I want a divorce! (What do I do?)

I'm pretty sure this is what I want, but I'm stuck on how to do it.

By Cary Tennis

Published November 3, 2008 11:33AM (EST)

Dear Cary,

I've been meaning to write. The way you mull over people's problems and, in the cogitation, make things clearer is a skill I wish I had. Mostly I feel lost no matter how much thinking I do about any given problem. I've not written in the past, though I've been struggling with this question for a long, long time, because my people don't do such things. We don't get noticed or chosen or draw attention to ourselves unless the house is on fire. I think I've reached that point.

I need to know how to get a divorce. I understand the particulars, or I'm fairly sure I can figure them out: the separating of the house, the telling of the families and close friends, the calling of the lawyers. I just don't know how to actually go about doing any of it. I am generally resourceful. When presented with a problem, I do some thinking and come up with a solution or two, or three. I've never been a huge fan of putting major life plans into motion, though I've managed well enough ... I've got some degrees and a decent job. But change is not my strong suit.

I'm at that place, though. In the many other letters I've drafted to you in my head I've explained all the reasons why, hoping that there was hope that I wasn't really where I'm at. I don't want to be divorced. I don't want to leave this house that I've built so much of with my own two hands. I don't want to put off, even longer, having the kids I really, really want. And the dog. Dear God, I don't want to leave my dog. But there it is. I need to go -- I'm done denying that, I think, even though writing it down makes it quite hard to breathe.

So how do I wake up tomorrow and begin? How do I let go of being married? I am terrified that this was my chance, and I blew it. Where do I look to learn that this isn't the case ... or, if it is, where do I look for reassurance that I'll be all right anyway? Because I really wanted this. And I tried, hard.

I know this letter must seem so powerfully naive. I admit that I never really knew how to be married. It's no surprise I'm where I'm at. I'm just so exhausted from trying to know things I don't know. How do I do this one more thing I don't know how to do?


Dear How?

Good. You have written it down. You have taken the first step. You have admitted to yourself what the truth is. It made it hard to breathe. So breathe.

Now you are in a precarious state. You now carry secret knowledge. But as you read this you are still safe. No one knows you have reached this point.

There are a few more steps you can take without exposing yourself. So, when you read this, take the following action. Think of a time when you can be alone in a safe place with a pen and paper for an hour. Schedule this time. Find this time. It may be in the house or in some cafe or it may be in your car parked somewhere. Find an hour of solitude to put down on paper all the reasons you want this divorce. Include painful things your spouse may have done to you, desires you have that are not fulfilled, dreams you have that you fear will never be realized, specific irreconcilable differences, and also recurring feelings you may have toward your spouse, feelings of discontent, outrage, boredom, contempt, incredulity, hurt, shame, etc. Put down the things that your spouse has done that you just could not believe, things that seemed, in your private heart, to seal the deal for you, things in response to which, privately, you said: That's it! No one could live with a person like this! No one should have to! That's it! This marriage is finished!

Do this. This is your evidence. This is your argument. This is the sum of your soul.

I say do this first because if you plunge in without summing up for yourself why you must do this, you may be blindsided when these things arise later in the heat of argument. You are embarking on a wrenchingly difficult emotional journey. I am helping you prepare. The wonderful thing about preparing in private is that you can take as much time as you need. Once you announce your plans to your spouse, events may overtake you.

The next step can also be taken in private. I think you will need two advocates. You will need a counselor and you will need a lawyer. So your next step is to schedule yourself another hour somewhere private where you have access to information such as a phone book and reference books. Perhaps your local library is the place for this. Go to your library -- or other anonymous place where you can look at information resources, including, I suppose, the Internet, if your computer is secure and not shared -- and look at the ads for divorce lawyers. Write down the names of a few who appeal to you. Also look at the ads for marriage and family counselors. Write down, say, five names and phone numbers for each one. Then, before you are finished here, again schedule your next step. Your next step will be to contact at least two or three of these five, either by e-mail or phone.

