Posted by: silverliningsblog | March 22, 2011

A Good Divorce

The title of this blog post may seem to be an oxymoron. But I believe it is possible to end a marriage (or relationship) on good terms. Saying goodbye to a shared history, home, family and friends is challenging, especially when children are involved. But it does not have to end badly or bitterly. Your kids can end up being happy, and so can both of you.

I am writing this post for the many people who are going through a separation or are considering one. I also write it to be a voice for children who are watching their world as they know it change, unable or too afraid to tell their parents what they are feeling and what they need most from them. I am not an expert by any means in separation or divorce, but I hope my personal experience is helpful to others.

My 10-year relationship with my ex-husband ended a year and a half ago. We had been married for seven years. We were in counselling on and off for most of the years we were together. Few people knew that, because neither of us believed in “airing our dirty laundry in public,” or in asking friends and family members to take sides in our disagreements.

So when we split up, it came as a surprise to many. It was not a surprise to us. We had worked hard for many years to make our relationship work. We struggled to create a connection between us. We had very different personalities, and found living with those differences every day to be challenging. And over the course of the years, as we added children and more responsibilities, the gap between us widened until there was no longer any way to bridge it.

It was no one’s fault really. Our relationship just didn’t work. We tried to fix it, but couldn’t. Even our counsellors agreed it was time to walk away. So we ended things before we got to the point where we hated each other, and before our children suffered from watching their parents grow distant and angry.

As is often the case when two people separate, other people wonder why. They search for answers, and often look for someone to blame. Usually, former spouses fall prey to the blame game too, and try to pin the failure of the relationship on each other.

Thankfully, my ex-husband and I were able to agree that, while we had both made mistakes, neither of us was at fault. Our relationship was simply dysfunctional, and had come to its natural end. Sometimes things just don’t work out. It’s still painful, but there is no reason to intensify the pain by fighting and blaming and throwing punches at each other.

So when we decided it was over, we made a few key decisions:

  • We decided we didn’t have to be hateful with each other and make it harder than it already was. After all, despite everything, we still respected and wanted each other to be happy.
  • We chose to hire one mediator to help us work out the legal technicalities and come to a joint agreement, instead of wasting money on duelling lawyers. We knew for the most part how we wanted to divide things, and just needed a little help with the fine print.
  • We agreed we would not talk badly about each other to our mutual friends and family, or expect them to take sides.
  • We decided to focus on our kids, and to continue to be the best parenting team we could be for their sake. Our marriage to each other had ended. But our joint responsibility to our kids had not.

Our kids were two and four at the time that we separated. We knew that, while we no longer wanted to live with each other, they would have chosen differently. We believed our kids would be better off in the long term if they could live in two homes with two happy, healthy parents, instead of in one home with two unhappy, angry parents. But we also knew that it would be difficult for them in the short term.

So we decided it was our job to make it as easy for them as possible. I asked advice from counsellors, friends whose parents had divorced, and people who had recently separated. I found that people pretty much across the board said the same thing: it’s not divorce, per se, that messes kids up. It’s how their parents handle the divorce. Children of divorce said what upset them was when their parents fought, put them in the middle, deserted them, or couldn’t even be in the same room let alone celebrate an event for their sake.

Christmas dinner with my ex-husband and children in my home, December 2010

My ex and I decided we would continue to celebrate special events together with our kids, like Christmas, birthdays, school events, and the occasional family outing or dinner. While we knew we would be building new traditions with our children as two separate families, we also saw no reason why we would deprive our kids of the right and need to have both their parents with them for important moments in their lives.

We chose to split custody equally, because we both want to be an equal part of our children’s lives and are both equally capable of caring for them. Because our kids are young, we switch back and forth every day or two, so that at most our kids only go a couple days without seeing the other parent. That way, if they miss one of us, we can say, “You’ll see Mommy/Daddy tomorrow.” We make sure to tell them who is picking them up each day from school, so they know what to expect and can feel some sense of control over where they are going.

This arrangement has worked very well for us so far, and the kids seem to have adjusted well. As they get older, we will likely make changes to our schedule to accommodate our children’s changing needs.

Since I was the one who moved out and set up a new home, I asked the kids what bedding they wanted and how they would like their rooms to be decorated. I made sure they had familiar toys, books and clothing at each house. I printed pictures of them with me to keep at their dad’s house, and pictures of them with their dad to keep at mine, so that if they missed the other parent when they were away, they had a picture next to their bed to give them comfort.

We acknowledge our kids’ right and need to love both of us without making them have to choose sides. We do not say bad things about each other to our children. We encourage and support our children’s relationship with each other and with the other parent. We talk about the other parent positively instead of pretending they don’t exist, and don’t make our kids feel bad for wanting to speak about or call the other parent.

While our marriage has ended, we realize we still have to maintain some kind of relationship for our children’s sake. We still talk several times a week to coordinate schedules and discuss issues that come up about the kids. We split the work and expenses that go along with raising children, and switch nights with each other when needed. Because neither of us has been nasty to the other, we have enough good will between us that we can spell each other off when the other needs a night off for a special event.

I don’t mean to suggest by any of this that we have it all figured out. Our kids seem to be adjusting well, and we are thankful for that. But we know we have to continue to work to meet their needs and that we have to be prepared for the questions they may ask as they get older. I am sharing our experience here because, in general, we have separated very amicably, and I want to give people hope that they can too.

That said, I do not want people to think I take divorce or separation lightly. I think before people throw in the towel, they need to know they have done everything they can to make their relationship work. Read books, get counselling, talk to each other and to other level-headed people. Tell your spouse what you need and make every effort to meet their needs. Do whatever you can so that you know you have tried your best before walking away.

I cannot speak about situations involving abuse, addictions, mental illness or other major issues, as I have no training or knowledge of these things. I would encourage anyone dealing with these situations to get professional counselling. Don’t be afraid to ask for help – an objective third party can help to shed light on a seemingly impossible situation and provide encouragement and advice.

What I have come to believe is that divorce does not have to be painful. You do not have to blame each other. If you do decide to part ways, you can do it on friendly or at least neutral terms. Keep the lines of communication open and look to find solutions that work best for everyone involved. Talk to people who have separated amicably – once I opened my mind to the possibility, I met several people who had done it and got great advice. Try to avoid wasting money on lawyers and use a mediator if possible (their interest is in finding the best solution for both parties, not in pitting one against the other).

If you and your ex cannot agree or talk without fighting, find an objective third party you both agree on (like a counsellor, religious figure or mediator) and get them to help you come to an agreement. If you have children, keep bringing your focus back to them and what they need. You may not agree on much these days, but you likely still agree that you love your children and want what is best for them. And what is best for pretty much any child is to know they are loved and cared for by two happy, healthy parents.

Good luck and best wishes for the happiness of everyone involved.


Responses

  1. Wow, you have achieved something really exceptional and I’m sure this gives hope to others who are going through something similar. You are a great example of putting the kids first and of being grown ups rather than adult/kids. Of course no one wants a relationship to end but if things aren’t working and have run their course having some kind of blueprint for separating well and helping children deal with it is so great. I also think it is great that you have kept away from the ‘blame game’. A great post that is a testament to your character and will be a great help to others I’m sure. Proud of you x

    • Thanks Em! I realize too that I am lucky that my former spouse is mature and willing to handle things this way. Not everyone is so lucky.


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