The Function in Dysfunction

I talk a lot. Sometimes too much. I’m an over-sharer and sometimes I feel the need to word vomit in the most simple of conversations. It’s just who I am. Too transparent. But it’s certainly led to some interesting conversation.

I was talking to someone affiliated with my work world, someone I had just met, and she was asking me about life, in general: kids, vacations, etc. Just small talk. She asked if I was married and I said my usual, “No, but her dad and I are still in a relationship. We’re together but don’t live together”.

She gave me the same perplexed look that everyone else does. People don’t understand this type of unconventional situation. I get it. She is quite a bit older than me so she seemed more concerned than most do about my answer.

And then she said this: “Well…that’s an interesting set up. So much dysfunction for kids these days. I guess broken homes are the norm with all of the divorces. No one stays together anymore.”.

Dysfunction. I loathe that word in relation to describing a family.

Broken. I loathe that word in relation to a home.

It got me thinking- why, and how, on earth did we ever start describing families of divorce as “dysfunctional”?

Totally rhetorical but my annoyance remains.

This idea that divorce is synonymous with dysfunction and brokenness should not be perpetuated. Those are temporary states, or emotions, within divorce at times, but not adjectives that should describe families.

What a horrible label. It’s something that I have heard less and less of since divorces are so common, but these ugly words we use to describe families that aren’t the fairytale version of marriage and family- “dysfunctional”, “broken”? Let’s stop that.

My family is not dysfunctional. My family is not broken. And my child does not need to think otherwise. If her father and I would have stayed in a marriage, a relationship, which, at the time of separation was completely unhealthy- arguments, tension, unhappiness, amongst other things- wouldn’t that have been broken? Wouldn’t that have been dysfunctional?

The difference is now, yes, she has two houses. She spends the night at one house twice a week and the other house the rest of the week. There are challenges that go along with this. There is navigation involved. There were certainly concerns for my child when this drastic change was made, but at the end of the day, she has two parents that love her. She has a family that functions despite the title of “divorce”. We all still function. No one is broken.

Hearts might have been broken, sure, but they’re in some phase of repair and they certainly won’t stay broken, so let’s not call anything broken. We were living in more dysfunction before, prior to divorce. So let’s not call our new normal dysfunctional. Let’s get rid of that ideal, of that perfection, in relation to what families look like and how they function. Perfection does not exist. Anywhere. We all know this. Let’s stop with the stigmas.

Everyone functions because they have to. They navigate their new normal- all of us do that have been through a separation and a divorce. None of it is easy, most of it is not pretty. And it can certainly get downright ugly. But it was most likely ugly as the textbook definition of marriage, too.

It’s redefining. Not dysfunctional. Not broken.

We know our children do not go unscathed by divorce. We, as parents, we know this. We do not need ugly labels to reinforce this, however. We do not need this global idea that we simply gave up on marriage, that it was that easy. That we didn’t try. No one lives behind our closed doors. Only we know our reasons, only we know what we had to do to function and thrive the best way we know how.

This obviously also goes for divorced families that now have new marriages, maybe step-children. They’re beautiful, extended, blended families. At least most of them are. Not all of them are the families pictured together at the kids’ soccer games, or at Disney together, as one big happy family, donning the shirts labeled with their specific role in the family, (this just isn’t realistic for every family of divorce), but they all function to the very best of their abilities. They all love.

Once again, love wins. Love for our kids, it wins. Always. We, as parents, make every decision with our children at the forefront of our minds. That’s what we do. And the last thing we want is for them to be labeled as “broken” or “dysfunctional”.

Can we do better, collectively? Can we look at a divorce situation objectively and just silently acknowledge that this family did the best the could then and they’re doing the best they can now. I did not grow up as a child of divorce but so many of my friends that did are badass, full-functioning, successful, functional people. No worse for wear and definitely not broken.

All families are beautiful. They are all unique. They are all functional in some way, shape, or form. They do not need perfection. They just need love.

 

 

 

 

Being On Both Sides of Infidelity

I hear and read debates on why people cheat so often. How a woman’s reasons for cheating are different from a man’s. How women seek attention and to fill voids and how men look for the physical. The truth is, everyone’s reasons for cheating are different. Everyone’s path to cheating is different. Some couples’ willingness to work through cheating and stay together are all different.

There’s no formula to cheating. No matter how many articles are written to analyze or predict it, no matter how many red flags there are in a relationship, no matter how many lists we read about the signs of cheating, no matter how much justifying is done, it happens and it will continue to happen. It’s terrible but it happens.

I believe the simplified answer as to why it happens is universal: we are selfish beings that want and crave attention. Period. It’s an act of selfishness that begs to be judged, (and trust me, I do still judge when I hear stories of cheating spouses), but few realize, or will admit, that it could be any one of us on either side of infidelity. We want to believe it would never be us or happen to us, yet it is and it does.

