October 1, 2006
Written by Staff at The Centre for Mediation & Dispute Resolution
Divorce : A Story of Never Letting Go
David and Isabel Stone had been married for 25 years. Together they had raised two wonderful children in a beautiful suburb south of Boston. Each child had attended college and graduated with honors. The Stones were individually and collectively proud of their kids and their accomplishments. Yet something had gone amiss with their marriage; somewhere, somehow, David and Isabel no longer enjoyed being with each other. David had his hobbies and of course his job which monopolized ten to twelve hours of each day. Isabel had returned to school, pursuing a graduate degree in social work. Nightly she was busy with her studies and of late fulfilling her internship requirements. She was preparing to work full-time in the Fall.
While it was probably a long time in the making, one Saturday morning, Isabel told David that she wanted a divorce. He was shocked. He had had it in his mind that life would just go on; the kids would marry; there would be grandchildren; he and Isabel would each do their “thing”. In short, he just had not thought of a different life, a life as a single person.
Isabel had hired a lawyer, she informed David. He needed to do the same. And so he did. At the same time, he got more and more angry. Isabel asked him to leave the house. Why him? he thought. Why not her? After all, she wanted the divorce, didn’t she? And so it began to escalate. What began as two people who had grown apart became two people who could not stand to be in the same room, two people who told anyone who would listen how terribly unfair the other person was. What seemed sad became mean and ugly. The legal wrangling continued for one and a half years. They finally settled the case with a two day trial – not exactly a settlement – in reality a ruling. Anyhow it was over. Or was it? If truth be told, David had not slept well since it all began over two years ago. He kept thinking and rethinking of the Saturday morning when Isabel said she wanted a divorce. His therapist and his friends had pointed out numerous times that he was not happy, that he was working twelve hour days, that he and Isabel were not truly a couple in the real sense of the word. But to David, Isabel had destroyed everything and got paid for it. She got the house and a share of his retirement and even his favorite painting and the silver his mother had given to them and more. He was paying her alimony regardless of her new job because, the judge had said, they were married over 25 years and he earned four times her salary. So what, she wanted the divorce. Right?
David’s feelings are not as unusual as they may appear. Although it is logical to ask why he is feeling so stuck in his marriage and divorce when he is not telling stories of marital bliss or even of love, to David he had been betrayed. Worse, he was made to pay for a decision that he did not make. To him, it is almost irrelevant that he was not particularly happy. Happiness was not necessarily the name of the game. He was a good and loyal husband and father and got nothing for the husband part. David filed for a modification of his support to Isabel. And so back to court they went.
Beginning again is what David’s therapist and friends wanted for him. Yet he was unable to let go, to move on. Isabel, on the other hand, did move on. She started a new career and eventually remarried. Even when the alimony stopped, David still felt cheated and hurt.
Could there have been a different outcome? Would a different path have produced a different result? We think it is quite possible.
Whereas David’s and Isabel’s involvement in years of litigation resulted in intensifying David’s anger and making it harder for him to “let go”, mediation typically has the opposite effect. Because the parties work through the terms of their settlement together, discussing what is important to each one in the future as well as in the present, they become vested in the settlement. Naturally, feelings of anger and hurt are not automatically dissolved; but creative problem solving goes a long way in making people focus on tomorrow. Grappling with finances helps each one consider his and her future alone. What is fair for both parties becomes the overriding objective. Sounds too nice? Too civilized? That is really not the point. The main point is that hurt and destruction are not productive; David did not benefit financially or personally from being so angry. In reality, neither did Isabel benefit. While she moved on with her life, creating a new beginning, she lost any semblance of a relationship with a man with whom she had spent 25 years of her life. She could not even casually be with David in the same room with their children. A major part of her history was tainted. An important relationship had truly ended.
How couples divorce is important. It is important for their future as well as for their present. And it certainly is important for their children. Couples who opt for the so called good divorce or civilized divorce are saving their past and protecting their future.
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