you are a failure as a person in any way. On the contrary, the fact that you are willing to try speaks volumes about your strength of character.
You are not obligated to hate your ex. Societal norms on this are changing to a degree, and divorce by and large can be more amicable than it used to be. If you are reading this, you most likely are a parent. Harboring a grudge against your children’s other parent doesn’t help anyone. Acting like actual human beings toward each other is better for you, better for your ex and, especially, better for your children. If you step back from your anger, you will probably be able to remember some of the common ground that led you to commit to each other in the first place. Remember that, and be civil.
It is okay to move on. Some people moved on a little too early, and that is why their marriage failed. Some people never let go, and their lives are miserable. It is normal and healthy for you to pursue companionship after marriage. That doesn’t mean you should flaunt a new relationship to your ex, and it doesn’t mean your new partner should replace the other parent in your children’s lives. It just means that it’s ok to swing for the fences again – after all, when a baseball is caught in the outfield it is returned to the pitcher and stays in the game.
Couples who have lasting marriages frequently tell younger couples that their responsibilities are to each other first, their children second. The reason for that is simple enough – if the parents are miserable, the children will be too. After a divorce, when it is just you, there is no second person for you to have a “first loyalty” to. It is still important for you to look after your own well being though. Your children don’t want you being a cantankerous worn down shell of yourself. It is perfectly natural to pursue your own interests, and to prioritize them first at times. That doesn’t mean it’s acceptable to ignore the children, but everyone’s life will be better if you make some time for yourself occasionally.
This is far from a comprehensive list of all the advice divorcees need. It is not, by itself, going to lead to astonishing leaps in quality of life. It is important, though, and I hope that at least a few people can benefit from it. It is much less painful to learn lessons from other people than to do it the old fashioned way!