This is a blog post about divorce. That heavy, yucky word that sucks so, so much. I could take this in multiple directions. I could write volumes about what's on my mind and what I have gone through. But what I will start with is this:
Every single day, I am thankful for my ex-husband. I love him deeply as a person and am truly blessed to have him in my life. He is an amazing father and human being.
Unfortunately, not many divorced folks can say this about their ex-spouse. How did we manage to get to this point? It CERTAINLY was not always like this, trust me.
Let me share some of our story, because I feel a need to destigmatize divorce and share how we managed to get to a good place, with the intention of helping others going through a similar time.
If you don't feel like reading the background story, just scroll to the bottom and check out my summary of advice/reflections. But I do feel that it is useful to give you some context.
To describe what happened into a very basic outline: we were together for 16 years. (This doesn't include meeting in college 3 years before that and dating on and off. It's been a long, long road, peoples.) At the 14 year mark, our marriage was in crisis. There was no one event that caused this; we simply had a long, slow decline which led us to feel extremely disconnected from one another. We entered a very intense period of therapy for two years straight which involved weekly couples therapy + individual sessions for us both. He and I were committed to the process and both had in our minds that the best case scenario was that our marriage would be saved.
At the end of year one, we had ironed out most of our issues. Unfortunately, though, while we were much more at peace with each other and had developed much better communication skills, we were not in love with each other anymore. The attraction had long gone and it had not returned. So, the second year was all about trying to reestablish that connection.
It never came back, at least not in the romantic sense. I wasn't sure how much longer I could go on doing what we were doing. Those two years of therapy were the darkest, scariest, most emotionally exhausting years of my life. I was on a constant emotional rollercoaster of getting my hopes up that our marriage could be saved, only to have my hopes crash and burn on a pretty regular basis.
Looking back, I have no idea how I managed to go through that while ALSO going to work each day (I am a high school psychologist working in South Central LA, a super intense job) AND trying to be a mother to a small child (also intense at times). Words can't really describe those two years for me. I simply refer to it as my dark night of the soul. That time of my life and the lessons I learned is a whole different post, so I'll leave that for another time.
At the end of the two years of therapy I called for a trial separation, which we entered into shortly thereafter. The minute that decision was agreed to, a mountain was lifted from me and I felt as if I could breathe again. It wasn't until that moment that I realized how much I was suffocating in the relationship. It was one of the most intense energetic moments of my life and I felt it deeply in my whole body. I knew instantly that I needed to leave.
On a practical level, we rented an apartment close to our house. We agreed that the trial would last three months, to prevent it from dragging on longer than it needed to. This was all arranged with the help of our therapist (who we worked with throughout the separation and divorce process in order to help support us emotionally during this time, as well as to help us move into coparenting and the practical decisions around that - HIGHLY RECOMMEND). For a few days at a time, we would rotate in and out of the apartment, so that our son could remain at home. It was definitely an interesting time, but we made it work and it was actually just fine.
At the end of the three months, I was ready to move forward with divorce. We had already at that point done SO MUCH therapy and SO MUCH processing of everything that was happening, that the moment we decided to end our marriage seemed almost unemotional. Although there was a sense of energetic relief that this chapter was finally closing, I knew I had to gather up strength to get through the divorce process.
Looking back at that moment, it seemed like such a blur - we found and began working with a mediator, who was excellent - such a big reason why the divorce process seemed so much less intense than what you might expect. She was a former divorce attorney who switched to mediation because she hated the contentiousness of traditional divorce. She knew the law like the back of her hand, was whip smart, and acted as a completely neutral party who made the process fair and balanced.
The divorce process felt fairly unemotional due to the help of her, in addition to our therapist who supported us emotionally with anything that came up. I remember it as being intense only in the sense of needing to get all of our financials in order which involved a lot of phone calls, paperwork, and getting really organized with all of that. In retrospect, it was an excellent thing for me to go through as a woman who definitely had let her husband rule most of the finances and financial decisions. It felt like a learning curve at the time, but was so incredibly necessary for me.
While the moment when our divorce was finalized a year later felt like a relief and a more formalized sense of closure, it really was the moment we decided to separate that was the most significant. Family and friends kept asking when/if the divorce was final, and I remember thinking how they did not understand what we were going through. It had already ended, even if the piece of paper had not arrived in the mail yet - and we had already separated emotionally, transitioned to separate living spaces months prior, and were settling in to the new way of living.
Which brings me to our son. The number one reason we stayed together for so long, and remained in therapy for so long, was because of him. We both had intense anxiety around what would happen to him if we decided to end our marriage. We assumed that it would immensely damage him. Loving him more than anything else in the world and wanting to prevent harm was a huge motivator for us to give it our all to save things. Our son was 4 when we entered therapy, and was 7 when the divorce was finalized.
