A case study in staying resilient: My divorce
My husband and I are getting a divorce. It’s really hard to write this for a lot of reasons, but the one that comes to mind this moment is that it’s so crappy to be in the middle of a divorce when I make a living telling people how to run their lives.
Fortunately I also make a living scouring the world for good research. And, while I have spent forever telling you that relationships make us happier than money, I am really pleased to find some research that says that for some people marriage is like a raise in pay, and it only makes us happy for a couple of years, and then we go back to our baseline of happiness.
This is not true for the kids, of course. There is extremely persuasive research that no one likes to hear, that says that kids do not notice that their parents are unhappy in a marriage. In this seminal study, Judith Wallerstein tracked a large sample of children of divorce for 25 years. And she found that unless there is violence in the home, kids suffer more from parents getting a divorce than staying in a bad marriage. This research is what has kept me in my marriage. But now I am learning that marriage is a little like fertility in that I cannot control everything.
So really, I guess I have to say that you shouldn’t take my advice about marriage, because I failed. But then I think, hold it, I have failed at least once in just about everything I have tried, and I think that’s what makes my advice work. How do you know what you’re doing wrong if you are not failing? How do you ever learn your limits?
Here’s the process I go through to tell myself that I’ll be okay after this divorce: I think about when I used to practice volleyball. If you spent the day practicing a shot you knew how to do, what was the point of practicing that day? Where was the learning curve? Where was the growth?
I think that one reason people listen to me about choosing a career is because I chose so badly, so many times. And bounced back. And I think that one reason that Wired just asked me to write a column on how to start a business is because I have started one and seen it go under. And then done another.
We should all know that success is as much about resiliency as it is about luck and skill. And at this point, I think it’s safe to say that while I have luck and skill, I am most gifted in the resiliency department.
So maybe getting a divorce will make for better advice. Or more humility. Which I’m sure are related, by the way.
There’s a study I read in the New York Times about how the people who are most happy with life are people who can create complicated scenarios to explain why a given situation is not so bad. That is me, right now.
To be honest, I’ve had a lot of time to perform those mental gymnastics since I’ve known for a while about the divorce. I waited to tell you because I didn’t want to blog about it when I was crying. Everyone has their limits, even me. And besides, I’ve been raising a round of funding for my company, and what a terrible post to have up on a day when investors are reading my blog.
Anyway, during the time between crying and deciding that I’m the queen of resiliency, I stumbled across this information about my Myers Briggs type: ENTJ. There are sixteen personality types. ENTJs make up 4% of the general population and 80% of the population of executives.
Here’s the news about ENTJs in a marriage:
“Gender issues are especially significant for ENTJ females. As a type, their arrogant, confrontational manner and need for control can appear to be quite ‘unwomanly’ to others. Of course, the problem intensifies for the ENTJ female when dealing with men. Their demanding, objective, competent, and independent nature is not particularly endearing to most men.”
But, being the optimist I am, I kept looking and found this:
“These qualities may obscure the fact that ENTJ females can be quite nurturing and caring. For them, femininity is not defined by traditional roles. It is reflected in the total involvement and commitment they bring to each moment of life.”
Here’s what I’ve been doing while I’ve been not blogging about the divorce: I’ve been thinking about dating. It’s my nature—being an ENTJ means planning the future. I’m very future oriented. And I can’t help wondering where the female ENTJs are in the marriage world. How those marriages work out. Right now, I can’t even imagine how an ENTJ date would work out.
But I’m starting to remember that all the skills I’ve learned in my career will be useful to my personal life right now: don’t focus on shortcomings and play to your strengths instead; be kind and caring to the people around you to improve any situation, and most of all—setbacks don’t matter as much as bouncing back.
Thank you, again, for your incredible strength and courage. The transparency through which you allow us to see into your world blows me away, and I admire you for it.
Please let me know how I might be of service to you and your family during these trying times.
Well, congrats on entering another world. Yet again!
This is a tough one, Penelope. It’s a long haul you have before you but you’ll make it. Scarred and bruised and beat up, maybe, but you’ll make it. You’ve been scarred and bruised and beat up before, right?
