Blowing up your wedding dress when your divorce is finalized raises several interesting questions. Would Collaborative Law have been a better option? What does it say about the issue of blame? And what does it say about the tailoring of the dress itself?
Starting with the last of these, there is no indication whatsoever in the news report from the Fort Worth Star Telegram that tailoring was an issue when 43-year-old Kimberly Santleben-Stiteler threw a divorce party and literally blew up her gown, using enough Tannerite explosive to make a “garage-size fireball.” The blast was reportedly heard, and felt, 15 miles away.
Her beef was not with her dressmaker. Apparently it was with her ex, to whom she had been married 14 years. The marriage was finally “put out of its misery” in a Texas courtroom the day before the fiery celebration. As her 40 guests looked on, Santleben-Stiteler detonated the garment by firing a rifle at it from a safe distance of 200 yards, on her father’s farm in the small town of Lacoste, about 25 miles west of San Antonio. She told reporters that when the glow of the giant orange explosion lit up her face, “waves of relief” flowed throughout her body.
What about the issue of blame? While there is no specific discussion in the news article about this topic, it seems Santleben-Stiteler may well have blamed the dissolution of the marriage, at least to some degree, on her ex. This supposition is based on the photo of her wearing a crown that says “I’m not with stupid.” People tend not to blame themselves for things, and she appears to be no exception.
In divorce, though, blaming your ex for everything, and yourself for nothing, is both commonplace and counterproductive. As Professor Jeffrey Kottler says in his book Beyond Blame: A New Way of Resolving Relationships, playing the “blame game” creates a vicious cycle that is damaging and very difficult to escape. The trick, he says, is to try and take an approach that is “more internal than external,” and embark on “an introspective process of accepting responsibility.”
This doesn’t mean everything is your fault. It means you are probably responsible for at least some things, and you will get further acknowledging those realities, rather than ignoring them completely, and taking the view that you are completely without contribution to the relationship break down — because this type of attitude does not sit well with family court judges, nor does it bode well with even your children.
But admitting that you played a part in your breakup, even if it’s a minority part, is not easy. That is why, just as the jails are full of “innocent” people, family courts are full of “saints” who have never done anything wrong in their lives! Again, this is entirely natural. The very first pages of Dale Carnegie’s classic How to Win Friends and Influence People talk about how we don’t see our own faults. (He basically goes on to argue that if you want to win someone as a friend, try not to blame them for stuff — because they’ll never agree with you, and they’ll just get ticked off.)
To illustrate, he recounts the awful story of murderer “Two Gun” Crowley who, while under police siege (which included teargas and machine gun attacks,) wrote a letter addressed “To whom it may concern.” As Carnegie describes it, “the blood flowing from his wounds left a crimson trail on the paper. In this letter Crowley said: ‘Under my coat is a weary heart, but a kind one — one that would do nobody any harm.’ He didn’t blame himself for anything. He was eventually sentenced to the electric chair. This is an extreme example, but it is an example nonetheless of the universal human foible of taking absolutely no responsibility for one’s actions.
Finally, what about Collaborative Law? It’s beauty is that it allows divorcing parties to bring in professionals right at the outset, including social workers/counsellors who can help the spouses move away from hardline positions — which are often based on the attitude of “nothing’s ever my fault” — and instead reach an early, cost-effective settlement. This helps avoid aggravating the children’s trauma, and bankrupting the parties with legal fees. After all, many say it is not the divorce itself that seriously harms kids — it’s the subsequent fight. Collaborative Law can help to sidestep that.
Then, perhaps, it won’t be necessary to detonate your dress. Or if you do decide to do that, maybe your ex can come join the party. It might be a good dress rehearsal (no pun intended) for future events where peace and co-operation are highly desirable, such as your kid’s graduation, or wedding.
True, there seems to have been some beneficial catharsis when Santleben-Stiteleres fired at her dress. “The explosion was huge,” she said. “It was liberating pulling that trigger. It was closure for all of us.” However, there is definitely a less destructive, and certainly quieter, way to resolve your separation/divorce issues. With your children intact.
For advice on family and fertility law issues, contact Shirley Levitan.