When do you say when?

Being a divorce/custody lawyer certainly opens one’s eyes to the possibilities and depths of despair in the world of relationships.

Once people commit to each other, they form a whole lot of ties that while easy to break in one way, as in, “Get your lame ass out of here,” they’re much harder to break in other ways.

For example, the woman I met last night who hates winter, hates snow, but her child’s father is entrenched here, and she can’t move (with the child) more than 25 miles away from him, thanks to their court order. Or the joint credit card that now has a balance of $20K that you had so much fun running up together, but neither of you can afford to pay it off. Or the mortgage on a house that you just can’t allow to foreclose because you need your credit rating for the next job you want to apply for. These days, a lot of couples are staying together because they can’t afford to live separately in this economy, especially if they have children.

Even women in abusive relationships find it difficult to leave, for many reasons that the average person doesn’t always understand. It’s hard to say “when.” Or in the words of Neil Sedaka, Breaking Up is Hard to Do.

A column at Discovery Health by Coulson Duerksen lists 10 things to consider when you’re trying to make that decision, including the existence of mutual benefit, avoidance and an imbalance of participation/contribution.

Even Oprah.com weighs in on this subject.

This being said, anyone who believes that a relationship will always be happy and unstressed is on better drugs than the rest of us. Ups and downs are a natural part of any relationship, and many factors play into that roller coaster, including seasonal affect problems, past baggage, holiday expectations and the effect of family members on the needs and demands of the relationship.

Those of my readers who have children on the autism spectrum know the demands that special need places on their families. One author says that “Oprah, Jenny McCarthy, and many others cite enormously high divorce rates among parents with autism. Those rates seem to range from 80-90%…” She goes on, as Missy points out, to show that figure to be some mystical number from who knows where–but the fact remains that among the parents of autistic children that I have spoken with in the western PA area and also online, the divorce rate is better than 50%.

That’s huge, my friends.

Considering how much more those children need the support and commitment of their parents, you’d think that would hold the families together. Sadly, the opposite seems to be true.

So many people inch along the border of saying “when,” sublimating their unhappiness for these and other reasons. My nurse-practitioner friend of many years would scold them if she could, sharing one of her favorite sayings, “Life is not a dress rehearsal.” True enough. How much time are these adults willing to waste before moving on, if it’s really time? A month? Six months? A year? Six years?

I’ve had clients dribble away years, waiting. Waiting till the car’s paid off. Waiting till the kids are grown and out of school (which might actually be worse on the children: see here). Waiting until…sometimes until their partner dies. Are their own lives really that unimportant that they can afford to choose not to live them?

When do you say when?

Amazing Avatar

If one picture is worth a thousand words, there aren’t enough words in the world to describe the impact of Avatar in 3D.

INcredible. UNbelievable. World-building at its finest–kudos James Cameron and the hundreds of people who made this movie. All three of our autists/ADD babies sat through every minute without one single squirm WITH the 3-D glasses firmly in place. Unbelievable squared.

MUST SEE. More than once, I hope.

When superior is actually worse

A theme I hear increasing in my female clients’ divorce filings is the fact that they feel they do the lion’s share of work in the marriage. Many of them have work outside the home, many of them full-time, but they also end up with a full-time job at home, too. And their husbands let them handle it all.

When I look back at my grandparents’ generation, there seemed to be a much clearer division of labor. The men were usually responsible for what happened outside: checking and maintaining the cars, mowing the grass (but not planting the flowers, of course!), shoveling the driveway, taking out the garbage. Innate tendencies toward pyromania could be disguised by burning of trash and occasional searing of meat products on the old grill. The woman traditionally took care of the indoor tasks, cleaning, cooking and laundry, as well as whatever child care didn’t involve throwing some kind of ball at a helpless child expected to learn to catch it.

But as the years passed, those lines became less firm. Many men believe it is still their job to go out and provide for their family, and they concentrate their efforts in 10-hour days and bonus checks. At the same time, we did in fact experience the 1970s and women’s lib, and women now are out building careers as well. Or, as for many of my clients, they don’t have one of those men who think they should work, and as single mothers, they have to work to support their own families.

When I was a single mother, I found it much easier to regulate the “team.” I had certain jobs and the girls had certain jobs, and I just told them what to do, and it got done. But with a husband, that’s not quite the same. When you’re a parent, you’re in a superior position; as a spouse, you expect to be equal.

Reading recently, I found this article: Are Power Struggles Ruining Your Relationship? in Redbook Magazine. The article draws on a book called The Superior Wife Syndrome by psychologist Caren Rubenstein, and lays out Rubenstein’s belief that if women end up doing everything, it’s not only their own fault, but it could lead to the death of the marriage.

Many women in relationship are better managers. Their multi-tasking strengths are greater. They are better at seeing “the big picture:” who needs to be where, when; who’s due for doctor appointments, how to get a load of laundry in before the kids have school-day breakfast so the hot water can recharge in time to take a shower after the bus leaves, then load the dishwasher before running out the door to get to work, that sort of thing.

So it would seem natural that if you’re better at it, that your partner will defer to your superior ability.

The article/book go on to talk about how this seems like a simple solution, but actually contributes to the wife internally boiling as she carries the huge majority of tasks, while the husband sees everything skating along and thinks everything is just fine. With those blinders on, the situation only gets worse.

The solution, they say, is really to go back to my earlier team idea: let go of the idea that you both should be able to magically understand what needs to be done for a successful household. Tell your partner (specifically) what you want them to do, then let them handle it without interference, no matter how painful it might be to watch. Once you delegate the task, coming in with a rescue helicopter doesn’t teach your partner any more than it would teach your child. Sometimes, they’ll fail. Hopefully, they’ll learn. Everyone does, sooner or later.

In the words of Booth Tarkington: An ideal wife is any woman who has an ideal husband.

It takes two, my friends, it takes two.

No more resolutions

“Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right.”

— Oprah Winfrey

I have been consumed this past month with so many projects in addition to my usual work, once the madness of NaNoWriMo wrapped up: the Captain’s adventures on the road to mental health, covering my office while my secretary trained for her new part-time job elsewhere, the business of being a grandmother and sewing all those little doll clothes. And a Chicago Cubs blanket.

Even as I drag myself along into 2010, weary from the events, I am not displeased with my holidays. M and her family are here from Florida (What? you ask. In December?? Shouldn’t that go the other direction?! But then she always was contrary.) and we’ve had a nice week-long visit–perhaps the last for some time, as she expects their Navy brood will be transferred overseas in the coming year. The American Girl style doll clothes were a hit, enough for five girls and their dolls. We’ve had family, fun, food, and I’ve earned the exhaustion. All the same, I wouldn’t change it.

I know it’s the season for resolutions, but I think I’ve moved past those. After 50-odd years, you should know yourself pretty well. If you’re going to change, you will; swearing to an extreme on the first day of the year doesn’t necessarily make it happen.

And, for all intents and purposes, I’m not terribly unhappy with the sort of person I am. Sure, I should exercise more. I should lose some weight. I should be a better parent and grandmother. I pray I can do all those things, as well as really apply myself to writing, which I truly enjoy. I also hope I can do all those things in my own time and with joy, not setting myself to fail and then beating myself up when I don’t succeed.

So I wish for all of you the same: a year when you can become exactly what you want to become, to be with those you want to be with, to do the things you enjoy, and the opportunity, indeed, to get it right.