Posted by: itneverrainsinseattle | January 26, 2011

Divorce: Physical Separation

I suppose that many people have been thinking that the act of physical separation would be a major event in the unfolding divorce between Penny and myself. And while it certainly is a milestone, it hasn’t really been all that… profound. Rather, it’s been just another small step toward building our new lives. Forward, yes. Important, sure. But major? It certainly hasn’t felt that way.

If you’ve been following the story so far, you know that Penny and I are not divorcing because of infidelity, abuse, crime, or any of the many other spectacular reasons that we tend to ascribe to the breakdown of a marriage. Instead, it’s been one of those more mundane (and likely, more common) cases of irreconcilable differences: a lack of intimacy that has become unbearable over time. The fact that kids are involved has prolonged the marriage, and certainly complicates the divorce.

Having worked out a number of details and firmly committed to them during mediation, my soon-to-be-ex and I finally found new places to live and fixed a date for the Big Move. This “Big Move,” however, was really only that: having movers help to move the big items (furniture, appliances, and the like), while we saved on costs by deciding to move the less-big items ourselves. (A process that, alas, will take many, many trips and many, many boxes.)

Because of prior obligations with our oldest child’s team activities and the advantage of a day off of school, we moved the big stuff on a Sunday. While the kids had off school (and therefore, had a little time to become acquainted with one of their new houses) the following Monday, I did not. Besides, Penny has the kids on Mondays and Tuesdays, so after a busy day of moving on Sunday night, I left the kids with their mother after a family dinner together and set off to sleep at my new home alone.

There are a lot of interlocking parts that come with this kind of move, and it’s difficult to get everything to run quite as smoothly as you’d like. I had forgotten bedding at our familial home, so I had to make one more run for that and breakfast supplies (a spoon and bowl for cereal). By the time my head hit the pillow, I was well and truly exhausted. I slept. I woke up. I went to work. No big deal.

Monday evening, by prior agreement, I went to Penny’s house to help set up her new TV. We had both bought new HDTVs for our respective new houses, and they are just large enough to require help to set up. Our middle child asked their mother if I could stay for dinner, so I was invited, and I accepted. We set things up, we had dinner, and again I left the kids with their mother.

Now, I could go on and on with a laundry list-style description of each day’s events, but the basic gist is: what with the two of us having to meet at the old house to divide up the contents of our kitchen and pantry (a process that took days), and agreeing to help each other set up parts of our new homesteads (the TVs, internet routers, kid-related stuff, etc.), we had dinners as a family for almost all of the first week that we were out of our marital home. We have seen each other pretty much just as often as when we lived together.

This may actually help the transition for the boys. (More on that subject later.) But for all that, we seemed to still be functioning very similarly to when we lived together, there was (and remains) a fundamental difference:

We. Don’t. Live. Together.

It’s a difference that matters. Her house is her house. My house is mine. Our time is not yet quite our own — there is a great deal we still need to work on together, and there’s pressue to get it done quickly — but even our “time separation” is slowly starting to take shape.

For a number of reasons (mostly logistical), I took the kids for the first full weekend of our physical separation, and it went well. Penny has the kids for this coming weekend.

Here, however, I’m aware that there are some tricky waters to negotiate. One of my faithful readers commented on a previous post (Hi, ToppHogg):

“You will have to keep Sir Galahad on the sidelines while she copes with her new experiences, stepping in only when it’s clear that the welfare of your sons is affected – and only until she’s regained her stability and begins taking those first steps again.”

If I haven’t made it clear here in previous posts, let me say it directly now: I firmly believe that Penny is an excellent mother. And if our divorce is to proceed (and conclude) as amicably as it is starting out, it’s entirely because we are both focused upon doing what is best for the kids, and that means working things out with civility and consideration.

And yet, it’s also clear to me that while we are both overwhelmed with everything that has to be done in such a short period of time, she is particularly stressed out right now. Her temper with the kids is getting noticeably shorter. Her house is already a confusion of clutter and chaos.

Okay, okay… my house is cluttered and chaotic, too. And while her temper is noticeably shorter, it may well be that her reaction time is still catching up to my own. But as ToppHogg warned in his comment, I am wrestling with myself over wanting to take some of this burden from her. Here, let me take the kids again this weekend while you sort out the stuff you have to sort out. Here, if the phone company can’t fix this problem with your DSL, let me call them and get this worked out. (Recall that I’m the extrovert, and she hates talking to strangers on the phone.)