I’ve been married twice. I’m now twice divorced. I choke on typing that in solid print. It’s embarrassing to me that I failed at marriage twice.

Many people in my life might not even know about my first marriage. I even tend to forget. I was 24 and was in a rush to be in love, to be loved, to be married, to do what all of my friends were doing.

I met a wonderful man that I was set up on a blind date with. He was kind-hearted, funny, and he adored me. Our relationship moved much too fast. We moved in together after only 4 weeks of dating and we were engaged within months.

If I’m being totally honest, I never loved him. I knew that from the start and I ignored it. I wanted the wedding, I wanted the adoration. I was really good at pretending. We had very little in common but in retrospect, I didn’t even know myself well enough to know what my needs and wants were at the time. He was a good person and he deserved more. I was on a rebound from a long-term love when I met him and he paid the price. It’s unfair and it was shitty but it was the reality.

I made a conscience decision to cheat on him only 3 months into our marriage. Clearly, not to be confused with a premeditated plan to cheat. I don’t know that anyone actually does that. Not many look to outwardly and blatantly lie and live a double life. How many times have you heard, “It just…happened”? And it does, just happen. This is not a dismissive or excusable fact but it is the truth.

I met a guy at work, a much younger guy, that I had a ridiculous amount of chemistry with. Because he was so much younger, I didn’t notice the chemistry immediately but when I finally acknowledged it, it was over. I was involved. I was emotionally cheating from that moment on and physical cheating wasn’t far behind.

Once the physical relationship began, I became a different person, one I didn’t recognize and one I absolutely hated facing in the mirror. I hated myself but not enough to stop the affair. I knew I was in love with the person I chose to cheat with. I knew I had to leave my husband, and I did, after only 5 months of marriage, 2 months into the affair.

It was awful, being on that side of infidelity. It wasn’t fun, it wasn’t an adventure, and it didn’t feel good. I couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, and the lies felt like razors punishing my lips each and every time I had to tell a lie. It wasn’t in my DNA to pull this off, nor did I want to. I was too consumed with how people viewed me to be honest with myself, and with him about not being in love, about not wanting to get married, and about what I needed from a relationship.

Love stole all logic from me. That’s not an excuse but it’s what happened. I allowed that to happen. I should have stopped the affair, been honest with my husband, left him, knowing I wasn’t in love, and stayed on my own until I gained complete clarity. But, I didn’t. I was too afraid to lose love.

I left my husband for another man.

I’ve never outwardly admitted this to anyone before. Not to my then husband, not to my friends or family, and not to myself. But that’s the truth. I live with guilt about this every single day, still. I never forgave myself completely. I broke someone’s heart in the worst imaginable way and it was unforgivable.

I married the man in this story. And infidelity came full circle 5 years into our marriage, 12 years into our relationship. Only this time, it was me on the receiving end.

I’ve never been quite sure about the concept of karma. We all speak about it as though it’s real but I’ve, more often than not, thought of it as a coping mechanism. However, my second husband’s infidelity sure did feel like karma. It completely broke me as a person. I allowed it to completely break me and it felt awful. I hated myself. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, and I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror. My self esteem wouldn’t let me. And I felt like I totally and completely deserved it.

It felt eerily familiar. As much as I wanted to play the victim, and at times I truly did, it was undeniable that this happened for a reason.

My darkest moments lie within both sides of these infidelities. And within dark moments lie truth and learning. I learned what I am capable of. I learned what rock bottom looks like. I learned what complete loneliness feels like.  I learned what self hatred is. On both sides, all of these same lessons took place and looked very similar.

Oddly, this all brought me to a path of self acceptance. It was all within the learning. I just needed to pay attention. Cheating is simply a symptom of much deeper issues and if it happens to you, no matter which side you’re on, you just need to try to pay attention to the message. It won’t be easy, it won’t be pretty, but you.must.listen.

I forgive myself. I forgive him. It was all part of a much bigger process.

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In the Trenches

I’ve used that phrase often. In the trenches of college. In the trenches of figuring out my career. In the trenches of planning a wedding. In the trenches of new motherhood. In the trenches of toddlerhood.

I have never used that phrase for anything as painful as being in the trenches of going through a divorce.

I read a blurb today from one of my favorite female comedians, Amy Poehler, on the topic of divorce:


“Imagine spreading everything you care about on a blanket and then tossing the whole thing up in the air. The process of divorce is about loading that blanket, throwing it up, watching it all spin, and worrying what stuff will break when it lands.”

