Hear from women who attended and blossomed through Lilac Tree programs and services.

These "Blossoms" will share the good, the bad, their do's and don'ts, and the things they learned from their divorces, in their own words.

If you are a current or former Lilac Tree client and would like to share your own story to help other women, please contact Jan, our Development Director, at 847.328.0313 or jwalch@thelilactree.org

Please note: these are real stories by real women, to protect privacy, some names, dates and minor details might be altered or absent. Nothing written constitutes as legal, financial or therapeutic advice.

 

PEGGY'S STORY

Divorced in 2005

This is an account largely of confidence lost over time but eventually regained, and of relationships tested, but renegotiated. As difficult as my divorce was, I believe I emerged from it a better, stronger person. I offer these reflections in the hope that they will aid others in forging their own paths.

I filed for divorce, having been in a long-term marriage that had declined slowly, but drastically, over time. I divorced over 10 years ago, and am now in my early 60’s, with two grown children who remain in the area and with whom I have maintained close relationships. I met and bonded with their father, at age 18 while in college, and married him at age 22. We were a childless couple for the first 10 of our 30 years of marriage.

 

What Led to the Divorce

In retrospect, I see that my marriage overall had its good times and bad. It was better in the earlier years than later, but I could not envision my life without my children, once I had them. My love for them is abiding, so that has been the greatest and best part of all I have gone through.

I began my marriage with the typical exuberance and confidence often seen in young adults, and having internalized society’s traditional cultural expectations, for women in particular, to marry and start a family, and to foster interpersonal relationships. I was in love. I also came from a Roman Catholic clan that further expected marriages, once entered into, to last “until death do us part.” I was part of a mainstream culture that does not like quitters.

So, given all this, it took a long time for me to acknowledge that the marriage was failing and that I might not be able to single-handedly keep it together. While I had faith initially that we would always be a couple, I had not factored in that circumstances beyond my control might overwhelm us eventually.

As I stated earlier, our best years as a couple were when we were just that, a couple. Before children, when I was our sole support, he continued higher education, and we were able to devote ourselves to each other when not on the job or studying, respectively.

When we made the choice to have a family, things changed. He started a belated full-time career while I chose to stay home to primarily parent the kids. Thus our family was structured along the nuclear, single-provider model that had emerged after World War II. This did not bode well for us. I dove headlong into being a mom, while dad was away on his day job and making the money. We drifted apart because we did not see as much of each other and did not carve out enough time to nurture our relationship as a couple. This is a very common phenomenon.

 

Can You Guess What Happened Next?

Yes, to continue with the cliche, he began an affair with his younger secretary.
I learned this by reading a love letter to him from her that had been conspicuously placed on top of one of our trash cans on garbage day. In our division of household chores, I hauled out the bins. Who put the letter there for me to find, my then-husband, or his lover, or one of my children? To this day, I do not know.  A psychoanalyst could have a field day with this.

My eyes now pried open--and my trust in him, in us, betrayed--I began noticing other things.

For example, he traveled on business much of the time. That provided good cover, for I was later to discover that he actually had been spending much of his time with her at her place nearby, while supposedly on business trips. She most likely accompanied him at times when he actually was away on business. 

The Holiday season before I found the love letter, he’d asked if we could take in a dog for a couple he knew from work while this couple were on holiday. Being a pet lover myself, I readily agreed. I discovered later that he had upgraded a flight to first class status on his mileage card for her to visit her family by herself out of the country during this time and that it had been her dog we’d taken in. I had unwittingly cared for her pet while she had enjoyed a first class vacation on my dissipated marital assets and he continued deceiving me. While his being away on business so often was corrosive to our relationship over time, his outright duplicity was fatal. 

So, what led to my divorce? The love letter placed right under my nose was the wake-up call. I literally could no longer ignore this crisis. But the long demise of the marriage also eventually led me to file. Our relationship had devolved from an untroubled romantic one at the outset to a travesty. My husband, the man who was to have been my life partner, had passive-aggressively begun to live a double life. He had already chosen to leave me, without actually formally doing so by divorcing me. I was the one left to do that. I divorced him.

