Author, Writer, Columnist
THE NEWLY DIVORCED BOOK OF PROTOCOL
By Gloria Lintermans
Chapter 9: Emotional Accessibility: You want what!?
Feeling isolated: No one's ever gone through what you're going through or felt so alone.
We know that Rebecca gave her husband two weeks notice to move out. What we do not know, but could certainly guess at, was the emotional climate in the home during those weeks. What must her feelings have been? Feelings cannot remain in a suspended state. Did she pretend nothing had happened? Did she live with her husband as roommates, perhaps in a cold war?
"For the sake of the children," says Rebecca; "my husband and I managed to behave reasonably well. No awful fights - we tried to just go on. My biggest confusion during that difficult time was knowing my emotional boundaries. I wish I had known how to take care of my feelings while my world became more and more unstable."
"Rebecca was part of a couple," says Arthur Kovacs, Ph.D., a psychologist in private practice in Santa Monica, California, "that was able to manage great restraint and stability. I wish everybody were that mature. However, I wouldn't encourage any couple to do what Rebecca and her husband did. I think that once a decision is made, the separation should go forward, and the couple must move apart as quickly as possible.
"This needs to be done because it makes things clear not only for the couple but for the children, and it prevents that very ambiguity that Rebecca described. In some ways, all of us remain small children. We don't do well with ambiguity and uncertainty. We become anxious when the rules are unclear, when we don't know what's expected of us, and how we're to conduct ourselves."
Another common scenario. Your husband (or wife) is being unfaithful. You know it, have even been living with this knowledge for a while. Although your relationship is seriously disintegrating, for a multitude of reasons you are not ready to bring the other's behavior into the open. How do you deal with the emotional ambiguity of this volatile situation? Even though you're not talking about the problem, you can bet it's there.
"Well, at least one person's living with the emotional ambiguity of it," suggests Dr. Kovacs. How do you create emotional boundaries living in this kind of situation? "The answer is that you can't. The spouse trapped on this shifting sidewalk really needs a lot of support and care taking. They must turn to other people, such as friends and relatives, or a psychotherapist. They need to get some wisdom and stability as they move forward and decide what to do with a partner who is causing such anguish."
In other words, it behooves you to stay emotionally available, but you have to redefine who's the right person, or people, to do this with. 'That's right," says Dr. Kovacs, "and that's one of the anguishes of divorce. The very person who has been your primary support is becoming, at best, a stranger - or, at worst, a hateful enemy. You have to shift your needs - for intimacy and kindness, for understanding and support - to a new cast of characters as rapidly as possible."
Dr. Kovacs says if a separating couple in a long-term relationship doesn't have a good support system, one of the partners might appear seriously disturbed. "A mental health professional may then prescribe medication - but, fortunately, it's usually a transitory phase - it's like a terrible thunderstorm that runs its course.
Within a brief time, the person will restabilize (if there's no prior history of severe emotional disturbance.) Friends and family who are part of the 'new' support system should be supportive and not panicky. A person might be very disturbed for some period of time. They might weep uncontrollably, have temper tantrums, or threaten suicide, screaming that they can't stand it and they don't know what they're going to do - extremes of emotions in one way or another. Unfortunately it is not uncommon for children to witness these behaviors."
Your feelings of isolation are equally wrenching. You're sure that no one's ever gone through what you're going through or felt so alone. "John M. Haynes, in Divorce Mediation, has outlined twelve universal feelings that are all part of adjusting to what's going on in your life. They include rejection, anger, loneliness, confusion, self-doubt, depression, fear of making mistakes, fear of proving inadequate, fear of losing control, anxiety over the unknown, self-pity, and euphoria - not necessarily in that order.
The reason you might be feeling so alone is your need to isolate yourself from friends and family who, you feel, might judge what's happening to you as your failure. So you hide yourself and the truth in order to avoid, what you think, will just compound your awful feelings?
You also might be hoping you will work it out, and then there will be nothing to tell them. Why not save yourself all that embarrassment? Instead, give your friends and family the chance to help. Don't hide your secret like dirty laundry. Being lovable has nothing to do with being perfect. That's your need, not theirs. Regardless of the particulars of your situation, there is a good chance they will be there for you. No? You'll never know unless you give them the chance.
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