“When you are a person going through a divorce you feel incredibly alone, yet you are constantly reminded by society of how frequently divorce happens and how common it has become. You aren’t allowed to feel special, but no one knows the specific ways you are in pain.”

That last sentence completely resonated with me: You aren’t allowed to feel special, but no one knows the specific ways you are in pain.


It’s so very true. No one will ever truly know that pain as you experience it, even if they’ve been in a similar situation. No one knows the way you loved, the passion you felt, the way you gave, the way you cried, the hurt you endured, the specific feelings of rejection and betrayal, the unique way you have self-doubted, the contents and magnitude of the arguing, the inner struggle to stay or go multiple times, the different ways of finally letting go,…I could go on and on.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the pain that you now carry for your child(ren) throughout this process. Pain of letting go of this family structure so they can have a happy, healthier mom…eventually. The pain of managing this for them in two separate houses. The pain of making them a statistic, being a “child of divorced parents”. It’s a heavy burden, this type of pain, in addition to your own pain. We can all agree that staying together for the kids is not the healthy choice to make but let’s face it, it’s the reason many of us stay longer than we should. No one wants this for their child. No one gets married and has a child to say “Man, I cannot WAIT to go through my divorce so my kid can have two houses!”. It’s the most painful part, your reflection in your child’s eyes, yet, the most calming.

Friends can listen, identify, empathize, hug you, cry with you, ache for you, but they cannot live your pain, nor should they. It’s your path to walk, your pain to endure.

“Lonely” is an understatement in these trenches.

The whole dynamic shift that occurs while going through this process is only comparable to a death. You’re missing this whole moving part of your life that you become so accustom to and dependent on. You’re in this new world of self-reliance when you never wanted it or planned it this way. You’re now missing that emotional connection that you clung to for so long: that confidant, the person that had to listen to your work rants and that person you shared your dreams with. You’re now missing that physical connection: that person you woke up to and knew their morning routine, that person that you hugged at least a couple times a day, the person you’ve been most intimate with in life. You’re now missing that “partner” connection: that person to call if you forgot to pick up milk on your drive home, that person to help fold laundry, your guaranteed social event date, your go-to person to take over the parenting responsibilities when you’ve just had enough.

Even if you’re extremely independent, as I’ve always been, these missing pieces are all exhausting, especially with a child. Obviously sad, too, but exhausting because you’re now 100% self-reliant.

So, how do you put the pieces back together? All of these things you’ve piled on the blanket and threw up in the air are making their descent and you’re watching so many of them break as they land in different places. Some stay in tact, but most are certainly broken. Everything you’ve known for however long, (in my case, 12 years), has been undefined now. Everything.

You have to clean up now and redefine.

The pieces will not fit back together where they were, it’s impossible, so you try to find where the pieces will fit now. You create this new normal for yourself and your child and slowly figure out where the pieces will fit. You sit with the pain when you need to because it’s grief and you have no choice but to look at it in the face. On good days, you say “fuck you, grief and sadness. I’m going to have a good day”, but on bad days, (and there are A LOT of bad days), you sit with it, you become ok with it…and you learn from it.

And there it is, the purpose: learning.

Throughout all of this, the only thing you’re truly gaining is an education. One that is so incredibly important. You learn about yourself. You learn that you’re much more capable than you ever gave yourself credit for. You learn that you’re a better parent because of this. You learn who truly loves you and how to give more of yourself to those people. You learn to stop giving to those that don’t. You learn how to be selfish, which is magical in it of itself. You learn how to self-preserve. You learn to see things with a fresh perspective. You judge less and love more. You learn how to forgive but not forget so you’re not tempted to go down that path again. You just learn and there is so much value in that.

And about all of that loneliness? You learn it isn’t so terrible. You start your own morning routine. You realize that the laundry can stay in the fucking dryer for 3 days. You ride your bike up to the corner store for milk, just to get in that extra piece of exercise. You go to dinner alone and enjoy people watching. You plan a trip alone, somewhere where YOU’VE always wanted to go. You find your love for things that you didn’t know existed, like Ashtanga yoga and frilly bed quilts. You spend more time with friends and family. You shop for things only you like, not having to consider another’s taste. You enjoy one-on-one time with your child. The list goes on but the point is, you’re redefining yourself. It’s an opportunity that not many people have in life or not many will take in life: making a new definition of who you are, here and now; meet yourself for the first time. How amazing is that?

Is the view from the trenches scary and sad? Yes. It’s a trench I never wanted to explore but life had bigger plans for me. It wanted me to see a new life and it wanted to teach me to let go of a relationship and a love that was not serving me anymore. I have to open my eyes and enjoy the view from here for now.

So, to those going through this process of divorce and are in the trenches, do I understand the specific ways you are in pain? No, but we’re still in it together and there is something amazing on the other side of all of this.