All In The Family

Hi, Boomers,

You think you’ve seen and heard it all and then something surprises the heck out of you.  At my age there are few surprises. Been there, done that, heard that.  But there are some things that even though you’ve heard it before, done it before, it’s still a surprise. This one is  very sad because it involves the break up of a marriage in my immediate family.  As with any breakup, there is a fallout that ripples through several generations.  I’m sure most families have witnessed one or more divorces. After all, more than half of marriages in America end in divorce.   I’ve been divorced since 1983 and its impact carried dysfunction for decades not only on my sons but on me personally.

But a  marriage that dissolves after 40 years, well, that’s a horse of a different color.  Adult children are involved, and if they are the product of a divorce themselves, they are reluctant to revisit old wounds.  Certainly, the grandchildren do not understand disruptions to the rhythm of their grandparent’s visits or vacations to second homes or to special places.  It’s messy all round for everyone- emotionally, psychologically, and strategically.  Instead of pure joy at playing with the young ones, it’s now going to be about who visits at what month for what holiday. Oh, boy, will there ever be arguments about who gets more face time with loved boys.

I know the drill well.  I divorced when my boys were young and we lived in a different state from their father.  These years were painful, stressful and filled with the anxiety.  I always felt like I was a terrible parent.  I had to work and leave them at night, and I would grind away the hours of rehearsal or performance at a theater and wonder if they did their homework and got to sleep.  I didn’t have enough money for a babysitter.  Whenever I hear about divorce, I try to push the terrifying memories of being a single parent raising children by myself, but they seem to rise to the surface anyway and I don’t get a warm and fuzzy feeling about those years.  Divorce is simply a catch 22 and no one gets the prize or even a congratulations, you did it!  A bank teller said to me today:  “I don’t think couples should divorce if they have children.’  Gee, thanks.  So it’s okay to rip at the fabric of a family 30 years later when the their kids have kids.

When adult children witness the breakup of their parent’s marriage, I wonder what goes through their minds.  Unbelievable sadness for one.  Horror. Disbelief.  Why can’t my parents get it together?  How could he?  Is she being unreasonable?  I can’t take sides.  I love them both warts and all.  How did the issues go unresolved?  How many confrontation were there over the years.  Why didnt they come to an accommodation?  Are they adults, after all?

Surely, the adult offspring knew something was not right for years, but he was passive and it was easier for her to ignore and, yes, keep the status quo alive because of, oh, yes, the children.  But the children have grown into adults now and they view things differently because they have more wisdom and experience.  But it’s human nature to apply blame even though the adult children feel as ashamed and embarrassed for their parents.

I am simply a witness to events in my family now, and although I am privy to some of the details of what happened, more agony and stress is revealed on my daughter-in-law’s face than I can imagine. see that its much worse than I could imagine.

I’ve heard of several long time marriage that have broken up – couples in their 60s, even early 70s.  One woman simply told her husband that his passions weren’t hers and he exhausted her with his interests.  She wanted to cultivate her own life and so she left. They didn’t divorce but they live nearby and date once or twice a week.  She’s completely happy.  He is still a mess.  How could she walk out?  Didn’t I give her everything?  What else does she need?  She needs her life back, darling.

Of course, she needs her own space and counsel.  She needs to find a life of her own without being an appendage to her husband. Maybe she wants to find her one true passion, her own source of positive energy and her own rhythm of living so she can have a life she wants and deserves – a  fulfilling life.

That is what happened to another couple I know.  The wife told her husband the marriage was over.  Please move out.  In this case, the wife decided to file for divorce.  The adult daughters were loving and kind to their parents but the strain was still evident. He was trying to date and couldn’t figure out why women didn’t want to date him.  I had to remind him that he was still married.  He hadn’t moved on.  When the man asked to see me again, he told me he was getting a divorce.  He still didn’t get it.  It’s so hard to move on.

I got in a mind loop this weekend when talking to the mother of my daughter-in-law.  I understand the story and have empathy for her struggle, yet, I kept thinking about the logistics of how wife and husband were going to get along without each other because they both had gotten use to the dysfunction (it became their comfort zone even though it produced unhappiness) and what a nightmare logistics would be for the family.  The human divorce disease was beginning to spread into everyone’s life and what the effects of the blowback was anyone’s guess.

But we all know – everyone who has been touched by separation and divorce – that wounds will never heal without forgiveness and that is a very long way off at the beginning of this American disease.  For now it’s about negative energy, blame and endless accusations about how the parties involved hurt one another and how that will ripple though our family.

I was driving to the place where I dance tango on Saturday night, and I heard Neil Diamond and Barbra Streisand singing their famous duet, “You Don’t Send me Flowers Anymore.” The lyrics tell the story of the end of a once loving relationship. The couple was saying good-bye to each other.  I thought about what causes the positive energy, the love and friendship in a marriage to dissolve over time. Does the couple know their relationship is sliding off the precipice?  Can they stop it before there is no grip to hang in, hang on?  What will bring a couple to consciousness about the situation before a precipitating event takes control and anger and fear surface and explode in a battle that neither the wife or the husband can win?

I suppose that’s the romantic in me.  I want everyone to be happy. Maybe it’s just not possible to live happily ever after because those involved in the dyad have to separate in order to live complete lives.  That sounds completely logical, but it sure doesn’t feel quite right.




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