the grace of divorce – why we go: unrealistic beliefs

As indicated in expectations, chances are the terminal blow to your marriage wasn’t infidelity or the loss of passion, instead it stemmed from something the two of you may have brought into the relationship long before that smoke-filled crowded room.

Dyads are modeled for us long before our first cogent thoughts. You’ve noticed this with your own kids, or go babysit three year-olds for awhile and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Mommies and daddies and babies. Doesn’t matter if we’re playing dolls or Hot Wheels, with dogs or kitchen utensils, kids will make relationships out of them. Playing house is the YouTube of that child’s construct of beliefs in how relationships should be (not necessarily how they actually are). Certain values pop up to the surface in play, like domestic management, pleasing others, providing and security. Some may be drawn from living impetus while others come from virtual influences.

Regardless how they come together, they forge a network of beliefs upon which children and you and me will eventually, or have already asserted into our grown-up relationships. And some of these beliefs set standards or expectations that are impossible, or at best, unrealistic.

Toward the end of my first marriage my spouse and I decided to spend Thanksgiving in Las Vegas. We live a couple hours away, so it’s no big deal to go. Got the kids into the car and headed to the strip, and while this doesn’t sound very traditional, tradition failed us the previous year, so here we were open to new possibilities.

Our first stop was the Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat at the Mirage. We practically had the place to ourselves and the kids loved it, tossing beach balls to dolphins and watching exotic tigers. Beats the NFL any day. We went on to other attractions and ended up at Treasure Island’s Thanksgiving buffet. The only downside to this was no leftovers.

After a long, full, fun, happy day we made our way back home to St. George, through the scenic lobotomy of southern Nevada. Along the way I noticed my spouse locked on to the horizon outside her window.

When you’re married and travel often with your companion you develop certain travel habits. In the car for us it was the squeeze of affective reassurance, something I’d seen demonstrated thousands of times with my own parents from the back seat of a Buick. I’d reach my right hand out, left hand on the wheel, and place it on her knee, and squeeze, squeeze. She’d then put her left hand over mine and curl her fingers between and we’d ride until sweat or numbness got one of us to move.

There we were, just outside of Vegas, eighty miles an hour and she a million miles away right next to me, and me sending out the troops of my right hand to her knee. They land, and squeeze, squeeze.

Nothing. Squeeze, squeeze. No response, so the troops retreated back to navigation, she continued her stare out the window while I kept the car between the lines on I-15, the kids sound asleep in the back.

About the Overton turnoff I sent them out again, this time with a bit more fervor, squeeze, squeeze, rub, rub. Wait. Still, she’s distracted, not a move.

My last opportunity was just before the Virgin River Gorge, a strip of banked curves and elevation changes that require both hands on the wheel. Third attempt; rub, squeeze, rub, squeeze.

She breaks away a million miles back to her seat, and she’s says,

“Do I have to touch you for you to believe that I love you?”

Hand back on wheel. “No,” I say, on the outside.

“Hell yeah!”

On the inside. If I’m showing her affection she should be showing me affection.

Unrealistic belief: my companion should always feel affection for me.

Christmas Eve at the mall. Alpha males lead packs of less enlightened men through the trivium of retail Christmas, Bath-n-Body, Victoria Secret, and Zales. These are men immune to the influences of the dog-eared catalog pages sitting on the toilet tank, or the Lands End website page of sweaters continuously left up on the screen. These guys don’t pay attention to these subtleties. They don’t know how. Instead they become the victims of an unrealistic belief: my companion should know what I want without my telling him/her. This leads to fly reels and Ronco lettuce washers and disappointment.

Granted, lists aren’t very romantic, and there’s something to be said about the guy who pays attention, connects the dots and follows through on Christmas morning without even a suspicion. This happens in the movies and on diamond commercials, the unrealistic belief factories.

The toilet seat is up, toothpaste is flat in the middle, milk is swigged from the jug, feminine hygiene evidence trains in the bathroom trash, the toilet paper hangs from the inside, her shoes have taken over, there’s hair in the sink and stubble around the ring in the tub. “You know, if s/he really cared for me s/he’d be more considerate.”

Sound familiar? Or how about, “If s/he really cared for me, s/he would do what I asked.”

Or this, “If s/he truly loved me we wouldn’t be fighting.”

You could argue that these unrealistic beliefs are innocuous. I can’t imagine anyone retaining a divorce attorney over toothpaste and toilet paper. As I wrote about expectations, it’s the “acrid disappointment that festers in our brain when we find our partner has once again fallen short of…” fulfilling our beliefs, reading our minds, satisfying our romantic notions, and all of these result in disappointment.

Disappoint turns to dissatisfaction, that turns to feeling unfulfilled or empty, that opens doors to other possibilities.

And the next thing you know, you’ve retained an attorney.

She was right, my ex-wife. And that wasn’t my only unrealistic belief, nor was I immune from unrealistic beliefs about how her husband should be. We both brought into our marriage ideals, beliefs and expectations that we never talked about, but rather assumed each would have some inherent understanding of our own quirks and idiosyncrasies, or at least tolerate them.

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