Dear Pinky and Dear Spike
Dear Nora and Dear Nick,
We had quite a week. Nine calls from Nick and six from Nora. You sent e-mail messages beyond measure. I didn’t count them, or open them, or read them. You have one thing to say:
Why Are We Stuck?
I have good news, bad news and very good news. The good news is: Your experience was predictable both in timing and form; it means you are human and normal. The bad news is that you’re more stuck than you realize.
The best news is: Your current emotional experience is transient. You don’t have to do anything to change it; it will pass.
Who should leave the house? We don’t know who you’re trying to persuade, but here are the “facts” getting the most air time.
Nora wants Nick to move out of the family home because:
» Nick has no use for a four-bedroom house.
» The kids want to come home to the house they grew up in — and to the mom who raised them.
» Nick has never done housework. “He’d trash the place.”
» Nora found the house to buy.
» It was Nora’s energy and talent that remodeled and furnished it.
» Nora is home more than Nick, so her opportunity to enjoy the house is greater.
Nick wants Nora to move out of the family home because:
» Nora has no use for a four-bedroom house.
» The kids will stay where there is an empty bed — with the mom who “raised” them or with the dad who supported them.
» Nora has never done yard work or repairs. “She’d trash the place.”
» Nora found the house to buy; Nick paid for it.
» Nora designed the remodel and selected furnishings; Nick paid for it.
» It’s time for Nora to start working; therefore, she and Nick will have an equal opportunity to enjoy the house.
How Stuck? Think Super Glue
My son, Willie, put a similar problem to his third-grade class. They were told there was one pony and two kids. Each child wanted and deserved the pony as much as the other. For reasons undisclosed, sharing was impossible. As the children were called on, each had a solution different from those already described. Willie’s class suggested 30 solutions to a problem essentially the same as yours. Thirty third-graders can solve a problem that flummoxes you.
The problem isn’t the problem. The problem is you, and that’s OK.
If a doctor told me that I had six months to live, I might say, “You’re kidding!” even though I know that it’s not the kind of joke most doctors make. My response comes from my inability to take in the information and to work through its implications. It might take me hours or months to accept that even though I don’t have much time to live, I am about to have experiences that will profoundly affect who I am.
This is not about the acceptance of death. That comes later. The first step in the Stage Model of Grief is the realization of the commencement of a “passage” that will result in deep personal change.
You can’t decide who is going to leave the family home because you aren’t ready to accept the reality of what you are about to experience. It’s as though you need and want to cross a river. You have one foot on the firm riverbank and the other on the first stone in the water. You don’t want to step back from the rock, but you are reluctant to abandon the security of the riverbank. That, too, is normal.
You are also stuck because you can’t divide your stuff. You tried, you got angry, you failed, and you felt discouraged and demoralized. You think, “If we can’t split the pots and pans, how will we be able to handle the more difficult problems?”
I suggested that you defer the division of stuff indefinitely, because each object in your house has a psychological charge that evokes memories and emotions. With the passage of time, the charge dissipates and the division becomes simple. With time, neither of you will want most of your things. In dividing the rest, you’re unlikely to seek a method that’s “fair,” because you will understand the subjective nature of “fairness.”
The ability to divide personal property with neither tears nor anger is a strong indicator that a couple’s divorce is “ripe” for full settlement.
Wait. Mother Nature will drive or lure one of you from the house to a place of sanctuary. When it happens, you’ll both feel a huge relief. It will be safe to experience your feelings and an opportunity to come to terms with being alone. At this point, your real journey begins.
Your best friend,
Bucky (who happens to be a) divorce lawyer
— 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, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 805.965.2888.