"Gender issues are especially significant for ENTJ females. As a type, their arrogant, confrontational manner and need for control can appear to be quite "unwomanly" to others. Of course, the problem intensifies for the ENTJ female when dealing with men. Their demanding, objective, competent, and independent nature is not particularly endearing to most men."
We’re having a discussion on this very phenonemon
over on ERE. Here’s the link:
PS: Good luck Penelope and spend as much time as you can with your kids. And don’t ever feel guilty about the time you can’t spend with them. My two grown daughters, raised by a divorced, working mother, tell me all the time what a great role model I was for them and how fortunate they were to have the support system I was able to provide for them. Go figger.
I know what a difficult decision this must have been. There is no doubt you will come through stronger.
This blog, and this post are classic examples of the genre of inane drivel dressed up in phony, self-important, self-declared authority that plague the blogosphere. Your kids need you, we don’t.
Wow, excellent post about resiliency!
Good luck and all the best with this new phase of your life!!
Penelope, I am so sorry to hear this news.
What strikes me most powerfully is the way you’ve made thousands of strangers care about what happens to you. We’ve never met, but your news makes my heart heavy.
My empathy for your situation would not be possible had you not shared so much in the past and helped countless people navigate work and life. Thank you for your honesty, energy, and insights.
I know that you are going through a tough time, and I hope that everything works out for you. I think that your advice about marriage is still valid, but I have to say that you are probably more of an authority on what NOT to do in a marriage than on what you should do. For example, you can ask for exercise advice from either a well built professional athlete or from a lazy obese person. The athlete can tell you what to do and the obese person can tell you what NOT to do. So, yes, people who fail in an area can offer useful advice.
I applaud your bravery in sharing so much of your life (both good and bad). This courage is a big part of the strength of your voice.
I am an ENTJ/ENTP woman, (I am low on the judging/perceiving and have tested out as both in different points of my life), and it really saddens me to read your news.
I am engaged, but after 5 yeras of dating (and living together for 3), I still have a lot of reservations about the union. My finance pretty much lets me call all of the shots – I make most of the money and most of the decisions. I worry that I’m marrying someone that will never challenge me, but when I’ve men that are strong like me, it has always ended badly.
Sorry to turn what was supposed to be a supportive comments into a inner dialog about my own problems. Best of luck to you.
First, my sincere sympathy for your divorce. Mine was very amicable, and yet one of the worst times of my life.
If I can offer a little opinion, though, about your ENTJ research (or, INTP, in my case). Don’t place all your trust in someone else telling you who you are. No matter how many studies they do to back up their evidence, it’s still a lot like astrology… they’re still telling you who you are. Don’t box yourself into a neat little box named “ENTJ”. Just be you.
Sorry about your divorce. It’s pretty brave of you to blog so openly about this stuff.
Penelope, is your husband an NF? If so, that doesn’t bode well for MBTI personality theory, since Keirsey says NTs and NFs are supposed to get along well. (Though from what you’ve said about him here, he sounds like an SP artist anyway. NTs and SPs can be a volatile mix.)
– Dave, fellow NT (INTJ)
Penelope, I am really sorry to hear about your divorce. Any loss is painful and for that I am very sorry.
I don’t know what it is like to be married or divorced but I do know what it’s like to be a child of divorce. I don’t believe any study that says as long as there is no violence, kids have no clue how unhappy their parents are. I was very aware from a very young age how miserable my nonviolent parents were, both as individuals and partners. It’s only in the last few years that I’ve realized how much that awareness has shaped me.
Ultimately, there is no way to shield children from pain–the pain of a bad marriage, the pain of the upending of a household that divorce brings, or the pain that happens in even the most functioning of homes. All you can do is your best to not add insult to injury.
I agree with Martin about just being who you are. Personality tests do smack of horoscope readings. There is some truth but still, you are you. There’s comfort in those boxes, though. I read a lot about personality types and astrology when I was majorly depressed. I also agree with part of Harold’s tactless comments, if just the last sentence. Your kids need you, not us. But I think it’s safe to say that you primarily do this for you.
