Eight hundred and sixty-eight days ago, I first wrote about my marital separation.
It was the first of many posts that attempted to chronicle my thoughts about a life that would quickly become unrecognizable.
I tried to write respectfully, as I knew that every word would likely be read by my children someday.
You can pass judgment as to whether I succeeded. Truthfully, however, the only opinions I care about are those of my children.
However, as the months and years passed, I received hundreds of comments, private messages, and emails from people who were in the midst of their own special brand of hell.
Because divorce is hell. I can’t think of any other way to describe it.
It’s particularly terrible when you have children, as you’ll never actually be free of this person. After all, you have an obligation to maintain a certain level of respect for them simply because they help raise your children.
Hating your ex-spouse is a luxury that you do not have if you share children.
Refusing to work with your ex-spouse is a luxury that you do not have if you share children.
You can tell yourself differently, but you’d be wrong.
Just this week, I received messages from four different women, all asking for advice about how to survive their divorce. How they can possibly bear another day of their children’s grief? How they can stay strong when they feel their ex’s hatred emanating with such ferocity that they are certain they’d end up in a dumpster somewhere, bloated and vacant-eyed, if there was a guarantee of no serious consequences?
These women ask about parenting plans. Relationship issues. Friendships. They write of feeling powerless. Struggling with finances. Fear. They wonder if being a psychologist and parent coach somehow gives me immunity from the anger and sorrow that accompanies divorce.
But they also write about hope. Feeling more free. Discovering new talents. Setting goals. Meeting people. They write about potential.
Potential. That’s a powerful word. I’ve scrawled that on my bathroom mirror more than once during my darkest hours.
Most of all, however, they write about wanting to do the right thing for their children. Feeling ready to set aside the ugliness and hurt of their marriage and separation and form a new relationship with their ex, one based on co-parenting and the mutual love of their children. They write to me, I think, because they know I’m like-minded. With very few exceptions (um, abuse), I’m never going to be the voice in their ear who tells them that fighting for their children means starting a fight with their ex-spouse.
A healthy relationship with an ex, it seems, is one of the most difficult aspects of divorce. Closure is nearly impossible to achieve when each person has a vastly different opinion about how events transpired. It is also hard to build a new relationship when you’re still trapped in the past, with no place for forgiveness or mercy. When your goal is to blame, not heal.
But there is a point when you have to let go of the past and recognize that while your ex-spouse may have been a colossally poor partner to you, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they are a poor parent to your children. Yes, we get it. You don’t like them. You don’t trust them. You feel wronged and wounded. You can’t forget.
But maybe you should focus less on you. Because custody and visitation isn’t about you–it’s about the children. They haven’t divorced your spouse; you have.
This is all very relevant to me, as I’m currently treading water, waiting for both of us to find forgiveness and start to build a life that is completely different from the unhealthy one we created while we were married. Rage and self-righteousness seem to be close companions, and I suspect they’ll remain until it’s recognized that what happened in the past is over now and it. will. not. happen. again. Not between us, anyway.
At this point, post-divorce, we don’t owe each other anything beyond excelling at co-parenting for the sake of our children. Being a good co-parent is fraught with many obligations and ethical considerations, all of which are undermined when accompanied by spite and self-focus. And while revenge may feel like an elixir for past hurts, it’s actually just a toxin that eats away at the future.
It’s disheartening when, years after you parted, there continues to be commentary about the ugliness of your married and separated life. As though you can change the past. As though you’re even that same person anymore, capable of the same thoughts and behavior. Your ex may have this erroneous idea that he/she somehow knows you, as if you’ve remained emotionally stagnant during the years since you last shared a home.
One reader, named Stella, (Day 1,032) wrote,
I don’t care what he does anymore. I don’t care if he apologizes or realizes how much he hurt me. Because we’re divorced and I never have to worry about whether he’s even capable of learning how to treat a spouse. It’s not my problem anymore. I’m not going to waste energy being angry at him. I’m just going to focus on being happy. I’m going to focus on doing what I need to do to make sure I’m never with someone like that again. But looking back with anger won’t accomplish anything but sabotage my future relationship with him. And I need him to be functional, because he’s my daughter’s father and she deserves a mother and a father.
Another reader, Kathryn (Day 698), wrote,
He’s forgotten how he pushed me down the stairs when I was pregnant. He’s forgotten that he gambled for years. All he can focus on is that I dated a man during our separation who he once worked with. His humiliation about this detail surpasses the shame he should feel over the husband he was. I’m happy now with the man who was his co-worker. He is a man who treasures me and I thank God every day I said “yes” to him when he asked me to have coffee. That was on Day 432. We’re now on Day 698, and my ex is just as angry now as the day he left. Sometimes I feel sorry for him.
Jessica (Day 140), writes,
Tell us about Jack. I need to know that I’m not going to be so screwed up from this marriage that I’ll be unlovable and broken forever. Because right now I am those things and I hate it. Plus, I’d really like to hear some good news today.