It is not unusual that couples working through their divorce will be moving along in discussing major issues such as – what to do with their home, how to share their retirement savings, and how to create a parenting agreement that is good for the children – when suddenly, they get paralyzed over one small issue which may seem totally uninteresting to anyone else, but which creates a major stumbling block for them.
I recall a couple I worked with a while back: They had come to an agreement about sharing their time with their children, about where they were each going to live as well as how to deal with selling the marital home. These are all important issues.
Next they had to work out the division of the contents of the house. In addition to their furniture, they had put together a large library consisting mainly of art books that they had accumulated over the years. As they visited exhibitions, they purchased the catalogues, and as they travelled together to many different countries, they acquired books as mementos of their trips. When it came to dividing up their art books, they became completely stuck. The conversation turned much more contentious and seemed more painful than anything they had discussed thus far.
After all, they were only books, so why would that be?
When people go through divorce, they experience major loss:
- Loss of their partner
- Loss of their united family
- Loss of their dreams of a perfect married life
Splitting up the books became the symbol of these losses. It triggered emotions that were unbearable for each of them. The conversation was no longer a conversation, but a tense and agonizing discussion which reflected much of the pain of the divorce itself. It was more about all the other losses than about the books, but somehow the books carried with them good memories and shared interests. They were also part of their home; a symbol of the united family.
The couple would have to go through the exercise of listing all the books and trying to divide them up. With each book, they felt they were ripping out a piece of themselves, but as painful as it was, they got it done. In the end, it seemed to have had somewhat of a cathartic effect, and from that moment, they were better able to move on to the next step.
Why are some material possessions so difficult for us to give up, regardless of their material value? We spend many hours adding numbers, and assigning values to our homes, furniture and collectibles in order to divide them up “equitably.” However, the difficulties lie far beyond the equitable distribution of those material things. The break up, the loss of our partner, the loss of our dreams, of a united home – all of that has broken down and we may feel that we have lost ourselves as well, that we don’t know who we are anymore.
Ultimately every crisis we face can also become a learning experience. As we begin to put one stone on top of the other to rebuild our lives, we will find a new stronger self which will allow us to move forward.
jennifer safian. divorce and family mediator divorce and family mediation upper east side of manhattan (nyc) new york, ny (212) 472-8626 firstname.lastname@example.org connect on