Is divorce the right decision?

We're about to separate: What if this is wrong?


Cary Tennis
October 6, 2010 4:30AM (UTC)

Dear Cary,

I am thrilled that you are back at the advice desk and your timing is perfect, as I have a serious issue in my life right now that I would really appreciate your advice on.

My husband of 17 years and I are about to separate and/or divorce. We have been on the brink before a number of times, especially in the past five years, as a result of some basic incompatibility and growing resentment and rancor. At the same time, we care for each other, have a teenage son and mutual assets, and are there for each other in the struggles of day-to-day life, an especially important thing to me, as I am quite reclusive and alone (by design or temperament, at least).

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Now we are truly at the threshold of separating, and for the past few weeks, during a period of relief and détente, I am wildly oscillating about whether I'm doing the right thing or the worse thing. On the one hand, I think I need to push myself to separate in order to fully experience the abyss of loneliness so that I will have to push myself to reconnect to life. On the other, I fear that my feelings of low self-worth, addictive tendencies and lack of assertiveness will result in my becoming further isolated, lonely and alone. I honestly am not sure how I will react when he is gone. I picture him walking out the door -- his kind, soulful self -- and I feel complete devastation and loss.

How does one know it's the right thing to do, Cary?

Dying to Grow Up

Dear Dying to Grow Up,

All you need to know now is that this is what you are doing. It is what you are doing so you want to do it well and completely.

Pay attention to how you are doing the separation. Pay attention to how you are taking care of your son. Pay attention to the financial matters involved. Pay attention to the ongoing relationship you will have with your husband, as you continue to care jointly for your son.

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Remind yourself that it is simply what you are doing.

Some questions are meaningless and cannot be answered and do not need to be answered. There are times when we just have to pay attention to what we are doing.There is no sense at this point in asking whether it is the right thing or the wrong thing. It is what you are doing. So do it well.

Feelings of doubt may arise. But you can choose how to respond to those feelings. You do not have to answer all the questions that pop into your head. They will torture you if you let them.

"Is this the right thing?" is a question that cannot be answered. A question that cannot be answered is not a question but a proposition, or a statement. So the proper reply is a rebuttal: "This is what I am doing, so I am doing it as well as I can."

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Underneath such a "question" may also be a commandment: "I command you to feel doubt about your action." Or "I command you to feel guilt." Or "I command you to cogitate needlessly over a meaningless proposition, one whose true value cannot be determined." The proper response to such a commandment is to refuse it: "No, I refuse to feel guilty. No, I refuse to cogitate needlessly. No, I refuse to be riddled with doubt."

You have made a courageous decision. You have decided to give yourself something you need. What you are getting -- this solitude, this breathing room, this challenge -- is priceless. So there is something to look forward to. And there is something to celebrate. You are giving yourself a gift. You are about to open it.


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Cary Tennis

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