Dear Pinky and Spike:
Temporary equilibrium achieved; work on self begins.
It’s been weeks since I’ve seen Paul and Rose. When they call, it’s to postpone or cancel their next session. With Paul’s consent, Rose and the baby are spending the summer on an Aegean Island with her mother and other members of her family when each can get away from the family business.
I doubt that I will see them for another several months. While stabilized, none of the legal or economic issues in the divorce has been resolved. This is not a mere “truce”; this is an extended period during which both will reconstruct themselves as they suffer through their necessary grieving.
Before Paul announced that he was leaving the marriage, Rose’s identity seemed to match her own aspirations and those of her family of origin. She was a bright, enthusiastic, socially popular and very pretty young mom married to a smart guy who was “going places.” Instantly, she became an unemployed single mom who comes from a family with a thriving business in which everyone has a place — except her.
In the months to come, Rose will recover from the humiliation and sense of shame she’s experienced because Paul left her and the baby. I’m interested in how she will do this.
Will her role in her family of origin be reconstructed into one that will allow her to thrive? Will she find another man to provide her with the “work,” support and appreciation that she needs to feel whole? Will she find a way to flourish that doesn’t depend on the approval of her intimates? While possible, I doubt that she will settle for being a hapless victim, even though we know she gets some satisfaction from playing that part with great drama.
Paul has similar work to do, but he is not dependent on others for his sense of identity. Of interest will be the work he has to do to relate to the formidable Laura; it’s a project that’s likely to continue for their mutual lives. I’m confident he’ll feel responsible for meeting what he thinks are Rose’s reasonable needs. What she doesn’t get from him she’ll get from her parents or in-laws, and she’ll rarely, if ever, have to ask for help.
While Paul and Rose are in temporary equilibrium, I can take the opportunity to write about subjects I’ve stumbled upon in the amazing world of online information that are somehow connected to divorce.
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The late Judge Joseph Lodge believed divorce was a rare opportunity to discover deeply held beliefs, which, once known, can be examined, evaluated, embraced or rejected. It is also an opportunity to explore, analyze and occasionally accept ideas that are new to us and suited to the kind of lives we would like to live and the kind of person we would like to be. I concur with the judge’s thinking and share it with my clients. I also feel obliged to point out every instance in which a legal issue is actually a psychological issue in disguise.
I believe that a person experiences a fundamental change as the result of divorce. The change is for better or worse; the person having the experience defines what “better” and “worse” mean in this context. My job is to do what I can to prevent the legal aspects of the divorce from corrupting the psychological process. My role is largely educational. It is not the lawyer’s job to attempt to affect the psychological experience of the client. We do our best work when we are able to get out of the way.
It’s not for me to help any client become better; that’s not the kind of advice or information I’ve been trained to provide. And yet, during the last 35 years, I’ve been motivated by the nature of my work to notice resources and activities that might help people with their personal evolution primarily because I find it useful for my own.
This is particularly true because of the still-accelerating explosion of information available through the Internet; websites, webinars, blogs and webzines all provide a wealth of information. While disinclined to discuss any of the things that follow in this and in subsequent letters directly with clients, my observations might be useful to some who encounters them impersonally — such as by reading about them in an online newspaper like Noozhawk.
One way to work on becoming a different/bigger/better person is to search for new information so that you will not only be “better,” but you will also be “smarter.” Listening to current and archived podcasts is one way to expose yourself to the latest information with the least amount of personal effort. There are thousands of available podcasts that you can listen to from your computer or portable device.
In subsequent letters I’ll describe and endorse three podcasts. The first is one of the 440 programs produced by the BBC, and it is so successful that it serves as the gold standard for other podcasts. It is called In Our Time, and its creator, Melvyn Bragg, is a prototype for the ideal podcaster. Each program addresses a single topic with the help of an expert panel of three university professors. Using sets of questions carefully constructed for each guest academic, Bragg educates his audience by seeming to educate himself. He poses single questions to a specific professor and politely insists on an answer he believes will be comprehensible to his audience.
In the next letter I’ll provide further description of how In Our Time works. For now, it’s sufficient to say that its mission is to share information about topics typically the subject of academic attention.
In coming letters I’ll describe two other podcasts that seek to do more than provide their audiences with fresh information and ideas. The first of these two programs endeavors to gather the most recent and relatively reliable information on how we think. The second goes even further; it seeks to help us understand that ours is not the only way to think, how different styles of thought might be better for achieving our own objectives, and how we can change mental habits of a lifetime.
— Brian H. Burke is a certified family law specialist practicing family law and mediation in Santa Barbara. A researcher and educator in the field of divorce and family conflicts, he is also the creator of the Legal Road Map™. Click here for more information, call 805.965.2888 or e-mail [email protected]. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.