So, again, I am sorry. Go be the parent you need to be, to your kids and your self. Take care.
I think it’s touching that you would share something so personal with your readers, especially after they have felt entitled to be viciously judgemental about you in the past. I admire your bravery and, yes, your resilience.
Like many other posters, I’m sorry to hear about the divorce. No one likes to fail at anything, but it’s necessary part of life.
As much as people may scoff about it, if you’re comfortable with it I would write about what you’re going through. Consider all of the people out there who get married, find themselves unhappy and then wonder what or how they should deal with it.
What’s the old cliche? How you respond when you are at your lowest is the true test of your character?
For what it’s worth, my parents divorced when I was 10 and I’m happy as hell that they did. My stepfather was a much better father than my own dad and it’s taught me how to being an equally great stepparent. I don’t feel slighted or burned; I applaud my parents for realizing they couldn’t make it work.
You will get through this.
I’m very sorry to read this. The more you tried to save a marriage, the less horrible a divorce will be, which is no consolation really but the “wrong” divorces are the flippant, selfish ones; sometimes marriages do die, because people do make mistakes, and we all need to accept that.
However; just because most of the time divorce is bad for kids doesn’t mean you can’t find ways of getting your kids into the minority that does OK. My kids had a hard time at first and are now doing so well it amazes me every day. It was a long haul. Here’s how I made it happen: peace with their dad, whatever it takes.
Nine times out of ten, divorcing parents continue fighting, often for years, rather than making the compromises and sacrifices they need to make in order to bring about peace. Kids can handle divorce if extra distance between the parents makes for peaceable, mutually respectful parenting. This is the way they will eventually come to accept it and move on healthily in their own futures.
But sometimes there is little or no negotiating flexibility on the other side, and one parent has to lead the way by setting an example and compromising. Fighting for every cent of money and every second of contact-time is the worst thing anyone can do to their kids. Their world is already splitting in half, the aim is to minimise that. The adults need to put their feelings aside and give up their need to cling to stuff, money and sometimes even legal rights (which are meaningless next to real-life agreements between co-parents). This is hard, but it can be done.
I’m posting that there because I haven’t seen it much if at all elsewhere. Very best wishes for a happier future as soon as possible.
I’m sorry to hear about the divorce. It’s bad for everyone, but in the end, sometimes the alternative is worse.
On the Myers-Briggs…oddly enough, when I was first tested, I was an ENTJ…over the years however, my profile has migrated to ENFP. Not sure what that says!
I am also an ENTJ! I found your thoughts on our personality type insightful. The great thing about Myers Brigg is the self awareness it brings.
@ Chris-> From what I’ve learned about the test, we have a preference for certain behaviors… so our type could change over time.
Best of luck in the future!
I’m sorry about the divorce but agree with you about the resiliency. Besides the whole kids and divorce thing? As a child of divorce I think that having parents who recognize the losses for kids and help them grieve them mitigate a lot of the damage. I think the real hurt comes when parents want to deny the hardships. I for one am glad my parents divorced because regardless of how I felt when I was 11, I would rather have two happy parents than two miserable ones.
Think of every moment in time right now as your metamorphosis.
I have been divorced now for 3 years and I can tell you, it was the most challenging, enlightening, depressing, and wondrous time in my life.
I look back at myself and wonder sometimes how I survived. Even with a somewhat agreeable divorce, to split with someone I had spent the past 8 years with was truly like a death. Albeit, with every death, there is a birth, and that is the birth of you and your new life.
I can tell you, after finally losing the weight I gained while depressed and married and getting divorced (I’m finally back to my regular size 4 from a 14), rediscovering those relationships I put by the wayside (my family, friends) and more importantly getting back to who I really am….. I can tell you…. I’m living my best life now.
The pain you feel now will allow you to experience the pure bliss and passion that lie ahead for you….. It is the barometer of all of our peaks and valleys…
I’m living my best life now. I am who I am supposed to be.
