For many women the prospect of separating and ultimately divorcing the partner they have loved and nurtured during their marriage represents the destruction of a cherished dream, held since childhood. Though cliché, many women believe that once married, their husbands will continue to court, romance and service their needs forever. In marriage, women expect their husbands will always provide for them and their children: a home, clothing, social life, as well as school and activities for the children.
When separation and divorce occur, long-held expectations clash with reality. Life takes on a surreal nature. The woman is confused and feels dizzy. This is not her life – she must be walking in someone else’s bad dream. Her life now is simply inconceivable. Because she is so invested in her “knight on the white horse” dream, she can’t accept her new reality. She is in shock.
How does the dream begin to unravel? Usually, the unraveling begins when communication between a woman and her spouse breaks down. Often, partners are distracted by work, care of the children, or life events and activities. Instead of listening, sharing feelings, and gently asking to have needs met, partners begin bickering– small things at first – and then fighting over more important issues. Childhood conflicts flare up in the form of power and control, autonomy, safety, and trust. Decreased expressions of affection and sex are common, especially when infidelity has occurred. As the dream unravels, some couples experience escalating hostility and fighting while others experience greater neglect, lack of emotion, and disdain. The unraveling can take months or extend over years.
What can a woman in this predicament do to confront and accept this harsh reality, including the loss of her dream? How will she, so dependent on her partner to fulfill her fantasies and dreams, live her life now, and what can she expect for her future?
What to do?
- Don’t pine for the past.
- Let go of expectations of how your ex-partner “should” treat you. This will help you clear your mind and open your eyes to objectively observe who your ex-spouse is now by how he behaves now.
- Don’t entertain fantasies that you can win him back, change his mind, or get him to love you again. This is what the experts call “magical thinking”. In addition, don’t think about “paying him back” or “taking revenge”. This is extremely unproductive and very harmful to yourself and to your children.
- Stop arguing and fighting with your ex-spouse. Arguing and fighting will not bring him back. Limit contact with him, but look for constructive ways to work with him, especially if children are involved.
- Actively make plans for the future. Identify resources that can help you plan your future. Start by making sure you have a good attorney. Hire an accountant to help you plan and organize your finances. Create a budget and spending plan. Consider engaging a therapist or psychologist to help guide your emotional healing.
- Focus on your health. Seek support from your friends and practice self-soothing: Breathe, talk to yourself, practice mindfulness. Exercise regularly. Get enough sleep. Eat healthy.
- Keep a daily therapeutic journal. Journals are an excellent way to acknowledge present reality, free associate goals and strategies for change, and document your progress.
- Maintain a Divorce Log. A Divorce Log is designed specifically to help keep track of documentation involved in divorce or custody situations and will be invaluable should you need to return to court.
I advise women to maintain a divorce log and to journal using CaseKeepers, an electronic journal. CaseKeepers is secure and confidential. Use it on your desktop, laptop, tablet or mobile device. If desired, CaseKeepers allows you to share your journal with your therapist for improved therapeutic efficacy, or you can share your divorce log with your attorney so its contents can be presented as evidence to the court.
Giving up the fantasy that your deteriorating marriage will last may be incredibly difficult. But the healing process can be empowering. If you can learn from your experience and embrace new dreams and goals, you may find you actually like your new “reality” – and the chance for new beginnings.