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What two divorces taught me about marriage

In a nutshell:

  • Marriage is the most selfless act a person can take on, aside from dying on a cross.
  • And divorce is the most selfish.
  • And the line between the two is as thin as a divorce decree.

That is what I have learned from two marriages and two divorces.

OK, they were dissolutions.

Call it what you will, when you take an ax to your own flesh and split the body asunder, one piece is divorced from the other.

It’s not just the one flesh that gets split into two, and don’t think that you’ll end up the person you were before you married, either. Dreams promises, plans, hopes, futures … they all get busted up in this action, performed in our courts every day as if it was an assembly-line surgery.

The offended but presumably much happier, separated components get up and on their happy way, relieved of the toxic or troublesome person in their life. And we all live happily ever after.

Yeah. Ask someone left beside the road five weeks after an ax-wielding robber cut off his leg and carried it away how he’s feeling? Has the  bleeding stopped, buddy? Are you getting along OK with just one leg? Have you learned to dance yet?

Nobody would be so stupid to ask someone so injured how they are doing. But when it comes to divorce, excuse me, dissolution, we just assume that the magistrate also dispenses each party a bottle of pills for the pain and bandages for the wounds.

I was married 37 years. Through a perfect storm of circumstances, I decided I needed to be with another person and that I’d had enough trying to make myself happy in a marriage that wasn’t going to work. I struggled with the decision 38 years. The pastor kept saying, “give it time. God will give you the love you need.”

I found love elsewhere. Amazing love. My soulmate. I  never felt this way before.

And I was assured that if I would just divorce, we’d live happily ever after.

After a year of anxiety and wrestling with all the spiritual, financial, emotional, familial and retirement issues that accompany divorce at the age of 58, I did it.

There was no time to heal. In less than three months, I was remarried, to my dream woman, my soulmate.

Less than four years after tying the knot, it’s over, and the pain is killing me.

What happened? What changed? What made something that seemed so sure, so positively inspiring and intoxicating go sour?

Everyone has their own perspective, answers. It’s over, so no sense in rehashing them. All I can do is learn from the experience, even as I watch the blood continue to spurt from the open wound.

It all comes down to this: ME instead of WE.

Marriage. The concept is two people become one entity. Even the courts and laws of Ohio recognize this simple fact that 50 percent of the couples who marry never grasp. When you get married, it is like accepting Christ as your savior, in that you become a new creature. Mom and Dad are out of the picture. You are out of the picture. It is now US, not you and me.

Love becomes an act, a decision, not a feeling. But when the feeling is gone, it is so easy to call it quits and think that if we just headed off into the sunset with the next feel-good relationship, it would all be different.

It is not. I repeat, IT IS NOT.

Different person, different baggage, different problems.

Jesus said Moses allowed divorce because of hardness of heart. The problem is not about falling out of love, not being able to agree on paint colors, how much to spend on a haircut or whether to buy a blue or green couch.

The problems are the heart and mind.

Guard the heart, guard the marriage. Guard the mind, guard the relationship.

Disregard the heart, allow it to become hard, and get an attorney.

Let your thoughts run negative about your spouse, and your marriage is going to be in trouble. Guaranteed.

Talk trash about your spouse, and come home to trash.

I’ve been to several marriage counselors, and more therapists than I care to remember. And most all of them are full of themselves. They got a good business going, and they know it. They are not about to make something simple.

I will. I am a writer. It is my job to make life easier to understand. Plus, I don’t make any money doing it, so there is no point in me keeping you on the hook week after week.

Marriage is hard work.

Divorce/dissolution/separation are not solutions.

Divorce shatters your trust in human beings. In the existence of truth itself. Everything seems like a lie. If you can’t trust the promises made by your best friend, by your spouse, who can you trust?

Nobody. Not even yourself, because you’re the fool who believed those lies in the first place.

Of course, we married to be happy.

And, ironically, we get divorced to be happy.

The therapists I went to during my first round of divorce decision making told me “You deserve to be happy. Get a divorce. Live a little.”

My balance sheet shrunk by most everything I had worked for. I am 62, broke and in debt. I have no retirement account. May I please have my $75 back so I can “live a little.” Very little, very, very little.

Happy. Oh yeah. Watching yourself bleed to death is such great fun.

So where do we get this crap? Where do we get this idea of a relationship being so toxic that the best antidote is to poison it?

Why not get rid of the toxin? Why not get rid of the stuff that turns the heart hard?

“You mean give up a bit of me? My self-esteem? My career? My time? I’m not budging on this. I have a right to be happy.”

And a right to divorce.

To break the most sacred of promises.

I read in one of the some two-dozen books on marriage that I consumed in an attempt to save the last union that every time we divorce, a part of our soul dies.

I feel like I have about one tenth of the soul I once had.

I still have a hard time looking at myself in the mirror because of the shame and disgust.

Don’t get me wrong, God forgives divorce. God even forgives hardness of heart. Perhaps in time He will soften it, as well, but I am kidding myself if for one moment I believe that God will heal it to its pristine, pre-marriage condition.

But it was not marriage that wounded this heart, it was selfishness. Mine, hers. It was my ME. Her ME. Our rights. That’s what killed the marriage.

No surprise. We destroy ourselves with food, pornography, alcohol, drugs, gambling and a plethora of other me-centric diversions. So why not our marriages, too?

So that is what I have learned. If you want to save yourself attorney fees, the cost of starting over again (I’ve done it twice now in four years and it ain’t cheap), the expense of court costs and box after box of tissues, take my advice, summarized below:

  1. Go back to those love letters, the ones where you listed the things you adored about that person you wanted to marry. Be honest. Has she or he really changed? Or is it just YOUR perspective that changed? Do a balance sheet. All your petty complaints on one side, all the stuff you adored on the other. What wins?
  2. Talk. Use words like “honey,” “babe,” “sweetie” before you say the rest of the sentence. It’s funny how hard it is to criticize another person when you start the sentence with an affectionate pronoun.
  3. Agree to remove the D word from your vocabularies. Write it on a piece of paper. Take it outside the property line and bury it there.
  4. Take a trip together and agree there will be no ME talk during it. Only WE talk.
  5. Avoid counselors and therapists, friends and co-workers, moms and dads, sisters and brothers. You ain’t married to them, this is none of their business. You know damned well they are going to take your side and end up encouraging divorce. After all, they want you to be happy.
  6. Being happy is not the goal here. Being ONE is the goal. If you can’t buy into that, don’t even bother talking marriage. And to do anything otherwise, to go into it with the idea of being able to get out, is pure deception. And don’t deceive yourself to think otherwise, or deceive the other person.
  7. That said, if either of you decide this is about ME, get an ax. A dull one, so it would cause a lot of pain in order to make it cut through flesh, bone, muscle and heart. Park it by the door. Every time you walk out in anger or in the middle of an argument, think about how good it will feel to have that sucker come down on your leg while you sit in a courtroom. “That’s a horrible idea,” you say. “In anger the couple may be tempted to grab the ax and use it in a crime of passion.” My point exactly. Except the ax is called divorce.

Reach for reason. Reach for emotion. Reach for the long term. Reach for God.

Not the ax. Not divorce. Not dissolution.

Send contributions that otherwise would go to the aforementioned professionals to my PayPal account. And to those who would say I have no right to make these declarations about something so personal as divorce, I would say that likewise that people of high character have no right to break promises. And that includes my sick, sinful self, ME.

Thank you.

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