You will soon enough see the power, confidence, pleasure and bliss this experience will bring to you….
BTW – Before dating again, I suggest you re-educate yourself on the whole male psyche…. Pick up the book by Steve Santagati “The Manual.” It saved me from continuing to fall victim to the male mind and hormones. It’s just a great book with a great reminder on how we should behave ourselves with those lads we so covet. A friend gave it to me as a gift, and I can tell you… it changed my whole mindset… or reset it for that matter.
Good luck and when all else fails – deep breaths always work with moments of meditation.
I’ll be rooting for you. From this moment on, these will be your finest hours…
PS Ignore Harold. His message to todays post is clearly an example of the exact kind of BS he is accusing you of. Cognitive Dissonance is a powerful thang, and is one term he is clearly not familiar with.
I’m a borderline ENTP with a little J in me….and trust me it rears its head and does make dating and relationships tough when it comes to gender and mentality. But you, Penelope, are a unique breed but of person, even with out a test, and you will find a way to make these “letters” work for you. And plus, I think you know this, tests don’t define everything either.
You’ll be in my prayers as will your husband and kids.
as always, thanks for sharing something so personal. I think people can learn from your experience and it seems you’ve done a lot of thinking and research.
as a child of divorce (parents divorced when I was 6), i think you’re doing the right thing instead of staying in the marriage. i have a friend from high school whose parents waited until she graduated to divorce and it was a major blow as she felt all she had grown up with had been fake. Me…I grew up knowing my parents weren’t together. that was life for me. I didn’t know any different. i now have 4 parents (mom/step-dad–who raised me and dad/step-mom) and it works. may be tough on your kids at first, but I’d say you’re doing the right thing now.
I hope things go well with the process. hang in there. coffee soon?
Sounds like a tough one, but one that was on its way for a while based on historical posts.
While people I know who are divorced tell me that they often feel the stigma of failure, I often think — and would it be better to stay in a situation that isn’t a right fit for either person? That is like spending your life in a pair of shoes 3 sizes too small and trying to grin & bear it. Surely not a recipe for success for either partner.
Appreciate your vulnerability & honesty in your posts as always & wish you the best navigating this next transition.
Just wanted to chime in with the respect for your openheartedness. I can’t say that reading about your divorce affects me like it seems to others — after all, your life story often feels more like the anecdote you use to place your advice in a certain context and as such comes across to me as distant and somewhat fictional, though clearly heartfelt and true — but I do appreciate it, so here’s the comment with me telling you so. Good luck.
I’m sorry to hear that your husband and you are getting a divorce. There’s no doubt in my mind you made your best effort to stay in the marriage. You will think about things you said and did, think about the what ifs, and even blame yourself for things you didn’t have control over. I know this because of my experience with divorce … and I didn’t even have kids … so it is that much harder for you.
My best friend also got a divorce and I can remember my father telling me that I should give him some helpful advice while all of us were present. I didn’t see that one coming so I can’t even remember what I said. However I do remember thinking that every relationship is different and how hard it is to give specific advice without knowing all the specific details. It would be like going to a doctor and being prescribed aspirin without the doctor asking any questions or doing any tests. The shotgun approach. It will be painful but with time and introspection you will find the answers and know much more about yourself.
The investors (already invested or potential) reading your blog will now have someone with even more experience (perhaps more than them). It’s not pretty but not everything in life is pretty either. Take care of yourself and the kids.
Just wanted to wish you luck as you embark on the next step of your life, as well as lots of strength dealing with the divorce.
Interesting, to say the least. I have begun a regiment of ginkgo to aid with mental clarity and acuity. Kids are not made of cobwebs. I am a 34 year old college freshmen with two kids, an intelligent and gorgeous wife, and I feel like getting really drunk sometimes. I had a very interesting experience earlier this week in my English class. It was called “peer editing”, and I think I write better than my peers. You do to Penelope. There is the ancient Chinese proverb “May you have an interesting day”, and that isn’t always what we want out of life. When the shit fairy shows up, I usually wish for an unintersting life. But alas, my life is quite an adventure. I just found out that my family genealogy connects me to 4 different Mayflower compact signatories. The punchline is the 7 different ways that my family tree winds its way back to 4 different men. Apparently my family tree has fewer branches than I would have hoped. Whoa, and I thought double cousins were reserved for people in trailer parks.
