Divorce: Loss of the Dream Marriage

By Maureen McKane, LCSW

Of Divorce’s many losses, a key one is the dream marriage. See it, mourn it and you are ready to move on.

The dream marriage is a wonderful life that exists always in the future. We start constructing it even before the I-do day. We look at wedded bliss the way a heavy person sees their future skinny self. He has flaws. I have flaws. We will take care of those one of these days. He loves me. I’ll tell him what’s wrong. He’ll want to change because he loves me. Small changes really, nips and tucks.

The loves in long term marriage vary with time. Honeymoon love soon settles into habit love or, if you are lucky, into work-at-it love. There’s companion love, humorous love, hard-times love and the amazing glue of co-parenting love. They persist alongside resentments and hurts. As the hurts pile up, the dream marriage still awaits in the future. We keep faith in the dream. There will be change some day.

Then comes divorce and rear-view mirror love. The first couple of years after parting are a time of sorrowful reflection in which many people gradually find new wisdom. It is a time of mourning a number of separate losses, among them the loss of the dream marriage.

Reality is clearer in the rear view. Back there you see how were always looking toward someday to deal with the issues your spouse brought to you from childhood. Perhaps you saw a wife who could not ease up on high expectations that a husband should be tidy and that he remember everything she wanted remembered. Back there he would think to himself, one of these days she’ll relax and be happy. I’ll put up with it and say nothing. She’s stressed right now. When that lets up. When we have more income. When the children are grown. One day.

Or maybe it’s a husband who refused to talk when things went wrong. His ex remembers she would get the silent treatment for days or he would say hurtful words and wouldn’t apologize. It’d be so easy if he’d talk it over and be done, she would think. One of these days he will see that. I’ll keep telling him, keep trying. One day when his work lets up, when we have more income, when the kids are older. One day.

Even after both partners know the end has come, these thoughts continue. What I wanted was so simple, each one thinks. My partner just refused to change. I wonder, now that we are divorced, will he (she) do the right thing with someone else?

It is a hard fall to reality when we recognize things were not going to change. In truth the person I married, and myself as well, are two flawed human beings. Bottom line. Sorrow gives way to clarity: you were investing love in a fantasy spouse, not in the person in front of you.

The dream marriage is both asset and trouble. It is a natural state in a long term relationship. We sustain hard times by believing in better times ahead. When there comes a parting it is time to stop and own the fantasy, the dream. The truth often hurts but it opens a freer path ahead. Once you mourn the loss of that dream, you can start forgetting about who was to blame for not making it happen. Guilt and anger have no place. Time to get on with life’s next adventure.