Actually, I was hooked by the response from a friend of a friend who said “It’s so sad” and recounted her regret over her parents’ divorce when she was a young adult. I retorted that it was neither sad nor laudatory — not that I have any right to tell someone how to feel — but simply reality.
I grew up in the midst of my parents’ bickering and yelling, knowing a powerful, loving bond held them together until my father died at the age of 59 after 25 years of marriage.
And I’ve got two divorces behind me, one after a short-lived and ill-fated early marriage; the other after a long marriage that yielded three children.
In my work as a psychotherapist I spend a lot of time helping people navigate the troubled waters of relationship: how to get into one, how to get out of one that’s gone bad, how to improve one that used to be better — and possibly most importantly, figuring out what role the family of origin experience plays in all of our relationships. I try to help people see the “gray areas” in between the all-good or all-bad, the black-and-white thinking that makes one person the bad guy and the other the hapless victim.
A client once shared with me that in her father’s last days, he talked about her mother — who had preceded him in death and to whom he had been notoriously unfaithful. He imagined his former wife in heaven and hoped that he might see her there.
In the end, there was a kind of reconciliation, though none had occurred in the mother’s lifetime and my client had typecast her father as the villain and her mother as the long-suffering victim. I wasn’t trying to convince her that adultery is a neutral act, but that the intimate relationship between two individuals is complex. No one looking in from the outside — not even children who eavesdrop from the next room — can really know what goes on behind closed doors.
Weren’t we all surprised when Al and Tipper Gore divorced? And how many among us decried Hillary Clinton’s decision to stand by her man? Often we try to make these judgment calls for others when in fact there are few absolutes in any of our lives’ journeys.
I’ve seen situations that looked hopeless be restored by the dogged determination of the couple. I’ve seen others founder for less cause, my own long marriage among them. There was no cheating, no abuse or abandonment; but when my now ex-husband sought some time apart, that path ultimately led to a final dissolution of the marriage.
I believe some of us are more determined to stay, some of us more likely to withdraw and that it isn’t necessarily the degree of strife that makes the difference. And I resist categorizations like “children of divorce” or “children of single parents” just as I resist stereotypes of “children of gay parents” or “children of biracial parents.” Of course you can find a statistical analysis to support just about any argument.
But in my work, and in my life, I look for the gray. It’s the path that represents reality, not our cherished fantasies about how life was supposed to be.