My first Rebuilding class

[written by Steve Melio; posted by JZ]

When I entered the Divorce Seminar for the first time, I was afraid of “standing out,” of being the oddball.

I just knew that my situation couldn’t be the customary divorce scenario shared by all the other people in the room. After all, I wasn’t even sure if I was really going to get divorced. I might just want to live apart and see how things went. Not that there was any real likelihood that my wife and I would reconcile. And as for our somehow falling in love again… impossible. After 30 years of marriage, yes, we still had love and caring between us, but we just couldn’t stand each other a lot of the time. Thirty years of mutual head-butting had taken its toll.

All around me in the seminar were people I imagined had far stronger commitments to divorce, and far better reasons for it. Perhaps some of these women had been physically abused. Maybe some of these men had been scorned and belittled by their wives. Or maybe others were the “dumpers” who had cut & run from their relationships and were now trying to cope with their residual guilt… I just didn’t know.

The Seminar started with the instructor talking to us about the 19 rebuilding blocks that we’d encounter along the way to a full recovery. Things like Denial. Anger. Grief. Loneliness. Things I was already feeling. But there were other things I hadn’t even thought of being part of this process: accepting Singleness. Cultivating Relatedness. And at the top of the Rebuilding pyramid, the biggest prize of them all — Freedom.

I wasn’t sure what Freedom meant in a divorce scenario, but I liked the sound of it. But Norm said we first had to deal with the grungy, low-level junk before we could move on the good stuff.

We broke into small groups of four or five people each, each with a Rebuilding volunteer to facilitate. The volunteers were all people who had been through previous Rebuilding classes. I had chatted with a few of them out in the lobby and they were all friendly and excited. I took that as a good omen.

The small group began, and I was the first one to speak on why I was there. “I guess I want a legal separation,” I said, “but I’m not ready yet to say I want a divorce. I feel like I’m probably the ‘dumpee’ even though I’m the one pushing for the separation. It’s really confusing. My wife and I really care for each other a lot, but we’re still getting stuck on the same issues after 30 years. We’ve seen a half-dozen therapists and counselors. Now our kids are out of the house and we can’t ignore this crap anymore…”

I felt like I was rambling, not really making sense. It felt confused and messy. But then the other folks in the group began sharing their stories…

Surprise! The woman next to me also wanted a legal separation. And yet she also wanted her husband back, even after his affairs and neglect. Another woman was dealing with the shock of her husband abandoning her and their kids, moving cross-country and refusing all contact… how could he do that to his own kids?

As the stories were told around the circle, it dawned on me — there are no “typical” scenarios in real-life relationships. They’re all full of jarring twists and turns, just as the people in my group were describing. We may all have started off feeling some shame at our predicaments, but the small group process washed that away. We were saying things to each other that we probably hadn’t shared with anyone else… and it felt really good. Life had dealt us a bad hand and we were responding as best we know how. It’s a lot easier to do that when you know you’re not alone.

That’s what I took away from my first Seminar. My personal details didn’t make me an oddball. I had a right to be there and to start a healing process. There might, indeed, be light at the end of my tunnel. And I can see how the key to rebuilding my trust in relationships is going to be the honesty & support of all these caring strangers I just met for the very first time…

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