Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Six Steps to Recovery from a Later-in-Life Divorce. Maria, are you listening?

Maria Shriver and her husband Arnold Schwarzenegger are likely to end their 25-year marriage with the announcement that they are living apart as they "work on their future."  With a power couple like this maybe it's no surprise that now that the children are nearly grown (the youngest is 13) that they no longer have the chemistry, the need to stay together. Maybe Maria is just fed up. (Turns out Arnold was boffing the hired help and has an out-of-wedlock son. That's pretty much an insurmountable issue.)
Here's my take. Arnold will have no problem moving on. Like many wealthy and powerful men, he's always been pretty self-contained. At his age, 63, maybe he has the need to go back in time to find the excitement and creative energy that he enjoyed when he was 25 years younger. He already dyes his hair, has a perpetual tan and plenty of money. Arnold will go on being Arnold. The tabloids will have a great time tracking him down with some new good-looking younger woman. Believe me, the new women will be younger. They will see Arnold as a powerful "catch" and he will like they way they look on his arm.
So what is Maria at age 55 going to do? In a recent YouTube video she seemed much more tentative about making "a transition," finding new meaning in her life. My guess is that her relationship with her children is more complex than the one they have with their father. They love him but maybe right now, they hate him.
Hers is a much bigger "what's next."
No. 1: Make sure you are on solid financial ground. Yes, you're independently wealthy but do you understand how your money is invested, how it is being spent and what your household income and budget needs will be as you step out on your own? Many women like you have had other people taking care of the details. Many smart wealthy women have been taken advantage of because they trusted someone too much.
 Don't be in a rush to settle up with Arnold. He's got billions. Make sure that you get your fair share in light of your own assets. Don't make it too easy for him or for his accountants or even your own accountants.
It's your money, your life!
No. 2: Build a routine that keeps your mind busy. Whether you go back to work as a newscaster, write a book, start a new nonprofit foundation, make sure you have a routine. Get your sleep, even if you need a prescription to help. Rest makes coping with the rest of it a lot easier. Build exercise into your daily routine.
No. 3: Get some good therapy. You're Catholic, so you've already got a lot of guilt running around. A good therapist can help you sort out the truth about yourself, your marriage partner and the relationship. A good therapist can help focus on getting through the "real" breakup, the divorce process, one day at a time.  Divorce can be devastating even for the strongest women, especially if you worked hard at being "the good wife." No, I don't mean that you looked the other way but that you really worked at the partnership. You loved your husband. You hung in there. Working at a marriage is what it's all about, right?  When you believe that you've done more than your share in a 25-year marriage that's ending, there's a chance bitterness will creep into your heart. Now that we know about the illicite child, you'll be reevaluating the past 10 years with that other woman in your house. You'll be asking yourself why you were such a fool? Is this what I deserve after all that I put up with? Why has it been so easy for him?
Work it through, grieve, feel the pain. Surround yourself with people who understand this. Make sure the therapist that you work with is skilled in the grief process and familiar with the  issues of betrayal, abandonment and rejection. This is a whole different ball game than grieving over a spouse that dies or dealing even with an amicable divorce where everyone agrees it's for the best. You were betrayed in the most personal way one human being can be betrayed.
No. 4: Stay close to people who can help. You may find that some friends are uncomfortable with the whole breakup thing and can't help. Others will be true blue. They're the ones who can listen appropriately, who avoid saying things like "cheer up" and who know the deep hurt of it all, no matter who is at fault. Make a list of those friends and call them regularly. On that list may be a higher power. Deep and thoughtful prayer brings us in touch with the mystery of life. There may be no out-loud answers, but there is comfort in the deeper thought that is a part of prayer. (The value of consistent prayer is not that He will hear us, but that we will hear Him. ~William McGill)
No. 5: Trust your instincts. Your future will not be revealed to you in some sort of epic curtain rise. It comes slowly as you adjust to your singlehood and find out what you really enjoy doing, thinking about. There will be surprises. You may find yourself doing something you've never done before --- visiting Detroit, Michigan for the very first time in your life, for instance. Or floating Oregon's Rogue River in September.
It's OK that you don't know what you're doing next. What's around the corner.
No. 6: If you've enjoyed being married, get married again. Men certainly don't waste much time being alone. Most men simply can't live alone. Women have more ability in this area, which is a good thing since so many of us will end up on our own in our 80s and certainly in our 90s. Honestly, finding someone new who has similar interests, likes life and has a good marriage track record is very rewarding. Trust your friends in that department.
Likely who you meet will be more your age. That's a good thing. You will like the same rock n roll bands. And oh Maria...gain some weight. You look haggard. Let go and be real. Eat a few potato chips, drink a beer. Change is scary, sometimes sad,but it can also be exciting.
"It is a long baptism into the seas of humankind, my daughter. Better immersion than to live untouched." - Tillie Olsen.

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