Separation is emotionally volatile.
What’s surprising is that it surprises people.
I’m not sure why. It’s perfectly logical.
When a previously deep and intimate connection disintegrates, it does not go quietly into the night.
The connection doesn’t simply become dead. It becomes… undead.
It continues living, but in a new, twisted form.
Divorce seems to poison its victims, transforming one or both into claw-bearing, fanged creatures who rip and tear relentlessly to satisfy their new thirst for blood. What was once passionate love becomes an insatiable desire to inflict pain, ironically in an effort to relieve pain.
Logic becomes calculation.
Reason becomes justification.
Love becomes hate.
Suddenly the dining set bought together years ago, while holding hands in the furniture store, becomes the mountain on which each is willing to die.
Discussions about the house, the furniture, and the car, each become an opportunity to slash and bite and howl.
Unfortunately, the children also fall victim to the poisonous effects of divorce. They, however do not grow fangs. They become the table or the car – a thing to fight over. There, smack-dab in the middle, they can’t help but get in the way. As they watch their parents slash at each other, and as they are tugged and coaxed and pressured back and forth, they are soon scarred by slash marks too.
It’s an ugly unfolding.
As a real estate agent, I’ve had a front row seat to many such stories. My clients have suffered the grief and shock and pain of divorce. Luckily for both of us, the deep pain of divorce is something I’m personally acquainted with, so I can empathize.
I understand. I’ve been there.
My experience – both personally and as an agent helping my clients through this gut-wrenching process – also means I can hopefully start a conversation that helps others understand how to help their clients.
Whether you’re a real estate agent, banker, or lawyer, it’s tough to watch clients suffer, and difficult to navigate the volatile transaction.
The biggest way we can help our clients is by empathizing. Let’s not be surprised or critical of their emotional state or outbursts. This is the nature of the beast. Instead, let’s look past the claws and fangs and realize all the howling is not about dining sets or houses. These are the final twitches of death – the pangs of regret and hurt that themselves cause hurt.
Hurt people hurt people, as they say.
Let’s not add salt to the wound.
As the professionals helping them through it, we can offer an ear, a kind word, and maybe even suggest alternative, more effective ways to salve their wounds. But our advice can’t come out of a desire to fix them. It has to come from a place of compassion and empathy.
It’s all any of us wants – to be loved the way we are. To be understood. To be known.
Luckily, every human interaction – even acting as a real estate agent – offers the opportunity to provide exactly those things for another.
When I arrived, I found her hunched over a box, in tears.
She had been packing, getting ready to list her house. Well, their house.
They had lived there for decades. Now the marriage had come apart at the seams, and she was left to tie up the loose ends. She would pack up the house and ready it for sale.
It looked like about the hardest thing she’d ever had to do.
There, with tears still streaming down her cheeks, she held a stack of photos in one hand and a wad of tissues in the other. She still wore her wedding ring.
When someone in a happy marriage looks through photos, it’s a refreshing, satisfying time of reminiscing. Laughter and tears of joy accompany the cozy memories. But when a person is in the midst of separation – especially one they don’t want to happen – it is anything but cozy. Each memory stabs the heart, leaving a gaping ache for what will never be again.
I’ve been there. I know the deep grief of separation.
As I put a hand on her shoulder, a fresh wave of tears flowed from her eyes. Her head hung as though a weight were tied to it.
As I scanned the room I realized she would never get the house packed in time without some help. Little was packed, even less was cleaned. Grief overwhelms. At that point, a simple task like putting photos in a box or sweeping the floor can be too much to even think about, much less accomplish.
Just then, she looked up at the wall and sighed a heavy, hollow sigh.
I followed her gaze to a photo on the wall. There, in an ornately carved wooden frame, their wedding photo hung, looking as though nothing had changed since the day it was taken.
After a moment of thought, I removed my hand from her shoulder, walked over to the photo, and lifted it from the wall. For a second, I felt like an art thief.
“Let me help you,” I said, looking back at her for any sign of disapproval. Her mouth parted slightly, as though to speak. Then she closed her eyes, nodded, and hung her head for the next wave of tears.
The offending photo was turned to face the wall, and tucked behind the sofa. Then, together, we packed a few boxes.
“See if you can get some friends to help you with this,” I suggested, “It’s a huge job on a good day but it’s overwhelming and feels impossible when you’re going through separation. You need help.”
She nodded and, before I left, called some friends to help her pack up what was left of her married life.
People sell their homes for all kinds of reasons, but there is a unique dynamic when the sale is due to a separation. And it raises all kinds of issues for everyone – the sellers, buyers, and the agents caught in the middle.
Oddly, no one really talks about it.
Which is why I’ve written this series of posts about selling due to separation. It’s important to talk about it so we can understand when the issues come up, and know what to do about it. Maybe we’ll have some compassion or be able to avoid surprise attacks if we’re aware.
Wherever I’ve been, professionally or personally, it’s been because God has led me there. Helping sellers in the midst of separation is just another such opportunity I see Him giving me. I am not afraid of crisis. Lord knows I’ve had my share of it. And I’m honored that He uses me to serve others in their own crises. Whether it’s to help sell a house, pack boxes, or just pull a photo off the wall.