Thank you for having an interesting life and blogging about it. I have to go take my second daily dose of Ginkgo Plus (made in China; may I have an interesting day hoping there isn’t too much heavy metal mixed into this product)
Sorry to hear about the end of your marriage. I want to thank you again for sharing some of the struggles you've had, and doing the research to place it in a broader perspective.
It has helped me to think differently about how to keep my marriage and family life as healthy as possible while still pursuing a career.
As someone having kids later in life, it's sometimes hard to switch gears and reading your experiences with and ideas about this has helped.
Moreover, there isn't a good "road map" for how to balance everything (although my parents did the typical stay-at-home mum and workaholic dad thing, I've never felt like that family structure worked for me then or would fit for me now). Your blog offers that to me and so many gen x'ers now trying to forge a new family – career – life balance.
I’m very sorry about your situation. Please don’t think of yourself as a failure because it takes two to make a relationship. You aren’t a failure.
You are a beautiful and caring person, and I feel lucky to have found you. You are an inspiring voice who helps thousands of people. Don’t forget how wonderful you are.
I’m sorry to hear that you are going through this. I’ve read enough of your blog to know that you tried. Take care of yourself. And get through this before you even think about dating again. You need to be a whole person first.
Johnnie Moore on MBTI:
I’m so sorry to hear the news. I was really pulling for you and Nino.
As a fairly new reader of your blog and a first time commentor, let me send my condolences, suggest that you exercise, whenever possible, to get rid of stress and let’s all come up with another word for failure that doesn’t imply ‘complete life screw-up’. We’re all just trying to get by. Keep putting one foot in front of the other. Or like Winston Churchill said, when you’re going through hell, keep going. PS You write really well. ~Bobbi
I am sorry to hear the news but frankly after reading your stuff for what 3-4 years (I can’t remember when you started this..pre-blog anyway) I am not surprised at the least. I said your husband was a saint to well put up with you a long time ago. Not because you came off in your writing as a strong competent woman but that you came off as a big time self-absorbed B. I know you will take this in the right way too. Good luck with the new company and think about NOT re-marrying any time soon!
I’m sorry to hear about your divorce.
As an ENTJ woman who’s been married for >23 years (but didn’t get married until I was almost 30), it’s possible to date and marry :-)
Being competent or a take charge person is not a problem for dating. It’s a problem for living. (Some men find it fascinating to date, difficult to live with.) Which is why I dated many men once or twice. Some for 2-3 months. Since I’m older, I doubt I would spend that much time with someone I had no long-term interest in.
I haven’t been in your position, so I don’t know how I would react. But I suspect I would take the dating thing slowly and get myself back together. Unless dating is the thing that will help you get yourself together. If so, then go for it.
what are you doing Saturday night @ 7pm? Cocktails?
Oh boy, here they come, dateless Yahoo readers with short err resumes
sorry to hear the news of your divorce. but kudos on taking the positive, resilient view.
i recently had a life-over-turning event take place and remembered immediately that there is a reason my dad calls me “the cat.” he says, it’s because i always land on my feet.
here’s to you landing on your feet, which i’m sure you’ll do.
all the best!
Thanks for posting this. You’re a great blogger and your “personal” posts are always the most affecting.
And if anything I have to say could make you feel any better, I think the whole “fear of the ENTJ woman” thing is the stuff of the older generations and on its way out. I have nothing to support this theory but personal and anecdotal evidence, but it’s still true. 8)
Well, could be worse. They could be from AOL.
As an ENTJ woman, I know that it is possible to be married…if you’re with the right person. Took me a while to get it right.
Your life doesn’t have to be perfect for you to be able to give perfectly good advice! I’m sorry to hear about your divorce, but having read your blog for a while, I know you will get thru it fine. Resiliency is what separates victims from survivors.
