The Divorce Games: Finding Your Inner Adult

vegasRecently, I was talking with an equally sarcastic friend about our strategies to put the fun back in dysfunction. A quick Google search revealed our seemingly brilliant, original ideas weren’t original at all.

There are multiple sites offering everything from a candle that smells like freshly signed divorce papers to a full line of divorce party products for the recently unknotted. I love both because the concept of live, laugh, love completely falls apart if you leave out the middle. Laughter truly is amazing therapy.

Our idea (or so we thought) was a board game about divorce. Like everything else I have fantasized would make a mint, it’s been done.

Hold up, player! Before you get your panties all in a bunch, I’m not trying to belittle the pain of divorce or disrespect the institution of marriage. I’ve been there — twice.

It’s not considered irreverent in the single world to talk about dating as a game full of power plays and manipulation; refer to marriage that way and all of a sudden you are unraveling the fabric of America.

I’m just saying the results of some of our life choices often seem as random as the outcome of a casino game. We may analyze it to death, but ultimately we are all trying our best to beat the odds.

Most of us who were in it to win it tried everything imaginable to increase our chances of hitting the happily ever after marital jackpot. Maybe it was marriage counseling, pre and post; perhaps you read all of the marriage advice books and checked every listicle to test the relationship against some criteria for long haul success.

You may have opted for marriage boot camp, completed a couples retreat, or practiced people who pray together stay together. Maybe you went the nontraditional route and consulted the Ouija board or a spellcaster. That’s none of my business.

Surely there must be some magic elixir that explains why some people make it and some don’t? Trying to figure that out is as productive as analyzing a slot machine. In reality, some things in life feel purely random. You can train hard, play by the rules and still lose.

As a lover of tangled tangents, reading about games and the power of numbers made me think of the huge expectations we often assign to little phrases or words with eight tiny, unsuspecting letters — I love you. Marriage. Children.

But what happens when you spin and end up with the unlucky 13 puzzle to solve? I want a divorce. Congrats, you’re the next contestant on… Wheel. Of. Misfortune!

games2How about a round of emotional scrabble? That war of words is as much fun as a root canal. One person goes vertical, the other horizontal; someone throws in a diagonal trying to build off what you said previously; zero points and no one wins.

If your main issue as a couple is communication, you may also play a few rounds of marital charades. I ended up acting like a mentally unstable mime as I struggled for months trying to explain how I was feeling.

Of course none of it really feels like a game. It’s your life.

In the bestselling book Games People Play: The Psychology of Human Relationships, psychiatrist Eric Berne describes three ego states — the Parent, the Adult and the Child. When people play mind games, the winner is the person that returns to the adult ego-state first. In fact, if two people are in adult mode, game over. You both win. So do your children.

How often do divorced couples complain that it felt like one member of the dynamic duo was the parent and the other was a child? That’s playbook page one for conflict. Game on.

In retrospect, I recall multiple moments my ex-husband and I were switching back and forth between the parent and child ego modes. I was calm on the outside; inside I was having a two-year-old style temper tantrum. I also remember talking to the father of my children like he was 4 (and yes, sometimes he was acting like it).

Our co-dependent style marriage finally evolved after the divorce to successful co-parenting and friendship. It isn’t about good sportsmanship–that’s for game playing. Instead, it’s a constant struggle to nurture the emotional intelligence we both need to raise happy children.

Does it work 100 percent of the time? Nope — but we both suit up and show up. The word parent is most powerful as a verb.

When it comes to relationships, I’ve finally learned to say: I am not your child. I am not your parent. I’m an adult willing to consider a relationship with another adult — game free.

Maybe the payoff for the divorce games isn’t so random after all… life lessons that help us evolve are priceless.


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