I must admit, as a divorce coach, when I learned that HBO was coming out with a new series called “Divorce” I was pretty geekily excited. I was eager to see how television would capture what I see on a daily basis: The strange, messy, sad and frustrating thing it can be to unravel a marriage and the hard work it takes to put your life back together again. However, it wasn’t only for selfish reasons I was happy to see this show premiere. For me it was proof that divorce is coming out of the shadows…that the stigma of failure and doom is lifting and that it’s not only okay to talk about it, it’s okay to laugh about it, too! Divorce used to be the thing no one talked about, the shameful little secret couples were forced to hide behind attorney doors until they emerged from battle and slunk off their separate ways. Finally, it’s out in the open as a fact of life. Divorce happens.
In the pilot episode, we meet Frances, wife, mom, and career woman, like so many of us. After a shocking display by friends who are awkwardly and painfully clearly unhappy in their marriages, she breaks it to her husband that she wants a divorce, or as she put it, “I want to save my life while I still care about it!” (Love that line by the way.)
I see it all the time ( — and lived with it myself for years) that vague sense of unhappiness, the dissatisfaction, the feeling of “there has to be more than this.” It’s like a tiny toothache that gradually worsens until your entire jaw is swollen and throbbing and you are forced to recognize that it’s there, and now you have to do something about it.
Cut to the scene where Frances is telling her girlfriend Dallas that she broke the news to her husband last night.
“Oh there it is,” I thought. “Classic mistakes of divorce. Don’t do it, Frances, don’t do it!” Frances says, “Well, I won’t be on my own anyway. He is the only thing that has kept me sane this last year. I love him, I think.”
(Oy.) Too late…she’s bet the farm on a new relationship.
Frances goes on to admit (grinning like a schoolgirl the whole time) that there is someone else. While her friend Dallas just laughs along, she knows as well as I do this is a mistake.
Any good divorce coach will tell you that (a) we see people make this mistake all the time and (b) it’s bigger than you think. Why, what’s the big deal?
1. Hormones, hormones, hormones
When we meet someone new, our bloodstream is flooded with powerful hormones like adrenaline, dopamine, and oxytocin, all of which dictate your love-drunken behavior. In fact, cultural anthropologist Helen Fisher studied couples in “lust” and found that dopamine has a similar effect on the brain as cocaine. You are literally high when you are in this early stage of love. Do you really want to be making life- changing decisions while you are high as a kite?
2. Clouded decision-making
When you are raging with hormones and sneaking off to have hot sex at your every opportunity, trust me, you are not able to think clearly. Your judgment is clouded and yet this is a time where you have such big decisions to make. Where you will live, how the kids will manage the transition, how your finances will be handled…these are not small things! Now more than ever you need to have your wits about you.
3. You don’t live in a bubble
Yes, the feeling of being adored is completely addictive and the sex is beyond excellent with someone new and exciting (hormones remember?) but you must realize, this is not just about you. Are you really ready to introduce this person to your kids? Your parents? Your oldest friends, the ones who were in your first wedding? In our oxytocin-induced haze we tend to gloss over questions like these.
4. You can’t possibly have had time to mourn the end of the marriage
And mourn it you must, because it’s not just about the relationship with your spouse that ends here. In fact, you may not be all that sad about that. But what about your family as you know it? And the hopes and dreams you had for the marriage? It takes time to find closure and meaning in what caused the marriage to end. If you run to the next relationship too soon, when will you stop to reflect on the last one?
5. Wrapping your happiness up in someone else is the biggest mistake of all
Isn’t this what got you there in the first place? You thought that your husband wasn’t making you happy, so you went searching for someone who would? Hear this: It isn’t the man’s job to make you happy. It never was. That’s always been your job. If you aren’t happy, you aren’t doing something for yourself and that’s what you have to figure out. No one else has that power.
As the episode end draws near, Frances realizes it’s not as easy as telling her husband she wants a divorce and now she can cozy up to her lover as the details sort themselves out. As she realizes this, she backpedals, scrambling to shut her Pandora’s box. Too late of course, and this is why Frances is going to need a divorce coach.
As divorce coaches at SAS, Liza and Kim work with women from all over the world who are either exploring the idea or facing the practical realities of divorce. Will #divorceonhbo accurately portray divorce as we see it unfold in real life? We’ll report back and let you know if it’s just entertainment or pointing to something honest. In the meantime, if you want to explore what divorce may or may not mean for you, in your real life, we’d welcome a chance to talk with you. Schedule your free consultation and we’ll figure it out together.