I’m sorry to hear about your divorce. I hate to say it, but it happens to the best of us! It’s so important to remember that divorce is normal now and the fact that your marriage is ending does not make you a failure.
One of my favorite Chinese proverbs is: “Failure isn’t falling down, but refusing to get up.
Take good care.
The Modern Woman’s Divorce Guide
Penelope Trunk, this is exactly what I needed today: an example of someone else doing the brave thing in the face of an unhappy relationship.
Thank you for continuing to blog abt your marriage despite the criticism. Honesty is its own type of resiliency – I appluad you for it.
all i can say is, hang in there.
during the period when i was job hunting and getting nowhere, i had this post-it note on my desk that said ‘hang on’ and every time i looked at it, it gave me renewed energy to keep on going. thats how i persevered.
also, i want to thank you for all the advice you’ve given on this blog. i’ve used many of the tips and often find relief in many of the comments you make on this blog.
thanks for making a difference.
Penelope, sad news on the homefront and I’m so sorry to hear it. I’m an ENTP, and have been told I’ll swim upstream all my life with men. Probably true as I’m married for time #3 and not sure if we’ll make it. Yes we have kids and I have kids…but they are resilient too and as long as we love them unconditionally, most things turn out ok.
My .02 as a marriage failure?
Don’t date seriously for a while. Give yourself time to do what you want and be the only one in the decision for a bit.
And love yourself greatly!
Prayers to you to be on the mend soon, kristi
I’m really sorry to hear about your divorce; I’ve enjoyed your blog for awhile, and I hope things get better for you. Know that taking a break, should you decide to (though, as another ENTJ, I know I couldn’t ever stop working) would be totally understood.
i think paula g had it right. in all your previous posts i had assumed you merely wrote to portray yourself as the villain. but seeing now, you didn’t believe that an apparent lack of respect from his partner (see: hiding your marriage on facebook) could emasculate a man. i shudder to imagine the strength it took for him to give up his career for yours (and the kids). and from your website and your blog, this marginalised him. well, i hope you both move on well. him, i hope to see him in LA in July and you, i hope to read more entries with solid advice.
It may not seem like it right now, but, You will come through this and out the other side. While it takes two to get married, it can be only one causing the divorce. I don’t know what you are like in person or when the front door closes. You will be fine.. I wish you the best,stick close to your friends and crying from time to time helps cleanse the soul. As ever,
I just started reading your blog a few feeks ago.Your complete honesty endears you to me as a person I would pick for a real life friend. I’m sure you have gotten a miliion personal anticdotes on divorce, but I’ll share mine anyway. The night before I accepted a new sales job which requires 60% travel, I opened my cell phone bill. The truth of all that was wrong with the marriage,A marriage that we tried to make work for the kids, was all there in black and white. Mostly it contained my husbands new girlfriend. The same day my husband signed a lease on his new apartment, I hysterically gave my two weeks notice to my boss, friend, and mentor, of five years. I honestly don’t know which of those two events broke my heart more. I, like you, had read all of the studies, and believed it to be selfish to leave a bad marriage, when the kids didn’t know it was bad to begin with. But I have to believe that someday, they will appreciate my courage and strenghth, rather than see selfishness as I am afraid they see a little when they look at me now. We are daily redefining our family dynamic, and I hope to create one that “sticks”, but in the meantime, there is not a day that goes by, that my kids don’t see a strong and courageous mother rather than the tired and defeated one they have known up to this point.Well, two out of three days aren’t bad anyway. Sadly, they will wear the scars for a mistake I made nine years ago, but they also will learn courage, determination, flexibility, and love. Good Luck to you on your journey. I am an an ENFP, and have found that I am most compatible with an INTJ, I searched http://www.plentyoffish.com using personality type as a freak filter. I found the most amazing friend, who though very different, seems to “get” me, and that’s all we as humans want, to be “gotten.” Of course this time around with kids, the stakes are much higher, and caution is in order. There is also no urgency to get married, buy a house, have kids, and live happily ever after. Been there, done that.
God bless the children.