We have an expression in the Jewish tradition which goes, “Also this is for [the] Good!” It is said with a smile and written with an exclamation point. In the case of divorce, it is a very hard expression about which to be sincere. One wonders how in the world to look at a divorce as good. Even in the case where you are thrilled to be out of a deeply hurtful situation–and what divorce isn’t preceded by pain?–there seems to be nothing good about it.
The very least amount of pain is in the disappointment: Months, perhaps years, perhaps even decades of a life were invested in another human being who didn’t come through.
Divorce Brings Sad Thoughts Of Lost Years
And then there is the sense of total waste: If I invested all this time for no return on my investment, not only do I have a right to be disappointed in my partner, but I have to ask myself, “Why didn’t I have sense enough to avoid this pointless relationship from the get-go?” Or at least, “Why didn’t I get out earlier?” So along with the other-blame comes the inevitable self-blame.
And I am here to state emphatically that these are not bad questions. I am not going to tell you not to trouble yourself more with these questions since you are suffering so much. I am, instead, going to say, “Hey, these questions are good. Maybe I can help you answer them. Because, if we can figure this out together, not only do you significantly improve your likelihood of not making the same mistake over again, but you get an even greater, more weighty benefit: Lost years will not be for nothing.”
You see, right now, you don’t understand what you could have done differently in that relationship. Right now, you don’t understand how finding out the answer to that question will, in retrospect, give meaning to a failing, or failed, relationship. So let me give you an analogy to facilitate that understanding.
Something Good That Came Out Of A Drunk-Driving Story
There was a young lady, a high school girl, who was driving while intoxicated, and, when she reached down to pick up a cellphone, killed a pedestrian, a fellow student much beloved by their classmates. She was given an interesting sentence. In addition to the jail time, she had to go around speaking to other students about driving while intoxicated. And there was more. Her parents had been on their way to a trip abroad for business when this accident occurred. Why wasn’t she with them before they were to leave the country? Why didn’t they know what she was up to? How was it that she preferred partying with drugs at that moment?
The reason she was in the car at that point in time was that she wanted desperately to catch them before they left. In her inebriated state at her party, she suddenly remembered that they were leaving her without money. A high school girl. One has to wonder what level of connection existed in that family. Reading the newspaper accounts, it made me feel like this family was one of “each man for himself and the rest be damned.”
Now, when you look at it from the point of view of the parents and friends of the dead child, there is no good in the world that could come out of this situation. Nothing, absolutely nothing could make up for the loss of this precious life. And that is true.
Yet, death is part of this life. A part we choose not to focus on unduly because it hurts so much. And certainly not when the death is untimely. And seemingly pointless. To those that loved that girl, I will admit that as I read the stories, I cried. So very sad. Such a huge loss. Had it been my child, I would never be the same. On the other hand, it is absolutely necessary for the rest of us to look at the Big Picture. Part of living means extracting some meaning from events. Certainly that must be true of the perpetrator and her family. What can we–and especially they–learn from this that is a good in the world, a positive addition to the world?
People Benefited From Her Story – Including Her
Given the type of sentence this girl received, do you suppose she is the same person she was before the accident? Some people are cold-blooded murderers and go to jail unrepentent, like this Muhammed character in the D.C. area seems to be. But this is just a young girl, both spoiled (driving her own car, having her own cellphone, with much, too much, freedom) and neglected. It’s likely she has changed from her experience. It’s even more likely she has changed from her lesson dictated by the court. It’s likely she has reconsidered–or perhaps considered for the first time–the meaning of life. It’s likely she has thought deeply on the relative value of the material things in her life–her car, her cellphone, the cash she wanted–versus the value of life itself.
It’s likely she has often wondered how life, her life, would be different if she had not had those wrong values in the first place. Do you suppose that as a consequence of all this, it is possible that she has become a much deeper person than she ever would have been in the normal course of her life? Perhaps even a better person?
And what of her parents? I’ll bet they had to do some heavy thinking. If they are anything like the many parents of adults that I speak to who subscribe to the frustrating “hear no evil, see no evil, do no evil” philosophy, they are still lily white in their own eyes, blaming luck and circumstance rather than the emotional neglect of their child for the terrible outcome. I don’t know. A follow-up hasn’t been in the papers. But that is, unfortunately, typical from what I’ve seen: When put on the spot, people with terrible dysfunction become defensive.
On the other hand, perhaps a few parents, not put on the hot seat because they are not in the media lights, might see themselves in this story. Perhaps some other parents got to thinking about the importance of being present in their childrens’ lives. Perhaps.
And what about the young, impressionable audiences that the perpetrator must speak to? Do you suppose it affects some of the people in those audiences? I would think so.
Begin Your Soul-Searching By Making Two Lists, One For You, One For Your Ex
I think you now get my point. Pain can be an opportunity for soul-searching and that is always a good thing. If the soul-searching leads to some real, specific, concrete answers, that is a very good thing. So what are some of the things you have learned from your divorce? Lets make two lists, one for your ex and one for yourself. For your ex, can you think of some of the red flags that you ignored?
List 1–Here are things some of my clients have said to me about the red flags they missed:
“It was a momentary thing, when he yelled at his sister. I didn’t think it meant anything.”
“He was looking for just the right job. I could understand that. I didn’t think that would mean he would never get a job.”
“We were just having fun. It was a party after all. How would I know that drinking was a way of life for her?”
“She was all over me right from the beginning. She loved me so much. She couldn’t keep away from me. It never occurred to me that she would get tired of me so quickly.”
“It’s true that he was married when he was chasing after me, but I thought, ‘Well, he really loves me and he just didn’t love his wife.’ It never occurred to me that he would do the same thing to me down the road.”
“I knew she was cold from the beginning. But I thought that with a lot of attention, she would warm up; I would warm her up. I guess I was wrong.”
“When he said to me, ‘While I’m gone, don’t go to that restaurant with anyone else; I want to be the one to take you’ on only our second date, I was flattered. I didn’t see it as a sign of being controlling.”
“We were just on our first date, and he pointed out that I really shouldn’t chew gum at dinner. It seemed like such a small thing. I never realized that was a major invasion of my boundaries.”
List 2–Here are some of the things some of my clients are still in the process of learning about themselves:
“I thought he knew more than me because he was so smart. I didn’t realize that my opinions were really just as valuable a contribution to the family as his.”
“When he made fun of me, I just shriveled up and wanted to die. I don’t know why I attached so much importance to the stupid things he said.”
“She was such a bitch and I was always trying to smooth things over, accommodate her, be nice, and the nicer I was, the more nasty she was. Now you’re telling me I was too nice? What should I have done?”
“When he slapped me around, I felt cowed. If I stood up to him, it would have escalated. And for some reason, I couldn’t live without him. I still loved him. I still love him today. I don’t know what else I could have done differently.”
“I did everything for her. I worked; she stayed home. I had a cleaning lady for her. I even shopped and cooked. And no matter what I did, she didn’t appreciate it. She thought my job wasn’t good enough. She thought I spent too much time out of the house doing things for other people and not her, but I already was doing lots for her. It was never enough.”
“I think you’re right; he’s ADD. So he doesn’t remember anything I tell him. Once he forgot to feed the dog when I was away. I could scream. I do scream. But nothing works.”
Do you see yourself anywhere in here? You have the time now to reflect on everything. That is a good thing. You may end up wiser than you were before, spiritually richer than you were before. That, too, is a good thing. And it may be that there would be no other way for that to happen except through the suffering you are experiencing now. If you need help sorting all this out, call me to set up an appointment. That’s what I’m here for.