This is also something I could write volumes about, but to keep it brief, our son did not crumble. We had the support of our therapist to gather courage to tell him, in addition to having a plan of what to say and how to support him. Yes, he was sad when we told him we were separating. But he actually moved through his sadness incredibly quickly. His resilience and ability to make the transition still, to this day, amazes me. Our son is very sensitive and feels things deeply, so we both assumed that he would be incredibly distraught. But what we did not realize is that our unhealthy relationship and the stress and tension that had hung thickly in the air for years - for probably his whole life - was also an incredible burden on him. And that perhaps he also felt a sense of relief when that was lifted.
In fact, I know he did, because his behavior changed for the better. There were way less meltdowns. His mood improved. It was clear when we were witnessing this shift in him at how tied up we all were in each others' emotional states and how they impacted all three of us. The energy in the house changed completely when we separated. The weight of the stress, tension, frustration, repressed anger, etc. all lifted and benefitted all of us incredibly. We felt happier, laughed more, and had a sense of ease that just wasn't there before. And it had huge benefits for our son.
This dynamic still remains to this day, and has actually gotten better over time. I have to admit that this is one of the things that people close to us noticed and commented on right away. It was enough to convince those who were anti-divorce that maybe, just maybe, this was the right decision for everyone involved.
It can be easy to think back about what might have happened if we had intervened in our marriage problems earlier. And trust me, I tried. I think we both did at different points. Admitting to your significant other - especially in the context of marriage - that things are not all good and that work needs to be done is hard and incredibly scary. It takes a lot of courage. But for whatever reason, those were failed attempts that did not solve the issues we had. Is it really that useful to rehash the past and see where repairs could have been made? I think it can be, to some extent, in order to learn lessons for next time. But ultimately, we had to focus on the present moment and where we were truly at. We had to accept that at that moment, our decision was the best for all involved. Had we stayed married, we would have never been happy. We would have modeled a dysfunctional, romantically loveless relationship to our son that would not have served him, or anyone. (And how many children are witnessing those types of marriage at this exact moment??) We weren't willing to do that to him, or to ourselves. We felt that our son deserved the opportunity to witness his parents in healthy, loving relationships. And just as importantly, we felt that we, also, deserved to be in healthy, loving relationships.
The three of us still spend a lot of time together. My ex-husband and I see each other most days due to the fact that we share the responsibility of dropping off and picking up our son from school (because of our work schedules). During these times we have the opportunity to still be connected and involved in each others' lives. We also have family dinners once a month that feel easy, good, even fun. We all like each others' company, and I feel so incredibly grateful that we are in this place - for our son, and for ourselves. After all, I have known him for over 20 years now. He knows me better than anyone in the world, and vice versa. That's pretty damn special.
Soooo....holy moly, going through the divorce process is incredibly complicated. I didn't even cover:
I COMPLETELY acknowledge that this is our story, and that everyone has their own version. For starters, he and I were both committed to making things work out in the best way possible. I know many people who were not able to have the same outcomes because one person was unwilling to do the work. Second, I acknowledge huge amounts of privilege in being able to work with a therapist. Unfortunately, due to cost, stigma, schedules, transportation, and a whole other host of reasons, therapy is just not as accessible for some people, which is a huge problem.
But, for what it's worth, here are my main pieces of advice:
There's so much more to say. Although this post is already very long, it's really just the tip of the iceberg. However, I feel passionate about helping others who are struggling in a similar way, whether you are in an unhappy marriage, considering separation, going through divorce, or whatever stage you are in. So please comment and/or contact me to let me know what you want to hear more about. At this point I am a pretty open book about what happened - so if you want to hear more about any of these things, or hear me talk about something I didn't cover, reach out and I will respond or write another post covering it.
The bottom line here is that I am the happiest and healthiest I have been in my entire life. I never realized it would turn out this way - the horror story of divorce played out in my head pretty consistently over that two year period of time. However, I used this incredibly difficult experience to learn and grow into a better person - and I have 100% witnessed the same for my ex-husband. So it is definitely possible for you, as well.
I know that when you are in it, you cannot see this as a possibility. It's only darkness, depression, fear, anger, and incredible amounts of pain and suffering. But wherever you are at, I am hoping that my story at least gives you a different perspective on how things could turn out. I totally acknowledge that where the three of us are at right now is an uncommon scenario. And it might not happen this way for you at all. But I also have a sneaking suspicion that the way most people approach divorce is really off, and it does NOT always have to be that way. However, nobody teaches you how to do it. We just tried our best to move through it in a conscious way - considering the impact of everyone involved, while also staying true to our own needs.
I'll end with the sincere hope that my story has helped in some way, and I wish you the best of luck on your journey. And to those of you who have asked, or are wondering, yes - we are all (beyond) okay.