 

My Divorce Process

I decided to divorce within a few hours of discovering the letter. I needed that much time to summon the courage to do what I now knew had to be done. At the time, our kids were older teens, and I timed the filing so that both would be over 18 by the time the decree was entered, so that custody would not be at issue, and they would be out of the nest by that point. I considered waiting until they had actually gone to college before filing, but I decided could not delay that long. My then-spouse had a much bigger tolerance for living a lie than I had.

We had net worth, and since he had already been gone more often than he was present, and for a long time, asset division was the focus of the divorce. My then-husband had an undergraduate degree in accounting, a CPA, an MBA and a career in finance. Since he had been hiding much of his life from me, and dissipating marital assets during his affair, it was not a stretch to surmise he may have also been hiding money during the marriage. Since I had been out of the workforce for a long time, and was not an accountant nor a financier, I needed special help to ensure an equitable financial settlement. My then-husband said he would not fight the divorce, and he didn’t, so this was not a high conflict separation. Nor was there any hope or need to seek a collaborative divorce practice or mediators. 

Given these circumstances, I hired a traditional family law practice, the head partner of whom specialized in forensic accounting, to represent me. I came away with a lump sum settlement. After all the hurt, I wanted to keep any further contact with my ex to a minimum, and the prospect of potentially having to re-engage him to chase down any late or errant maintenance was something I wanted to avoid. I needed to move on to another stage in my life entirely. My soon-to-be ex had already stealthily done so.

 

How I Got Through the Divorce
Despite being from a Catholic family of origin, my four siblings and I, with one exception, are not religious. I still have strong family ties. At the time of my divorce, our parents were still alive. My two sisters had ended marriages before I did, and by this time, even the Church was starting to re-examine the phenomenon of divorce, so these factors made it easier for my parents to accept my decision.

I remain close friends with my brothers and sisters, and they were supportive during my divorce.

I continued therapy through the divorce and for a time thereafter. My children were more sad than angry, and I let them know I’d seek therapists for them if they wanted that, and I remained vigilant for their well being. I told their high school counselors that their father and I were divorcing, and they were supportive also. The kids’ relationships with their father had been diminishing and becoming more sporadic over time, just as the marriage had been. I left it to them to continue their own individual relationships with him on their own terms, out of respect and care for them as my children and for their own autonomy. 

I got through the divorce because, as difficult as it was at the time, not divorcing would have been worse. It was necessary. 

 

Some Parting Perspective

I shudder to think what a shell of a person I would be, and what a sham I would have perpetrated, had I not divorced. If I had not pulled the plug, I would still be with a man who would still be acting unfaithfully. Once faced with proof of adultery, I had to act. The marriage was already over and was not to be resurrected. I had come to realize that both partners have to be and remain partners and committed to make a marriage work. One person of the two cannot take on sole responsibility while the other breaches and avoids accountability. 

I would not wish to be in my former spouse’s shoes. He is outwardly successful in his career, and by this point, my anger and confusion have largely been resolved. Forgiveness is as much for the person forgiving, and I have, ever since the divorce, been in the process of reclaiming myself, and my life. I have not broken faith with myself and am regaining my confidence each and every day. I pity my ex for being such a broken man who lacks integrity and real love in his life. Without him, I have managed to still have both. 

Ironically, only after the decree, when I was in the “So, what do I do with the rest of my life now?” phase of psychotherapy, did I learn about The Lilac Tree. Better late than never! I signed up for post-decree support groups, from which friendships have arisen, which otherwise would never have had the opportunity to develop. This is yet another tangible way my life has changed for the better since my breakup. I wish the same for those who are reading this.

 

How Am I Now?

If I had not divorced, by this time in my life I would have wanted to travel more, study more, live in a Chicago city condo as a transplanted suburbanite empty-nester, and just enjoy more leisure time. I have done all of those things. The only thing different in this scenario? I'm divorced. I am not particularly looking for another relationship, but who knows what the future will bring? Right now, I am content being single and retired.

 

If you are a current or former Lilac Tree client and would like to share your own story to help other women, please contact Jan, our Development Director, at 847.328.0313 or jwalch@thelilactree.org