But while some of my desire to help stems from wanting her to deal with the kids from a position of stability, I realize that most of my desire to help is, well… habit. And even if that habit was originally forged out of love, I realize that now that it’s mostly rusted into place more out of guilt than anything else.

When my kids need to work on something — chewing with their mouth closed, for example — I talk to them about *practicing* doing things differently. That’s what I need to do now, myself. I need to practice letting Penny take care of herself, while I practice building a new life for myself. (Quite frankly, I’m getting some practice letting new people into my life, and I like it.)

It takes a conscious effort to break old habits. It takes practice to form new ones. I’m working on it. And I’m noticing as I go that this, too, is another baby step forward toward a new and better life for myself and the people in my life.

———-

There’s still so much else to tell: problems with our last mediation session, and how I addressed them afterwards; how my first few days having the kids over worked out; how life suddenly took a weird turn when (gasp) I got cable TV.

Look for another installment soon, but likely not Wednesday night or Thursday night. On those nights, I’ll be taking care of the kids. Rest assured, the kids are in good hands. And it’s good to be back here on the internet with you all. Thanks for staying with me.

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Responses

  1. I was very happy to allow my ex to take his finances when we separated. I was very tired of being the only responsible grown up regarding that. I was, however, reluctant to allow him to be a “thinking” father. On his own, figuring out what to do if they needed new clothing or if they were ill. I always had the answers. Then, through a series of events that left me feeling off kilter, he had to step up and think on his own. He….surprised me. But I had to allow it first instead of always taking care of it myself. Penny is going to have some breakdowns but she’ll survive. So will your kids. Continue to give her the chances to grow.

  2. Inris, I’m happy to hear from you. I am the walking poster child for an amicable divorce because Pat and I both knew it was what was best for Kelsea and the right way to honor having loved and made a life together for 25 years. It can be done and it sounds like you’re on a good path to doing it. ToppHogg is right about the Sir Galahad complex, and you are right about “habit”. It seems Penny doesn’t quite have the same complex as I did, the “I’m a big girl and I can do it myself” thing, which prevents me from asking for help from a big strong man, but perhaps that will come with growing physically separate from you. It will benefit her if you can kindly nurture that independence in her, and it will benefit you as well in many ways.

  3. I am so glad that you are finally out and onward…and I am sure it will take quite a bit of adjusting to, on both sides, but so far, it seems like you are both on the right track. Love that. So great for you!

  4. I found that the habits were the hardest to break. That instinct to jump in and help the ex with things I always took care of. I still catch myself stepping in to take care of things or reminding him of something btu I have to tell myself no. It takes time.

  5. Sounds like you are completely aware of what’s happening and what needs to happen. Honestly, that makes you so far ahead of the pack…I’m not worried about you at all.
    My prediction is you’ll be dating someone within 3 months, and that’s when you’ll really see a difference. As you stated, even with living apart, not that much has changed “yet”. Oh…but it will. And you’ll be fine!

  6. ooh, i know that “let me help” instinct WELL. i find myself fighting it on a regular basis. but that instinct is why i am now my ex-husband’s lawyer. i went to traffic court for him. i’m helping him with a long-term estate plan. i’m even helping his father (a lawyer in his own right) find some case law to support his position in his own divorce from my ex’s mother.

    wow. writing all that down made me really think about how sad this is. i think i need to untangle myself from all of this.

    • If I may be so bold, why ARE you still so tightly involved with your ex on a professional basis? I won’t go into a lot of detail about what I think as I hardly know you, but I’d feel better having more distance if I were in your situation.

  7. Remember when you set about to separate from Penny and all the obstacles that lay in your way? Well, now you’re making it happen. You live apart! It’s great to see how far you’ve come since then.

    I’m glad I’ve been able to follow you on this journey, and I look forward to watching it continue.

  8. You’re much more positve than I would be, but then I really, really hate packing, moving, and unpacking. But I guess that’s life summed up.

  9. Well, onward and upward, I say. Big hugs. You’ve got this.

  10. I won’t say much here, for you said what needs saying. Keep up the good work, and I’ll be watching for the next installment.

  11. It needn’t get ugly.
    Old habits die hard.
    Be true to yourself.

  12. I completely understand the feeling of needing to help out of guilt. I was always the one who took care of the finances, I knew when what bills were owed, how to pay them online, how to set up all of the online payments and RAB never took any interest in that. So for a period, I was still setting all of that up for him, paying them on his behalf etc. It’s hard to cut that cord especially when you feel guilty about leaving – which I did. I feel as though I don’t want to rock the boat though – until the divorce papers are signed. Glad to hear that things are moving along for you.


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