The Kübler-Ross model or as it’s commonly known The Five Stages of Grief says that individuals go through five distinct emotional states when faced with the reality of tragedy, most notably loss from death. These stages, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance can occur in a predictable and logical order, randomly, or in other cases, though rarely, not at all. Anyone who has dealt with the loss of a loved one or family member can appreciate the painful truth behind this theory.
The ending of a marriage, arguably, is one of the most devastating losses any person can suffer. It’s been said by many that divorce is even worse than death. Oddly enough I think that’s because death may be softest option the mind and heart has to grasp why the other person left the relationship. Yet regardless of one’s own sentiment, it’s hard to deny the suffering that divorce does impart, not only to the chief participants, but the children and extended family, all of which gets punctuated by the length the agony can linger.
My marriage ended in early 2005 and was immediately followed with the discovery that its main inspiration had been a secret affair that became public immediately after the judge signed the papers. Reflecting back on the months up to and following that event I find similarities between my emotional state and Kübler-Ross Model. If anything, divorce is surely a roller coaster ride.
The recovery road of divorce is different for everyone. Each experience is shaped by a host of influences including who asked and who was asked, the root cause of the separation, and the level of viciousness the divorced reached. And while each path may well be different, there are certain stops we all make along the journey. Many refer to these stops as stages, others label them seasons, and I prefer to call them battles. I dislike the concept of season as it implies we are helpless to do anything about the situation, much like the weather, and instead we must fold our hands and wait for the storm to pass. ‘Battle’ provides a level of hope that, while likely to be difficult, there is opportunity to vanquish the enemy.
With my divorce eight years in the rearview mirror, underscored with the fact that my children were each under three years old when I became a single dad, I have narrowed these battles into what I believe are the seven every single, and specially divorced, parent must fight – and win.
These battles are, entitlement, fear, loneliness, anger, regret, guilt, and vengeance.
From my experience I’ve learned they can be waged on several fronts against multiple foes at the same time then be followed by periods of peace and tranquility – only to flare back up again. For some, certain battles may seem more like skirmishes while others feel like D-Day on the beaches of Normandy. Many battles rage on for years while others erupt in aggressive fighting then quickly dissipate. And lastly and from first hand experience; defeating of one can, and often does, serve only to make way for another.
If asked to pinpoint my emotional state immediately following my divorce, after watching the dismantling of life, as I knew it, I would admit I suffered an enormous sense of entitlement. This was due in large measure to three things. First, I didn’t ask for the divorce. Second, the financial implications as a result were tremendous. Third, I believe I made the deepest sacrifices. And on top of it all was a layer of victimization fueled by falsely thinking I had no part to play.
This sense of entitlement manifest itself in several ways. To begin, I felt I had suddenly been awarded Double Jeopardy at being wrongly convicted and punished for a crime I didn’t commit. As a result I gave license to act in whatever way I chose without regard for who might get hurt in the process. Secondly, I made the end all of my existence my own happiness and pleasure, I believed the last ten years of my life had now been for nothing and I was intent on making up for what I missed out on. And lastly, to justify it all, any morals I may have possessed were promptly thrown out the window; as far as I was concerned doing the right thing had gotten me nowhere so what was the point.
At its most fundamental a feeling of entitlement leads us to make only those choices that serve our own best interests no matter the cost to others. A divorced parent will abandon their children because of another relationship; mothers will leverage their kids to maintain control post divorce while fathers will use money to the same ends, and in each case acting so because they feel entitled.
Yet the most significant concern with entitlement lays in this; we begin to see others not for who they are but only for what they can do for and give to us. Viewing life through this worldview, when motives are based upon our own self-interests, inherently leads to shallow choices that ultimately foster deep regrets. It has taken years of my own personal growth to realize the hurt I caused others and myself because of that shameless and self-righteous attitude – decisions that having been made can never be undone.
I believe it’s the men who fight this battle of entitlement the longest. More often the divorce wasn’t their choice, but when they finally come to accept the end of the marriage is when they, much like I did, go into a dispensation tale spin feeling as if life has given them a raw deal and the world owes the bill.
It’s a common piece of advice and one I thoroughly agree with, a new divorcee should stay out of any relationship for the first twelve months. And the feeling of entitlement is usually the reason why. In this emotional state men may begin viewing women as the prescription of choice to get over their loss – but instead of calling it entitlement they mistakenly refer to it as freedom. But like any drug when the benefits begin to wear off whatever was getting him by soon gets discarded for something more potent.
There is only one way I know of to win the battle against this, but a word of caution, it isn’t a pleasant pill to swallow. Eliminating a sense of entitlement after a divorce, brought about with the thinking of ‘look what I went through!’, requires us to admit that the divorce didn’t happen in a vacuum and confessing we are also guilty and had a part to play.
Until we can fully and sincerely admit to this, which starts by putting our pride on the shelf, we are destined to continue fighting that loosing battle, and in so doing, minimize any chances we have of ever moving on.
This is the 1st in a series of posts by the same name, to read the others go to Seven Battles.