Jane had been unhappy in her marriage to Joe since she’d walked down the aisle as a teenager. But first she’d stayed because she’d promised, then she stayed for the children and then she stayed because leaving was too scary. Even though she’d been thinking for years about divorcing him and she’d waited until the children were independent, and even though it took more time to arrange it, she was surprised at all she went through afterward. She’d thought she’d move on immediately and easily.
Divorce meant the end of a dream. Jane was surprised at how disoriented and upset she became, even though she was the one who wanted the divorce and had initiated it. But it was as if her whole universe had collapsed and she didn’t know what to do.
Actually that was a very accurate image. Indeed, her world had revolved around the dream she had fantasized and tried to create – a wonderful marriage and happy family. Even though it hadn’t turned out that way, all her thoughts and energy had revolved around that center. Now the center of her universe was gone. Like a solar system with no sun at its center, everything flew off in different directions.
She had to create a new center for her life and to organize every aspect to revolve around it. That took time, but when she centered on herself and the wonderful, full, rich life she wanted, all the pieces began to come together. Her discomfort and second-guessing disappeared, and her life – her mental, emotional and spiritual life – stabilized.
Divorce meant the end of daily, face-to-face bullying. Joe had been a demanding, manipulative, controlling husband. Jane had always lived under his thumb. She tiptoed around trying to avoid big confrontations, lectures and explosions. Now she didn’t have to do what he wanted and he couldn’t do anything serious to her. She felt a huge relief. She could stand up straight, breathe deeply and do what she wanted without arguments and recriminations, or his approval or permission. She was not surprised at how liberated she felt. She was giddy with freedom.
But he didn’t stop trying to control her. He became more demanding and manipulative. She had to learn how to resist his controlling methods and her own self-bullying.
Divorce meant she was no longer responsible for Joe’s issues or well-being. All during their marriage, Jane had tended to Joe’s emotional needs; his ego’s need to be stroked, his abandonment and control issues, his dislikes, his hypochondria and depression, his threats of suicide.
Because of her preparation, right after she received the final divorce papers, Jane felt free of the burden of taking care of Joe’s issues. She wished him well, but was no longer responsible for making his life work the way he wished.
But putting that inner freedom into practice required a stepwise process. Joe didn’t like the loss of his servant and scapegoat so he used every manipulative, bullying trick that had succeeded previously in order to make her take care of him now.
He called her whenever he felt upset, needy or sick. At first, no matter how sorry for him Jane felt, no matter how much her caretaker and enabler patterns had been stimulated, she had to force herself to tell him she wouldn’t be coming over to take care of him. At first, she became angry at his pathetic attempts. She forced herself to tell him that he’d have to call his friends or get a therapist or go to the hospital. Later, that became easy; second-nature.
Joe started calling their children and complaining about how cold and unloving she’d become. He suspected that she now had a young boyfriend she was taking care of. Jane explained Joe’s patterns to their children and told them she hoped they’d put the responsibility for his happiness right back in his lap. And she wasn’t having a fling with a pool-boy.
When Joe threatened suicide, she almost ran over to stop him. But them she stepped back and said she’d call the police for him. He said she shouldn’t call them, but then persisted in suicide talk. She hung up and called 911. He never threatened her with suicide again. She told their children the tactic that had worked.
It seemed to take 9 months – an interesting period – for her to let go of her internal habits and to feel comfortable setting her boundaries in a matter-of-fact way. By “setting,” she now meant keeping her boundaries, no matter how he tried to ignore or trample them. She no longer rode the roller coaster of huge emotional swings – caring, concern, panic, anger, rage and guilt. Then her life started opening up the way she’d hoped the divorce would allow.