Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Successful Un-Marriage

When you cannot sustain a successful marriage, how 'bout trying for a successful divorce? Not exactly my goal when Drew and I married almost 15 years ago, but sometimes things turn out very different than you think they will—for better and for worse.
   For those who have never been through the process of divorce, let me assure you of this: You do not want to do it! No one enjoys parsing out one's life on paper with the help of attorneys who charge $200+ an hour. That said, perhaps a good exercise to undertake before getting married would be to go through the process of divorce and see what it does to your relationship. Sound weird? Well, think about it. When you get married, you are planning for an uncertain future. You hope for the best. Perhaps you even have specific goals in mind. You think you know your intended spouse well enough to spend the rest of your lives together, and you take a great leap of faith.
   Divorce is the converse of this, and a lot more pragmatic. You know you do not have a future together. You admit it, and yet—and I'm talking specifically about when children are involved—you sit down and map out a specific plan for how the future will unfold, with respect to finances, child rearing and property holdings. In the process of divorce, my soon-to-be-ex and I have discussed many topics that were never brought up during our marriage. Of course some topics, such as, policies about "overnight guests in the home when the child is present," were not relevant when we intended to continue our marital union. E-hem! Other topics, that will remain nameless, we should have spent more time discussing while we were married, and had we, perhaps we would not be going through the process of divorce now. But even with all the reasons that brought us to this point where we are ending our legal commitment to each other, in the process of divorce, we are reaffirming our commitment to our son. The splitting up of assets means very little to me, the splitting of our son—well, that's a different matter. We are doing everything in our power—short of staying married—to make sure he will be okay, spiritually, emotionally and physically.
   The fact that Drew and I are actually getting along better now that we are divorcing is enigma to most people who have been through this process. I can't tell you how many friends have voiced their utter shock that we are even still speaking to each other only six months out from our initial blow-out. Yes, it is unusual. I have friends with children who divorced decades ago and haven't had a meaningful conversation with their ex-spouse since. If children aren't involved, I can understand it completely. You just need to move on and the ex is no longer part of your life in any way—except as a footnote to your history. But with kids in the mix, I'm not sure how you completely divorce yourself from the father or mother of your child/children. Honestly, that's hard for me to comprehend, although I do realize that the hurt and grief and anguish brought about by the ending of a marriage—and the betrayal of vows, even if that act of betrayal is simply not wanting to uphold the marriage vows until death do we part—is certainly enough to schism any relationship.
  Fortunately, Drew and I have decided to opt for a successful un-marriage and what we may end up with is an ideal relationship, at least in Buddhist terms. 
   Marriage is a tricky union for those who practice Buddhism. It is, in fact, the antithesis of what Buddhism prescribes since marriage usually begets attachment and expectation. Attachment or craving is the root of suffering in this world. When we crave anything—an ice-cold martini, hot sex, a Godiva truffle, the meat-lovers pizza from Jim Davenport's, the end of despair and loneliness—we fall into the trap of attaching ourselves to desire. In other words, we must have this person, place or thing to be happy. That is folly because what occurs once we have what we longed-for is that we are only sated for a brief time. The desire will return again and again, with the only recourse being quenching it. It is an endless, and unhappy, cycle. 
   Why do we desire what will ultimately make us unhappy when it is gone? Simple. We are human and we think we need a certain things in our lives to make us happy: money, a house, a car, someone to bring us flowers, someone to listen, someone with whom to share life's joys and fears. In a marriage inspired by romantic love, we heap all sorts of desires and attributes onto our spouse. They are ours by rite of vows. We promise to love, honor and obey—or whatever vows you may have made up in your hippy-dippy attempt to circumvent the word obey because you felt that was antiquated and sexist. By binding ourselves to another above all else, we are setting ourselves up for a fall of epic, Humpty Dumpty proportions. Still, our culture believes that marriage is the best, most civil way of coupling, for owning property, for filing taxes and, yes, for raising children. Legally, this all makes perfect sense. 
   But let's face it, we typically get married because we think by entering into an exclusive commitment with the person we love—or think we love—marriage will make us happy. And we probably would all be happily married until death do we part, if it weren't for little caveat: everything changes. Life is not static. People are not static. We change and grow even if it is not apparent to ourselves. Even the most stalwart, status quo, dyed-in-the-wool, this-is-who-I-am-take-me-or-leave-me individual is going to change from moment to moment, physically, emotionally and intellectually. Right now, my cells are different than they were a minute ago. Biology is what it is. Even when I am sitting in meditation—especially when I am sitting in meditation!— I am constantly taking in new information, which shapes my thoughts and intellect. And anyone who knows me, knows that my emotional range is that of a well-trained opera diva. I can hit any high or low note on cue, but that reactive nature changes too, based on daily experiences and (now) on Buddhist practice. 
   Understanding that all beings change constantly, how can we possibly expect to maintain a committed relationship for any length of time? To help answer that question, I'm going to defer to an expert on the subject who has a far greater understanding of Buddhism and relationships than I do, Susan Piver. Piver is a best-selling author, mediation expert and practitioner of Buddhism. She attended Shambhala Buddhist seminary. She's a pro. And she's married. She wrote a great piece on the topic of marriage and Buddhism for the Huffington Post last year, and in it she says that "finding love is not the endpoint," rather it is just a point in time when you determine that you will journey forward with a single person through all the changes that life hurls at you. "The relationship never stabilizes, ever. In which case you can't actually promise each other anything." 
   Okay, maybe that's not a great case for marriage after all—at least not in the stereotypical sense of marriage in our culture. But maybe Piver is onto something when it comes to defining what makes a successful relationship between two people who are committed to each other. No attachment. No emotional clinginess. No heaping upon expectations on each other. Just unconditional love and compassion, and feeling an affinity and respect for one another that is just there. It's sounding pretty hippy-dippy, but that is the nature of true loving kindness in Buddhist practice. And following the most basic of Buddhist principles, we should extent this warm, glow to everyone—not just one person who we have plucked from obscurity to be our dearest, beloved.
   Considering the Buddhist principles, perhaps Drew and I are actually on a path to a better, healthier relationship and one that will be enduring and loving beyond any spoken vow. Just because we have determined that we are no longer compatible as husband and wife, does not mean we cannot maintain a loving relationship as Jack's parents. In fact, that bond is greater than any vow—secular or religious—because Jack, by his very nature, is a melding of our DNA. We are bound to him by biology and by, yes, an unconditional, pure love for him as our child. No matter the differences between us, or how much we continue to change and move apart as individuals, we will always have that love for Jack in common—and that is the one bond that can never be broken.

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