No one wants to talk about it.
But it’s happening more and more.
People are selling their houses due to marital separation.
I’m not sure what’s worse though – the crisis many couples are in while they try to sell their house, or that no one is talking about the swirling mess of issues that come up as a result.
I may not be able to rescue anyone from crisis, but I can sure initiate a conversation. Hopefully it helps dispel a few myths, open a few eyes, or foster a bit of compassion and understanding for those who are hurting and either ruined by the pain or lashing out as a result.
Over the next bunch of posts I’d like to talk about selling during a separation.
Can I be honest with you about the games people play during the sale to control, manipulate, or exact revenge on their spouse? This isn’t about being gossipy or telling juicy stories. People in crisis have a hard time seeing what’s going on. Also, after years of marriage, one doesn’t anticipate how separation can stir up a vengeful beast. So, when the games start, they come as a shock. Let’s talk about it so you can be prepared.
So you’re not shocked out of your socks.
So you can recognize a gamer’s ways and protect yourself.
I’d like to tell you why I removed one woman’s wedding photo from the wall – and why she didn’t do it herself. The stages of grief are not reserved for death.
Sometimes people will get into a heated argument, even shouting at the top of their voice, over a dining set. But in a separation, it’s never, ever, ever about the dining set.
Then there’s the experience of a real estate agent caught in the middle. I’m not allergic to helping people through crises, and I’ve certainly been through my own.
Maybe I’ll even talk about the time a couple decided not to sell their house, and how it saved their marriage. That was the best money I never made, and I’m thrilled every time I see them together.
Separation is like a fire – it blazes with red hot emotions, damages everything it touches, and people get burned. I know. It hurts. It’s gut-wrenching. And it changes your life forever. It’s also isolating.
That’s why we need to talk about it.
And, maybe by talking about the many issues that flare up, we can minimize the damage and put a bit of salve on the burns.
If you haven’t read Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, I’ll give you a quick primer on who Tom Sawyer is. Basically, he’s imaginative, making everything fancy and “high faluting”. He touches even the simplest things with an air of magic.
And had he grown up and built a house, this would be it.
Tom never outgrew his boyish love of playful surprises, and crafted a giant tree house for him and his family in a way never-before seen.
Only he could send vaulted ceilings soaring high over grand rooms while the space below possessed a palpable warmth. It is at once spacious and cozy, sharp yet comfortable. It’s the kind of grand home where a sophisticated adult can host parties. The kind of cozy family cottage where children climb trees, scrape knees, and collect a life time of memories. Perhaps even build a raft.
I’m sure Tom would have driven his wife crazy with his all-consuming dedication to detail.
He madly experimented with architecture, creating unexpected angles in surprising places. The bath and shower are not merely an appliance in Tom’s imaginings, no. They are an opportunity to create a sprawling spa beneath a tall window and steeply angled wall, amidst elegant slate tiles.
Standing in the kitchen, you find yourself in the very heart of the grand cabin. Rustic wood cabinets and black metal handles ground the room in the cozy, rustic feel of a tree house. Even the light fixtures slink long and low, adorned with carved leaves as though hanging like vines.
Tom left no detail unexplored. Like a skilled artist, he crafted surprising angles in unexpected places. The heavy, rich wood doors. Even arched windows.
And finally, perhaps as his own personal cove in which to read endlessly, he added a loft in his bedroom, the perfect place to tuck away his library and office. And, as he climbed the tree house ladder rungs to his hideaway, he doubtless relived childhood memories of his adventures with Huck.
So where would he build such a grand tree house?
At the end of a wooded lane, of course, where woods lay ripe for his own children to explore and invent their own adventures.
(Tour Tom’s house here.)
They were happy.
Married, healthy, and earning a comfortable income, they enjoyed life, their home, and each other.
Then it happened.
Strange symptoms started to show up. Finally bothered, nagged, and mystified enough, he went to the doctor to find out what was going on. A diagnosis followed, and the prognosis wasn’t good. He was slated for surgery.
Many long months of treatments followed the surgery. She made herself available to be his personal, stand-by nurse after the surgery and during treatments.
They couldn’t go out.
Few came to visit.
The isolation was crushing. No one knew the emotional and mental anguish they suffered at the hands of his physical disabilities, or how trapped they both felt inside the walls of their own home.
Years passed this way. They robotically dragged themselves through each day of his long and slow recovery. Thankfully though, recovery did come. He was able to care for his own physical needs. They could leave the house and be among people. Both were miraculously able to return to work.
They were happy again, but something had changed.
The years had made their home into a prison cell. Now, despite his recovery, every room in that house reminded them of the hardest years of their lives. Every day the memories of that dark time haunted them.
They needed a fresh start somewhere else and to make new memories in a new home.
That’s when they called me and we began the search together.
Sometimes we need to bloom where we’re planted, even in a bed of weeds. Other times, it’s necessary to move on.
Reasons people have for buying and selling their homes are as varied as the people themselves.
I’ll never tire of the honor of hearing people’s stories. I especially can’t get enough of helping people through this highly personal experience of buying and selling the places where we make memories that last a lifetime.
What new chapter of your life are you starting this fall?