One of the weirdest things about divorcing my ex has been the utter confusion from everyone else when they find out we’re still friends. Let me be clear, we’re not just “friendly”; we are still very good and deeply connected friends. I know this may not be possible for the long term, but for now, this is where we are.
I’m getting used to the awe and wonder when folks find out just how good my ex and I are to each other and I’d love to say our split was one of ease and no heartbreak but I’d be lying. It was one of the most painful things I’ve ever had to endure, and I’m still enduring it. I wanted this divorce. I had fallen out of love with my husband, but feeling to my core the depths of the pain I was going to cause our family brought me to my knees regularly. Out of respect for him and for myself, he was fully informed of all of my intentions the moment I knew I was leaving. We were both devastated and though the devastation was for different reasons, it didn’t make it any easier for either of us. We leaned on each other through the pain, we used each other as punching bags occasionally, but mostly, we put our energy and effort into breaking down what could no longer be so that we could mutually build what we knew we wanted and needed for our future selves. Our main focus was our child and we knew that if we were OK, she’d be OK. That was our north star and we worked really hard to make sure our vision of whatever it was we were heading in to put her first.
I get a lot of questions about our marriage in terms of what went wrong and how in the world we remained so tight post-divorce. The biggest question I get is this: if you’re still such good friends, why did you divorce? This question always makes me shake my head. As if getting along and having a great friendship is all that anyone should aspire to in a marriage. How is it that I’m the only one out there that believes you can and should have a deep friendship, mutual respect, commitment, caring, and passion, attraction, romance, contentment, fulfillment, and profound joy?? If I can’t have all of this then I want none of it. Period. Sure, maybe you believe that means I’ll be alone for the rest of my life but I’ll take the risk.
So, how did we do it? I can share three things that come to mind when considering this question. Let me preface this by saying that marriages end for a plethora of reasons and how we chose to move through our split is by no means the answer for everyone. Relationships are complicated and choosing to end one, for whatever reason, is even more complicated. Our situation may sound unachievable or even more like fiction to you and that’s OK. No relationship ends for the same reason or the same way. My goal is to simply pass on what worked for us.
(1). We worked ourselves out of anger and into forgiveness.
Our pain started off coming from a place of anger and resentment for each other. We both played a role in the demise of our marriage and we both, at times, treated each other badly and it caused grief, bitterness, and occasionally agony for the other person at any given time. If we each had told people our sides of the story, no one would have blamed either one of us for our anger and frustration and we were perfectly within our right to hold onto those feelings forever if that’s what we wanted. Thankfully, we both knew in our own hearts that this isn’t what we wanted for ourselves, each other, or us as a unit. We worked hard together and as individuals to see past the pain and into the person we were standing next to. We had to remember that although we may have done hurtful things to each other, we were not hurtful people. When we could remember that our anger stemmed from fear, we could see past those emotions and move into a place of forgiveness.
This is where I think most couples stop evolving with each other and never get past, resulting in a split while these destructive feelings are the majority. Divorce is like any death; denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The point is, if you can give it time and do the work, you may have a chance to move through the surface emotions and dig deeper into your shared human experience in your relationship. If you can reach this place you have a better shot at moving past the anger and hopefully into a place of empathy.
(2). We mutually agreed that our daughter’s happiness outweighed our pain.
At the end of the day, our daughter was our top priority, which I think is true for most parents. Individually, we knew without a doubt that whatever we needed to do to make this as least painful as possible for her is what we were going to do. Of course, we both worried that we weren’t making the right decision, my ex most of all, but I knew in my soul of souls that we had it in us to do this in a way that would keep our daughter intact. I also knew that there was no way that watching her mother die a slow death of deep unhappiness and lack of fulfillment was better than showing her that “we can do hard things”.
As Glennon Doyle put it, “But would I want this marriage for her? And if I wouldn’t want this marriage for her, then why am I modeling bad love and calling that good mothering?”
I desperately wanted to show our daughter that her dad and I could not only end on good terms but that we could end what didn’t work while also building something that could. I was more interested in showing her how our hard work, honesty, and care for each other could allow us to remain bonded, than showing her how to hide pain and live in secret misery.
As for my ex, half of him believed this would obliterate our daughter and he was really angry with me for the damage he was convinced this would cause her. The other half understood my perspective, and knowing I would never do anything that I believed would harm our daughter, he chose to have faith in me, and in us. Our daughter is doing great. This doesn’t mean that our split wasn’t hard on her, but it does mean that because we were able to work through our issues and come out united, we could focus all of our energy on her transition and wellness rather than on our pain and blame. Our trust in each other allowed this. Our commitment to not making her a victim of our sins was sacrosanct. Period.
(3). We were both equally committed to a shared post-divorce vision.
This is the secret sauce right here and without this, the other things I talked about above are moot. I know this is rare and I am fully aware of the fact that most relationships simply can’t work this way. The fact of the matter is if both of you aren’t fully committed to a path of kindness, empathy, and most importantly, forgiveness, then this will not work. Luckily, my ex and I were on the same page. But this doesn’t surprise me; even at our worst, the other person’s heart took precedence. Yes, it certainly helped that there was no scandal in our marriage and nothing happened that would be considered unforgivable, and when the biggest transgression in a marriage is one of you simply falling out of love, forgiveness is typically achievable.
This doesn’t mean that a marriage with betrayal and serious wrongdoing is down for the count in terms of forging a friendship after a split, but it usually means it’s a lot harder. This also doesn’t mean that our road to where we are now wasn’t filled with all kinds of bumps and potholes. It was and still is. We just choose to reside outside of blame and anger and when you have two people actively working not to hurt the other person, there is a trust that builds and that’s nice to be able to count on.
Does this mean this is how we will always be? I really hope so and since I can’t see into the future I will at least believe that we will always have the other person’s best interest at heart.
I choose to believe. I choose to trust. I choose to forgive. I choose to care. I choose to respect. Even if this turns sideways at some point, I’ll always know we did our best. That’s more than I could ever ask for.