Hey, Spike,

I heard from Mary all about what happened at Wednesday’s lunch. I share your enmity toward Pinky’s behavior and wrote to him immediately. I said a couple of things to him I’ll now say to you.

The first has to do with the entire divorce experience and what it does to anyone who endures it.

There is a continuous series of choices — both of attitude and of behavior. One choice moves you toward becoming a “better” person than you were at the outset. Of course, I don’t know how you or anyone else becomes a “better person,” but I think you have probably figured it out for yourself.

The other choice moves you toward becoming a person whose negative traits and characteristics get permanently amplified. Pinky has just taken a giant step in that direction.

I also told him that, in addition to plunking down $25,000 to $50,000 for a lawyer who will be as mean as his lawyer, he could expect you to pull a “double-tit-for-tat” that’s going to be terrible. The message should keep him awake at night.

I know he read the letter I sent because he called to explain his behavior. To his credit, he doesn’t blame the incident on his lawyer. He says he didn’t know about specifics, but he hired her to hurt you, so he wasn’t surprised when she did what she was paid to do.

This type of anger and rage is the second stage of any divorce, and those emotions will somehow be expressed.

Pinky explains that his rage was catalyzed when he found three of six bottles of massage oil had been removed from the bedroom you once shared with him. Because of the nature of the items taken and the fact that you still have a key to the house, he thinks it was you who took the oil. (I do, too. You should no longer have a key to the house. You both need a “safe” place to grieve and to figure out what this experience is going to mean to you.) To Pinky, the removal of the massage oil seems like your way of rubbing in his face the fact that you either are or are about to “be in the arms of another.”

Pinky admits that a divorce is the best thing for both of you, but when he thinks of you being with someone else in a physical way, it makes him sick. He claims that before he hired his mean divorce lawyer, he spent the night throwing up over what was implied by the missing massage oil.

I said, “You’re going to spend more nights throwing up as you wait for Spike’s payback. You and I both know it will be worse for you than any of us can imagine. Several of Spike’s friends are excited in anticipation of her vengeance because they think it will be on behalf of all divorcing wives who have been mistreated.”

Pinky replied, “She can’t hurt me anymore.”

He knows that isn’t true and, in an odd way, he wants you to be able to hurt him because it means you’re still together. So your revenge isn’t his biggest problem. Pinky’s rage is inspired by loss, but it isn’t about you. Your removal of the oil acted as a catalyst (I suspect you knew it would): The mean lawyer was a vehicle, and you were a lightening rod.

However, Pinky’s rage is about what Pinky doesn’t like in himself; the extreme expression of his rage means that what he doesn’t like is big. As long as he can pretend it’s about you, he can ignore what’s under his own rock — which most of us prefer to do if possible.

One reason none of us wants to disappoint friends and acquaintances is to preserve the persona we’ve created over the years. You usually seem content with being the “smartest and toughest kid on the playground,” but you have told me more than once how hard it is to be a person who is never wrong and who can never let her guard down. You have friends and acquaintances who will act in subtle ways to keep you in this role because it’s how you fit into their lives.

When you do whatever you do to retaliate, it will allow Pinky to shift his focus from himself to you. If you continue to focus on him rather than on yourself, the two of you will go on with the “dance” you’ve been doing for so long. Is this what you want? If so, reconsider the decision to divorce. If you want to stop dancing with Pinky, you’ll have to let him go. It means you’ll have to stop kicking his butt and then look under the rock.

As I’ve said before and will say again, the divorce experience is one of the few opportunities we have to really change who we are — even if the change disappoints the onlookers. This isn’t a plug for divorce, because it is, among other things, excruciatingly painful. But the positive side is the potential for change, either in spite of or because of the pain.

With love,

Your friend Bucky

— 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 info@burkefamilylaw.com.