Today I tasked my students with attempting to begin their personal narratives in an interesting and creative way. Now, it’s my turn and I am stuck. How to begin?
It was a dark and stormy night….na…taken, overused.
On Wednesday I was talking to a friend of mine….boring.
Hmmm, it is easier said than done. It’s always easier to tell others how to do something and to give examples, but when it comes down to doing it yourself, it can be a much more challenging task.
This is how it is for me when I talk to my friends who are going through divorce. I’ve been through divorce twice myself, but I also went through a custody trial on behalf of my second ex before he was my ex. That means three times, I’ve needed to retain attorneys to resolve affairs of the heart that went bad and involved children and houses. Once I settled out of court, once I experienced a two day, very tense and humiliating trial at the end of which I had no solutions and $30,000 less to my name. The third time, the opposition never showed up so the judge ruled in my favor and my attorney still stuck me with the bills. None of these experiences was what I’d consider fun. I never want to go there again.
I hate to see my friends go through the pain, the anxiety, the fear, the tension, the complete range of unhappy emotions that come with negotiating anything in the legal realm, especially in family law. It is so agonizing to stand by and listen and watch my friends knowing that I didn’t like what they are experiencing when I went through it. It is painful to care for my friends and to see them experience such doubt, uncertainty, and angst. It is hard to not be able to help in any way other than to sit by and listen. Giving advice based on my experiences wouldn’t even be relevant because every situation is different. The stakes are always high, as are the emotions but the nuances and possible consequences of all the negotiations are never just a simple black and white.
Even so, there are some things I’ve learned that I wish I would have known before going into the process and while enduring the process. These are the things that are on my mind right now. I’m airing them as much for me to revisit and clarify what I’ve learned and where I’ve travelled and why as much as to put it out there for anyone who might benefit from it.
I am not an attorney and none of this is intended to in any way replace the counsel of a good attorney. I am not a psychologist and I cannot give that kind of advice either. All I’m really doing here is sharing what happened to me, what I wish I’d known or done differently. Maybe it will help others maybe it won’t. I’m really not all that concerned about that. I just need to sort out for myself the jumble so I can be clear about the paths I chose and where they are now leading me.
One thing I wish I would have done in every case is wait and not panic. This is not always possible. When you are in the legal battle with someone you used to be very intimate with but with whom you cannot bear to be allied for a moment longer, waiting is especially hard. Waiting is especially difficult if the person is abusive, dangerous or volatile. Until you have that signed document you are still linked to that individual to some degree. It makes waiting nearly impossible, especially when the longer you still have the married label the further and more thoroughly the other person can destroy you financially, emotionally, maybe even physically. When this is the situation, and you must wait, panic can eat you alive and prompt you to make decisions you may later regret. In my case, I made many good decisions, but there are some that I wish I’d waited on. I wish I’d asked more questions of my attorney. I wish I would have considered negotiating some other areas more thoroughly. It might not have made a difference, but then again, it might have.
I also wish I could have seen more clearly how the deal I was negotiating then would affect my future which has become my present. I think I did a very good job of this when considering the children. I think I should have thought through it all a little more on the financial end. I wish I could have seen a little more clearly then how it all would impact my future in post-divorce life. How closely will I be connected and for how long will I be linked to this individual in the years to come? How much communication will be required between the two adults in question and is the amount required even going to be possible given the nature of the relationship? As long as there are kids and money involved the chains still linking me to my past relationships are there even if they are invisible most of the time. This sometimes negatively affects my present peace of mind. Sometimes I wish I would have done this differently, though I’m not sure even now what that “differently” would be.
And this is the trouble with divorce, especially if there is a huge breakdown in communication, which it seems there usually is. Because there are so many unknowns, so many possible and probable different outcomes, trying to see how my present decisions will impact my future life was a lot like gazing into a crystal ball and seeing nothing but formless shapes and figures among the misty haze. It simply isn’t possible to anticipate the future in every instance. I think the people who are really good at computer programming could come up with a program to identify all the potential variables, courses of action and potential outcomes, but who has time or patience for that?
The best thing I did (and maybe the best any of us can do) is to listen carefully to my attorney (get a second or third opinion if we need to) and try not to let our emotions rule. The best we can do is to do the best we know how to do at the time. In the end, I just had to move forward in confidence, knowing that I couldn’t know all the possible outcomes. I had to forge ahead making decisions based only on the pieces of the puzzle that I could see and that my attorney could see. I forced myself to believe that it would all turn out okay, even when I was plagued with fears of the “what if’s”. What if I lose the house? What if I can’t make it financially? What if, what if, what if…. There were nights I tossed and turned with the angst.
As it turned out, as most things turn out I’ve learned, most of what I feared never came to pass. It ended up in some ways, in most ways, far better than I could have asked. It ended up in a few ways more difficult than I imagined. I simply did the best I knew how to do at the time. It has to be good enough. This is the biggest lesson I take with me as I move forward into each day: I will be okay if I just do the best I can at the time. When I get down and discouraged and starting thinking “I wish I would have” this is always the place I end up. I did the best I could. If I’d have known better, I’d have done better. I just wasn’t able to read that crystal ball clearly enough, but it’s all turned out okay anyway.