Why a Divorce isn’t Exactly a Divorce

I didn't think 2013, my 7th year of blogging, would begin with a subject most of us avoid--the D word.  Let this be a year of happy surprises, everyone, not sad. 

Happy New Year. 

Words that describe types of commitment, informal or formal, married, cohabiting, partnered, all indicate the status of a relationship. Break-up words, do, too. Separated, divorced, taking a break.

Divorce has an even longer and nastier word associated with it-- dissolution-- as if the relationship dissolve, like Fizzies* in water, or Alka Seltzer, when officially declared, Over.

When a couple is ready to end it, the words don’t really mean very much. They are only descriptions, other words for being apart. The actual relationship doesn’t disappear in a person’s head. We can’t divie up feelings like we divide a piece of cake.

The culprit, the reason people don't simply let go, is that we get attached. Attachment is the problem! The degree of psychological attachment is intangible, unfortunately, and immeasurable, invisible. No matter what a court of law might decree, psychological attachment won’t change with the swipe of a pen. Feelings of connectedness, feelings of love, need, even desire, remain.
Nothing changes, not over that difficult discussion at dinner when the decision is brought down to break up. Nothing even changes in the first few years, for many. TherapyDoc had to come up with an equation to help patients get a sense of what is to come, following that decision, how long it will take to get over an unhappy ending.

It takes a week for every two months together to get over somebody. 

That means that if a couple is married three years, or 36 months, it will take 18 weeks, or 4.5 months to really get over a break up, to emotionally detach from a three year relationship. (No, this has not been empirically validated, but everyone loves it.)

It is different for the dumpee than for the dumper, of course. Usually the person leaving has been upset about the relationship longer, has already psychologically detached. But for the dumpee, the news of the break up is tantamount to the beginning of the count. It will take longer for the dumpee than for the dumper, unfortunately.  Insult on top of injury. 

This is why breaking up, as the song goes, is so very hard to do.  Saying it, We're divorced, doesn’t make it so, not when you’ve been primary in someone’s life, not when you really committed to that someone, hoped that no matter how difficult, the two of you would work on it, would try.

The predictable pain of dissolution, to be sure, is why so many don't commit, like we did, say, in the twentieth century, to making that lifetime together work. 

No guts, easy enough to say that.  And we would be right.


*Parents bought Fizzies for children in the fifties. A thin, round powdery tablet, a Fizzy bubbled and fizzed while flavoring tap water, always a thrill for little kids, and easier than lugging Coke bottles home from the grocery store, for moms. No idea what happened to them.

[i] Parents bought Fizzies for children in the fifties. A thin, round powdery tablet, they bubbled while flavoring tap water, always a thrill for a little kid, and easier than lugging Coke bottles home from the grocery store, for moms. 


Lorri said…
Although people divorce, if there are children in the marriage, they will still be a unit of sorts, in some respects. School events, after school events, graduations, weddings, even holidays will bind the two together for life.

The trick is to try to see the events for what they are, a part of their children's lives, a part of each of their lives, but not a part of the lives of the two of them as a couple. Easy to say, easy to say.
therapydoc said…
Right, right. Thanks.
Syd said…
I stayed in my marriage for many reasons, but I think that being attached was probably the most important one. I seem to have a difficult time not being psychologically attached.
Mound Builder said…
At first when I read this I thought you were saying that people who marry don't try hard enough, don't commit. And if that's what you are saying, I am not sure I would agree. I know people who seem to have stayed married well beyond any benefit to either of them and in some cases, with what, from the outside anyway, would appear to be damage to the whole family, in spite of therapy. And that doesn't mean I'm opposed to therapy, just that it doesn't help everyone. I know of virtually no one who, having given up on a marriage, did so lightly or quickly, rather usually after many years of seeming to be willing and able to try, making an effort.

I do agree that a legal divorce doesn't necessarily mean an end to the relationship and definitely doesn't end the family. For better or worse, a family is reconfigured after a divorce but the bonds, particularly between parent and child, remains. And certainly there are times when people divorce and seem to continue with many of the same patterns that were destructive when married.

So, just as legal divorce doesn't necessarily end a relationship, I'm not entirely sure that never formalizing a relationship to start with (living together, rather than getting married) avoids the commitment nor the pain of separation.

After reading what you wrote a couple of other times, at the end, I ended up thinking that you were saying that younger people aren't even willing to make the commitment to marry, don't have the guts to commit. I don't know about that, either. I think I have heard that young people don't seem to be getting legally married as much or as quickly. But they do still seem to be having children and purchasing homes and living together, which brings up all the same issues, minus a legal mechanism for dissolving the relationship. And if younger people are less willing to commit to a legal marriage, I can't help wondering if there was something about the examples they saw that made that look unattractive?

It also occurs to me that just as there are influences from a family, so there are larger cultural trends, within peer groups, that aren't easily seen until the kids are grown, and that peers affect peers in ways that are hard to predict. The examples they may draw from out of their own families may be independent of larger cultural trends no one can see until we are a bit farther along in time.
therapydoc said…
Wow, thanks for that analysis. Mostlythe only new thing in that post is the equation. Someday maybe I'll have an editor to reel me in.

And Syd. You are so not alone.
Mound Builder said…
A couple of days after this post about divorce and, in part, that the younger generation perhaps is less inclined to commit, I saw an article that said younger people are waiting later, and possibly putting off marriage because of the cost of getting married. Someone in the article stated that it's not possible to have a wedding for less than $27000.00. What I thought, when I read that, was that there really is no need to spend that much money and that to me it doesn't make sense to potentially rack up that much debt in order to marry. I wondered if there really is the expectation, among family and friends, that a couple has to spend a lot of money. A marriage ceremony can be fairly simple and not so costly, can be within the means of the people getting married. The article also indicated that the amount of student loan debt is causing young people to delay marriage. I've even heard that a young person without college debt becomes a little more eligible as a result.
clairesmum said…
interesting guesstimate - does it also apply in cases of death of a spouse? or placing a spouse in a 24 hour care facility?
my sense working in geriatric nursing is that for death, folks tell me they never 'get over' it, but that the edges of the wound do scab over somewhat - so the pain is more a dull ache than a sharp tearing.
placement in a care facility - many can't bring themselves to do it even when cognitively they acknowledge it would be correct decision, too much guilt, feels like giving up/death. even those who do manage, the guilt and suffering are sometimes worse than being a 24 hour caregiver.
therapydoc said…
Yeah, MB, I've had couples in therapy saving up so that they can get married. I'd rather they get married and save up for a big party when they can afford that, but weddings are a big deal. And lets not forget, reality teev is skewing reality (Bridezilla, etc.)

Claire's Mum, thanks for writing, that's really interesting. I think it is about the emotional separation, how that jives with the conflict of attachment that causes the psychic stress. So it doesn't matter what kind of separation we're talking about, it might be the same formula.