We've talked about the stages of Loss/Denial and Anger and now enters the stage of divorce/grief that is titled "bargaining". As I thought of how to describe it to you, the word bargain brought to mind the way it is used in the act of shopping or spending money. When there is something that you want, you are required to pay a price for it. Usually the more valuable the item, the higher the cost to you. If we think the price is too high, or more than we can afford to pay, we begin to bargain. We ask, or beg the seller to lower the price, or make the cost less oppressive. If we get them to give us what we want , we say we got a bargain. We got what we wanted, the valuable item, but we know we didn't have to pay what it was worth.
Bargaining in grief or divorce is described below by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler :
"We want life returned to what is was; we want our loved one restored. We want to go back in time: find the tumor sooner, recognize the illness more quickly, stop the accident from happening…if only, if only, if only. Guilt is often bargaining’s companion. The “if onlys” cause us to find fault in ourselves and what we “think” we could have done differently. We may even bargain with the pain. We will do anything not to feel the pain of this loss. We remain in the past, trying to negotiate our way out of the hurt. People often think of the stages as lasting weeks or months. They forget that the stages are responses to feelings that can last for minutes or hours as we flip in and out of one and then another. We do not enter and leave each individual stage in a linear fashion. We may feel one, then another and back again to the first one."
Bargaining is similar to denial, except you think there are things that can help the situation return to normal. When someone has died and you experience bargaining, you reflect on how things could have been different. But in the case of a divorce, and especially for children of divorce, your parents are still living, so bargaining is actually possible. In the initial stages, each time your mind thinks of something that may change things, you write that letter, make that phone call, enlist someone else's help, hoping that what is happening is reversible. If you dont' move out of this stage at some point, you can begin to stalk or harass others. It is imperative that you bargain, but that it ends before you try to force certain reactions from others.
My first recognition of this was when my parents weren't going to share the exposed affair with others, since there was an understanding that things would go back to normal, even though this was discovered. No one said words that are associated with bargaining, but it was unspoken that nothing would change.
I bargained when I met with my parents and basically presented the obvious choice to my father , that he needed to make a decision as to how he was going to proceed. Either stay with my mother and give up his mistress, or choose her and move out. It was painful for me to present the obvious to him , as it wasn't so obvious to him that he could not do both any longer. Truth has a way of exposing our choices.
I later bargained in a way to have conversation or any type of communication that would give me answers I wanted to the way things were and had been. I didn't know what had been true or what had been a lie in my past. I wanted to talk. I tried to bargain conversations about the issue at hand and my father tried to bargain conversations that picked up where we had left off, as though nothing had happened. Needless to say, sometimes when trying to bargain, the price or cost becomes unacceptable to both parties and for years we didnt' come to any resolution.
Other family members, bless their hearts, tried to be the mediator between family members. Some family members tried to tell other family members how to respond. Words like " If you don't ____________, then I won't _____________" were spoken. The hope was to be treated as we used to treat each other. The hope that the pain would go away that things could remain the same caused us to say many desperate things to each other.
Not only was there bargaining between my parents for awhile, but there was bargaining between siblings and us children between each parent. Each hurting soul tried desperately to hold things together and retain what we used to have.
TIPS and DO's and DON'Ts:
Accept this stage and try to recognize it in yourself and in others around you.
Do keep hope for better future relationships
Do accept reasonable compromises that retain your dignity and aren't manipulative
Do decide on what real health would look like in the relationship and keep that the real goal while working on resolutions.
Don't bargain for a false sense of normalcy at all costs....that is not based on truth and causes further dysfunction.
Don't tell others how to react or respond....decide your responses only.
Don't undermine the value of what you have lost. Something truly valuable is not easily replaced by a fake, nor should it be.
triangulation and honesty vs. lies in the next week or so.