Bill and Helen’s Divorce – Lessons from Divorce Done Badly

Once upon a time, back in the 50’s/60’s when divorce was considered somewhat shameful and there were few of the wonderful, wise and supportive divorce professionals that, with some effort, can be found these days, Bill and Helen divorced.

It was a long, drawn out, torturous divorce that ended badly for everyone involved. (except for the floozy) Bill began sleeping with the town floozy and ultimately, fell in love with her. But he did not have the courage to tell Helen that he had fallen in love with someone else, and instead stayed away for long periods of time, was dishonest about what he was doing, and mean and judgmental with Helen, cruelly criticizing her for not being the woman he wanted, rather than being honest about his choices. Bill attempted to beat up one of his children for calling the floozy a slut. And the floozy was even more cruel and heartless than Bill. Helen was naïve and insecure and worried about what others might think, so did not open up with those who could have helped her. Nor was she able to simply confront Bill and suggest that the marital contract be terminated with as much dignity and respect as could be mustered. Or alternatively, simply ignore him, get some therapy and continue with a separate life while married. Instead, there were ugly fights, many tears and much sobbing, sleepless nights, and an emotional breakdown. Neither parent was present for the children in a meaningful way because, as is so often the case with divorces, the parents were too caught up in their own self-interest (Bill) and pain (Helen).

They lived separately for several years, Bill doing whatever Bill wanted and Helen working at a stressful, low wage job and trying to provide a home for the children. Seeing the pain Bill was causing, the children aligned with Helen and ceased their relationship with him, not even attending his funeral some forty odd years later.

Eventually, after about ten years of pain and emotional turmoil, Bill and Helen actually divorced. Bill had a ‘take no prisoners’ shark of a lawyer and Helen had an incompetent buffoon, so the terms of the divorce were financially devastating for Helen.

Everything about this divorce was a disaster, both financially and emotionally. If Bill and Helen had been wise enough to handle this differently and if supportive, collaborative divorce professionals had been available, the outcome could have been so different.

Both, especially Bill, would have learned that marital property should be divided reasonably equitably, and that income may need to be allocated to ensure that each has a reasonable standard of living. Bill would have been advised to honestly express his dissatisfaction with the marriage and the fact that he had a new relationship. Helen could have sought counseling to help her deal with her disappointment and her emotional response to the situation. Both could have worked with divorce coaches to learn how to communicate effectively through this process. Bill would have learned that he needed to put his relationship with his children first and that it takes time for children to warm up to a new partner. He would also have learned to never stop letting his children know that he loved them and would be there for them and to demonstrate this with his actions. Helen would have learned that even though her husband caused her great pain, he was still the children’s father, and that a father-child relationship should always be encouraged and supported. A child specialist could have brought the children’s voice into the process and perhaps the children and their father may have had a chance at a relationship. And perhaps with some additional therapy and forgiveness work, it could have been a functional, supportive post-divorce family.

With a Collaborative or mediated divorce, it would still have been difficult, but would perhaps have left each member of the family as whole as possible – financially and emotionally, and protected those vital parent-child relationships.

This was my parents’ divorce – and more than 50 years later it is still painful. Both are deceased so it is too late for a do-over. But I believe there is some redemption for all of this in my practice that is focused on Collaborative Divorce and mediation. Because divorce is a problem to be solved, not a battle to be won – and no one should be crying 50 years later.

If you are considering divorce, spend time to learn about options such as Collaborative divorce and mediation, so something like this does not happen to you and your family.