Let me say this: If there is any chance that your e-mail may be read by your spouse, do not e-mail. If you share e-mail accounts, or if your spouse has access to your computer, or occasionally uses it, or if you even suspect that for any reason your spouse might need to look in your computer for something and accidentally come across your e-mail, do not use e-mail. Instead, go somewhere and use a phone. If you are concerned about receiving a call back from a lawyer or therapist at home, where you might be with your spouse, do not give your home number. Keep all of this preparatory activity safe and private.

Make appointments with a counselor and also with a lawyer. With the lawyer, just ask for a basic overview of what would be involved in getting a divorce. The lawyer would probably ask you about your finances, your property and your children, if any. From this meeting you could gain an outline of your options and their consequences. Take notes. Thank the lawyer and say you will be in touch after you make a final decision.

With the counselor, just say that you are committed to having a divorce, but that you want to be prepared, emotionally, and so you want to share your reasons with someone supportive but objective, so that when these issues may arise in conversation with your spouse, you will not fall prone to unexpected fits of anger, shame or confusion. The counselor should be able to help you prepare. You will also want to discuss with the counselor: How do I begin? How do I inform my spouse? What do I do next?

You have been wise, so far, in keeping this to yourself. By taking the time to go through these preliminary steps in private, you give yourself time to prepare. It is wise to know all of the things that are driving you, to understand your own disappointments and desires, before you begin the divorce proceedings. You are wise to explore not just your complaints but your deepest desires, for part of wanting the divorce is about wanting a particular kind of life.

Part of wanting a divorce is also, let's face it, a desire to flee. You may feel that there are so many problems and life is so empty of satisfaction that you must simply start over. You may fervently wish simply to be done with it, to move on, to get out. These are deep psychic wishes, dream wishes, the wishes of the heart to be anywhere but here, somewhere with big winds and high surf and no people, or somewhere we could sit in front of our own fire in our own campsite and just listen to the crickets. Many of us have dreams of solitude and escape. I know these feelings. I know these feelings well. I, a married man, am a restless, moody, questing, impatient man, and it often seems the thing to do to just wander out to the road and put out my thumb and not come back, but I have seen too many of my family's men unable to stay in marriage, and they end up alone, or wandering, and it saddens me, and I see around me the men who have not been able to withstand the pain of connection and have retreated to SRO hotels and rooms in houses among aging bachelors who listen to aging music and drink last year's beer, and it fills me with sadness, the isolation and despair of it, the loneliness of it, and the cowardice, too, at times, I will say, for it would be easier at times to just say fuck it all and get on a bus and go where nobody knows you though especially for those of us who find it hard to plan, we are not likely to find it better anywhere on our own, and this is plain, and we do tend to overlook our good fortune and magnify our despair, so I try to work through stuff, hard as it is, counterintuitive as it is, against the grain of my heritage of wanderers and misfits. So I try. I try to work stuff out. I go for weeks being hardly here, off in my own private Idaho, for that is what I learned to do from the men in my family when I am hurt or afraid: I learned to go off somewhere, to tend to my wounds in the woods, to sit among the desolate rocks, to grieve alone, or create elaborate worlds into which I retreat like a child. My wife must wonder sometimes where I go. I'm sure she does. I go away but I do not leave. I am still around, somewhere, though hard to contact.

I do not put this forward as an argument against divorce. I only say this because the specific, particular hurts, betrayals and disappointments that have led to your desire for divorce may well become startlingly vivid to you and others as you pursue this, and will remain so after this is concluded, so you are well served to investigate them now, before you make your plans known. This is a service to your spouse as well, for if you yourself do not understand these things fully, you will not be able to make them understandable to anyone else.

This, in turn, will clear the way for the larger questions before you: What kind of life am I trying to have? How will my life be different when I am divorced? What sorts of freedom do I need, and what will I do with it?

Considering divorce? Read p. 6, 246, and 314 ...

Heck, just read the whole book!

"Since You Asked," the best of Cary Tennis, signed first editions on sale now.

What? You want more advice?


Cary Tennis

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