Saturday, December 19, 2015

PART 2: Divorce and The Re-Return

At this point, you already know that I decided to divorce my husband a few weeks ago. And if you remember, I was having a really rough go of it. One of the most difficult parts of divorce is the self-doubt you feel, particularly if there are children involved.
  • Are you making the right decision?
  • How can you be without someone you've loved for so long?
  • Will this ruin your children's lives?
  • Will you be able to financially handle this new situation?
  • When will you find the time to "do it all?"
  • What are you going to do for holidays?
  • How will friends and family react?
I could quite literally go on and on and on about the millions of tiny, undermining doubt-bombs that drop in your head. All. Day. Every. Day. It's during this period that the idea of a Re-Return usually pops in your head. Usually something along these lines:

Well, he seems pretty sorry, and he says he's never going to do it again. He's being really nice to me and really making an effort, and I feel like he might be serious this time about doing the work to change. Yeah, he's definitely "getting it." I think I owe it to myself, my marriage, and my kids to just see if maybe everything will be okay and we can go back to the way things used to be.

Let's just put this to bed right now. Things will NEVER go back to the way they used to be. Even if you are able to work things out, things will be different - as they should be. So no lamenting and yearning for days past. They are gone. 

Now. Let's discuss what's next. It's not my place to tell you whether or not you should give it the old college try one more time or not, but I wanted to share with you what giving it another shot should look like should you choose to do so. And what it does not look like. You're badass women - you know when you've had enough. But what may be a little tougher - if you truly feel giving it another shot is in your best interest - is exactly HOW to give the relationship another shot and still protect yourself. 

First, know your legal options. Most family law courthouses have a staffed Self-Help Center that will help you with forms, explain options and legal terms, and tell you if you really need to speak with an attorney or not. And they're FREE! But let me be clear - there is no substitute for a badass family law attorney, particularly when children are involved. Some attorneys won't even charge for the initial consultation, wherein you can get some of your questions answered and make an educated decision about how to proceed. Since I originally posted about my divorce, I've hired an amazing, constructive, smart attorney (a woman, of course), and I've decided to go the route of a legal separation instead of a dissolution (a divorce). You need to know the difference. The "legal separation" term may mean different things in different states. Where I live, a legal separation means that you terminate your financial relationship, you sort out custody schedules, child and spousal support issues, but you are not DIVORCED. There are upsides and downsides to both options. Whether you are considering a divorce or a legal separation or just don't know how you want to proceed, information is your friend. Know your legal options.

Second, all bets are off. Whatever your life with your spouse looked like in previous days, months, years, you are now allowed to institute a new set of rules. Under NO CIRCUMSTANCES should you attempt a reconciliation with your spouse under the exact same set of circumstances that you were both in during the marriage. We already know that your spouse is unable to respect those boundaries, rules, and requests. Maybe one of you moves out. Maybe someone needs to give up all the passwords and codes to their phone and computer. Maybe one or both of you need counseling - separately or together. Maybe you decide to take a 30-day "time-out" and come back to the table with a decision at that time. The key here is that the reconciliation has to be dependent upon your spouse's respect and consistent adherence your new set of rules. This is called respecting your boundaries. Your feelings matter. Your comfort matters. Your mental and emotional well-being matters. If you have kids, their well-being matters first and foremost. Keep them protected and safe from as much uncertainty and chaos as possible. Come to think of it, that should probably be the #1 item on your new set of rules.

Third, be kind and respectful. Your spouse will likely have some adjusting to do too. Give them some latitude and space to get it together and decide what they really want as well. You've invested a lot of time and energy into this relationship. You have a shared history and a love for this human that will not easily be replaced if things don't work out. And, in the event you have children together, you will need to continue to model good behavior for your children - they need to see that adults can act like adults, even when it's hard, uncomfortable, or awkward. Even if your spouse decides that they can't or won't adhere to your new boundaries, that is their choice to make, not yours. You need to respect that. There is very little good (if any) that will come from you trash-talking your spouse to his face, to his kids, or to the world. Remember, you want to look back at this time in your life and be proud of how you handled it.

Fourth, untangle. The more pieces of your life that remain tied together, the more complicated any kind of reconciliation will be for pretty obvious reasons - the same fights will continue to come up, whether it be money, child-rearing, sex, friendships, family issues, etc. If you can untangle yourselves, it'll allow you to focus on only the important part: your relationship and your communication. Sometimes, it's not possible to separate everything (particularly if you have children), but the more space you give yourselves to evaluate just your relationship on its own, the clearer the big picture becomes.

Lastly, get input from a variety of your supporters. If you only ask your sister or best friend what you should do, she's going to tell you to dump that asshat. I know this. You know this. But if you ask around, you'll be surprised at the variety of responses you will get to your proposed Re-Return. If everyone tells you the same thing, though, you have your answer. 

I'd also like to make it clear that none of this applies to relationships in which there is abuse. Sorry - you don't get to Re-Return. Period. Run like hell and STAY AWAY. Abusers don't change. 

My hope is that none of you ever have to go through this or make these decisions, but statistics show that about half of you will. If it ever comes to that point, please just do me this one favor: Do not attempt to reconcile just because he's being really nice or said he's sorry. He's not. He's consistently shown you through his actions that he's not. The only acceptable Re-Return is one in which you feel safe, respected, and clear about your boundaries.

I watched a How I Met Your Mother episode once that had a bit on a Re-Return, albeit in a slightly different context. The dude (Ted) wanted to kiss the girl (Robin), but he totally blew it and missed his chance. So later that night, he drunkenly declared he's going to go to her house and recapture that missed opportunity. He showed up at her doorstep (Re-Returned) and puked all over her front doormat. And, pointedly, didn't kiss her.

Don't let any dude puke on your doormat. If you're going to give him the shot, he better damn well kiss you.

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