The Razor's Edge
When one is married, one hopefully communicates openly and transparently. It is a good and productive thing to be able to express to your partner everything (within reason and with compassion and judgment) from the profound to the prosaic and the picayune. Whether and how to do the foregoing is the rub. Unfortunately, many of us didn't or don't ever do that. Instead, we paper over things, silencing this and squelching that. We go along to get along. And those dirty dishes, errant toothpaste caps, feelings unvalidated or too-long pauses become flashpoints for larger and more significant issues.
I have found, personally, that one unforeseen benefit of divorce (after over a year of marriage/divorce therapy in which we participated) is the ability to communicate better with Vanessa now. Each of us is independent but interdependent in our common parenting roles, but also there is more space and freedom to speak more forthrightly with each other. Part of what is at work, for me at least, is attempting to maintain the centrality of remaining on the "razor's edge." And then following where that leads.
In my own philosophical/spiritual/moral framework (a loosely held amalgam of Buddhist/Stoic/Judeo-Christian notions), the concept of the razor's edge is most frequently addressed in Buddhism. It is coming to that point where you can let yourself really feel fear when afraid and feel anger when angry - think of it as a gloss on"be(ing) the ball" (as Ty Webb so humorously put it in "Caddyshack"). It is learning to exist on that thin edge of the razor where you experience the present as it is without regard to the historicity of the past (and all its baggage) or the expectations of the future (and a lot of the same baggage). It is observing without judgment what comes and what goes. It is truly allowing the feeling being felt to be felt without censure as opposed to immediately socking it away in that lockbox where "bad" or "unpleasant" things have to go.
Now, what does all that mean for folks just trying to get along with the ex or soon to be ex? Aren't we getting a little far afield of parenting and divorce? No, I think not. By my lights, the relevance of all this means learning to let go of the scorecard of perceived past failures, letdowns and issues; and, further it means jettisoning the wish list of future hopes. It means, quite simply, listening with "big ears" when being spoken to, speaking frankly when talking, and allowing yourself to feel and respectfully express your feelings as they come and as they go -- AND giving the same to your partner or former partner or soon to be former partner. Much that is good (or at a minimum honest and true) comes from staying present. Some folks nowadays like to use the buzzword of "mindfulness" - and I suppose that's right up to a point, though it seems to me that word focuses a bit too much on the centrality of the mind and diminishes the experiential nature of what I am describing.
Perhaps it is easier in some ways to do all of the above when there is no marriage at stake any longer and none of all that comes with marital status via our family, friends, careers, social circles, etc. But it is a useful notion, I think - for us all. In some ways, when you're already it divorced it can be even more challenging. And it is a notion that we would all do well to think about from time to time.
Sometimes, being on the edge of the razor means we get nicked or even cut. Sometimes, it means we clear away to a clean and smooth surface that which covers us. But it is in walking that edge that we dare to be transparent - to ourself (first and foremost) and then to others. And it is out of doing that that something really good can come. Hopefully. So perhaps give it a try. It is amazing what happens when you open up fully. Not with blame or rancor or accusation or with a goal in mind. Try it alone first - because the first person you are blaming and accusing is likely yourself, if you get down to it. See what it does. Maybe then try it with your spouse or your ex. Let him or her do the same. This isn't a magic potion for a happy marriage or a blissful divorce. No such thing exists and anger, resentment, betrayal and disappointment are all features of our lives. But learning to live with those feelings and work with them are things we CAN address. Regards - Brendan