After thousands of initial divorce consultations with men and women contemplating whether or not to move forward with a divorce, I find myself frequently questioning normal. People often reveal to me the intimate details of their married lives. They reveal how she lives upstairs, he lives downstairs. They reveal how they no longer talk to their spouses – at all. They reveal how they have been unhappy for years and years before making it to the chair across my desk. And I think “When did that become normal?”
My parents just celebrated their 42nd wedding anniversary and for the last 6 years, mom has lived in Omaha and dad has lived in Oregon. When did a long distance marriage become normal? Or, as with my clients, when did spouses become okay with an arrangement of living in the same household, separate, but apart? How does it happen that their expectations for a partnership diminish? Are these conscious decisions? Or do the circumstances start from some type of convenient excuse and then neither spouse wants to go back to “normal?”
The answer is they don’t want to go back. A normal marriage does not exist. After peering through the looking glass at more marriages than I can count, I can tell you with certainty there is no such thing as a normal marriage, no two are alike. Similarly, another fiction is that of a “normal divorce.” I hear near weekly a client wanting to relay the details of another person’s divorce and ask why their case will or will not be the same. I remind my clients to disregard the stories of well-intentioned divorcees and focus instead on the question at hand, “Is it good with me?”
A question to be asking, whether married or going through a divorce, is what is my normal? Am I good with it? The truth is there are happy marriages, troubled marriages, strong marriages, hard marriages – but not normal marriages. The compare/contrast game with co-workers, family members, friends is bluntly – not useful. Logically we know there are too many variables for that exercise to ever be meaningful and to look at what we really seek – some type of validation for our own experience. And that can truly only happen when you first acknowledge how normal, not normal is.