Former spouses too often tethered by emotional ties

November 03, 1993|By Pamela Stone | Pamela Stone,Contributing Writer Los Angeles Times Syndicate

Although divorced for almost six years, Sidney Speer is still learning how to cut emotional ties with her ex-husband, Robert.

When confronting him to discuss their two children, she is ready for action. Armed with well-prepared notes, she states her case plainly, looks him directly in the eye and neatly folds her hands in her lap, lest he see them trembling.

"Although it is difficult, I try to maintain a distant relationship with Robert," says Ms. Speer, 44. When meeting him, "I talk to him as I would my CPA or my child's teacher.

"For my children's sake, he is someone important that I have to interact with, but I will no longer allow him to push my emotional buttons," she says.

"For the past 15 years in America," says Dr. Ken Dychtwald in the book, "Age Wave," for every two couples that have married, one couple has divorced." Because of this, many individuals are now forced to emotionally disentangle themselves from their ex-spouses in order to begin anew.

In "Rebuilding -- When Your Relationship Ends," Dr. Bruce Fisher says, "Disentangling is hard to do -- it's tough to let go of the strong emotional ties which remain from a dissolved love union."

Nevertheless, he adds, "It is important to stop investing emotionally in the dead relationship."

Dr. Fisher suggests to divorced individuals the importance of "taking out the trash -- or dumping leftovers from your past life and love relationship."

In Ms. Speer's case, she opted to handle her divorce herself. "Instead of hiring an attorney, I handled the litigation," she says. "I wanted to set a standard for my children. I didn't want them to see my husband and me fighting over money. I wanted them to see a crisis which we solved with dignity."

Gary Mann, 48, a commercial real estate broker, also feels the need of making a healthy break with his ex-spouse, Linda Mann, an engineer.

"When you are joined at the hip with your ex-spouse, because of your child, disentangling is hard," he says.

Mr. Mann, who divorced just eight months ago, has shared custody of his 4-year-old son, Austin. When his wife calls to discuss their son, he keeps the conversation short and impersonal.

"Having close contact with my ex-wife on a daily basis puts life in turmoil, and it makes it difficult for me to function," he explains.

RF Despite tension with his ex-wife, Mr. Mann never criticizes her in

front of his son. "Why let a 4-year-old child see this discord and assume guilt for our feelings?"

Mr. Mann also believes it's important for Austin to see his maternal grandmother regularly. "Although his mother and I are divorced, I would never interfere with Austin's relationship with his grandmother. He needs all the family contact he can get now," Mr. Mann says.

Marriage and family counselor Dr. Bruce Drobeck says that a legal divorce does not necessarily mean the individuals are emotionally separated.

"After divorce, a power struggle still exists with most couples -- and the children are often caught in the middle," he says. Often, spouses continue to push each other's emotional buttons. Some couples continue destructive behavior patterns which began early in their marriages."

To break this pattern, Dr. Drobeck suggests allowing for a natural grieving process -- "experiencing the feelings of denial, anger, loss, pain, guilt and later acceptance."

He suggests not dwelling too long in any stages of recovery. "If you spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about your ex or being angry, this will prevent you from getting on with your life."

After interviewing 60 families of divorce over a 15-year period, authors Judith S. Wallerstein and Sandra Blakeslee comment on how difficult it is to create an emotional distance from ex-spouses.

In their book, "Second Chances," there is no evidence, they say, that time automatically diminishes feelings or memories; that hurt or depression are overcome; or that jealousy, anger and outrage will vanish.

People are more likely to succeed after divorce if he or she has some history of competence, the authors say, or some earlier reference points to serve as a reminder of independence and success.

For all, "Recovery from crisis is an active process. It involves active effort, planning and the ability to make constructive use of new options and to move ahead," conclude Ms. Wallenstein and Ms. Blakeslee.

Six years after her divorce, Ms. Speer, 44, has become a professional litigator. She handles her clients with ease and has learned to communicate more efficiently with her ex-husband. "After years of feeling like I was jumping through hoops to meet my husband's emotional demands, it is nice to feel free and in control," she says.


* Letting go: Stop investing emotionally in the dead relationship. Begin investing in personal growth, which will help in working your way through the divorce process.

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