Valerie J. Botter

Creative solutions for family transitions.

Getting Divorced: Crazy Time

by Valerie J. Botter

A former client of mine lent me a book about divorce entitled Crazy Time. As I read the book, I thought of my own divorce, and with relief decided that while I had witnessed many of my clients experience Crazy Time, I never went through it myself. And then it hit me. I did have Crazy Time. I went through all the phases: not being able to eat, feeling anxious, feeling scared about the future, feeling angry, crying from overwhelming sadness, the works. From the time when my ex-husband and I decided to divorce, while we lived separately within our house for 9 months, when we separated, and then when we divorced — it was all Crazy Time. In fact, the year following the divorce continued to be Crazy Time as I accepted the unraveling of what I thought would be a lifetime partnership in marriage.

My Crazy Time wasn’t about the terms of my divorce.  We reached agreements about everything without a struggle, the divorce itself was easy. It was the realization of all of my life experiences that led me into and ultimately out of my marriage that hit me so hard. At times, I felt tremendous sadness about my unfulfilled dreams. Even though I knew that relationships take work, I was a true romantic and always carried a dream about a happy, loving partnership that could last a lifetime. Certainly when I got married that was my plan. As I came to realize that we needed to divorce, my dream was shattered.

Then I really started to think. If my experience was so difficult on an emotional level when the divorce negotiations went smoothly and we continued to co-parent well together following our decision to divorce, what were my clients in mid and high-conflict divorces experiencing? Separation and divorce can be a miserable process. Men who were once full-time dads sometimes find themselves “visiting” their children, and their sadness and sense of loss is profound. The costs of a two-household family drive many adults and children into a lower station of life than they formerly enjoyed. Victims of emotional and physical abuse often find that as they try to establish a life of their own and gain some independence, that the abuser’s inability to control the victim heightens the conflict. Sad and angry parents sometime vent and dump on the children emotionally in a harmful way that the Courts are unable to address.

Family transitions with moderate conflict typically involve one or two individuals who are highly self-absorbed. Mom criticizes Dad’s parenting style and doesn’t recognize that his style is really ok and gives the children a diverse and valuable set of experiences. The sadness, isolation, and fear that a husband feels may lead him to believe that his wife’s primary goal in life is to make this divorce miserable for him, when his wife is struggling herself and wants a fair settlement. As a lawyer, I try to help my clients see the bigger picture and understand their spouse’s perspective. As a mediator, I try to help each person understand where the other person is coming from. It can go a long way to release the emotions associated with a negotiation and allow the participants to focus on a solution rather than being reactive and hurt.

Over the years, I noted certain physical and emotional changes as my clients proceeded from initial consultation, sometimes through many Court appearances or at least difficult negotiations, to the final divorce hearing, and to life after divorce. Many of my clients experience the “divorce diet” syndrome, growing thin during proceedings as their bodies rejected food to reflect their emotional state. Others were often frightened and tense at the beginning of the process, but as time went by and we either successfully negotiated a settlement or won in Court, they felt sense of empowerment and relief that reflected in a smiling, more youthful face.

So again, I ask myself why? Why was my divorce so hard for me if the negotiations went so smoothly? Well, part of Crazy Time for me included a lot of good-byes. While I remained on good terms with my former mother-in-law, there was no question but that the relationship changed. I no longer socialized with my ex-husband’s friends and missed some of them dearly. It wasn’t that anyone disliked each other, but there was a natural shift in relationships as our partnership ended. My children changed schools and I felt unsure of how to reconnect with my religious congregation that my ex-husband and I helped found. More good-byes.

I also found it odd to re-define myself as a single mom, especially since I moved here with my ex-husband just before we were married. It wasn’t that anyone else treated me differently, it was that my life was now different, and I felt different. I had never been single in Western Massachusetts and I had never been a single parent. I no longer had as much time to volunteer in community projects or to socialize because my time with my children was reduced, and I wanted to make sure that I was always available when they were with me. I felt shy about being a single parent and it took me awhile to adjust to that as well. I also felt ashamed that I had been unsuccessful in making my marriage last.

After many years of practicing family law and mediation, I’ve come to understand that divorce is another life cycle event. If we honor the process and recognize the impact of divorce on our private lives by seeking support from family, friends, therapists, and others, we can separate the emotions from the negotiations as much as possible and keep things moving forward in a productive way. We may each experience some Crazy Time, but hopefully it will be brief and separate from the legal proceedings.

February 2003

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