This is the fifth of 12 “amazing” installments of “12 days that amaze.” I am pushing myself to write 12 posts about things that amaze me leading up to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation fundraiser in Chicago that Karin, Deb and I are participating in. In doing so, I must also be open to the everyday amazing things that happen around me.
This week’s entry in The Monster in Your Closet’s FTIAT series (written by Christine of The Dash Between) was beautiful as usual, and I hope you’ll read it. Commenting on her post had me thinking about my own separation and divorce, and some of the bad feelings and turmoil that went with it.
To some extent, we establish a relationship with everyone we interact with, whether it be a coworker, a library employee, the cashier at the cafeteria where you buy subs and soup, etc. We build deeper relationships with some than with others, depending on time, association, context, and (I’m sure) several other factors. It could be 12 seconds with the clerk in a grocery store or 12 years with a spouse and in-laws.
The deeper the relationship, the higher the stakes
As we become more invested and embedded in a certain relationship (and all the relationships that come with it), going separate ways becomes all the more difficult and seemingly tragic. I was married for 11 years to my first wife, and we lived together a year before that. I know that some couples marry for life and stay together 60+ years, but a dozen years with someone is still a far cry from a dozen seconds. It’s long enough to become intertwined with someone (and their family). We build interdependencies, like two trees planted next to each other whose root systems begin to overlap. Only, when you get married and have children, you (usually) become a part of a full ecosystem.
When my then-wife confronted me about my distance almost three years ago, I confessed that I was in the beginning stages of an emotional affair, and I suggested that we separate. We had already been to counseling. We were reading the books and doing the activities. We had done everything we were supposed to do, and things still weren’t working out. I won’t speak for her, but I was very unhappy. I loved her as a friend, I explained, but we were no longer loving partners. She made the next move in filing for divorce. Some of this may have been “calling my bluff,” or at a friend’s urging, but she started the process and we followed through with it.
In Michigan, when you have children, you must wait a minimum of six months before a divorce can be finalized. Those were some awful, awkward months. Resentment, denial, anger. From my family, I got some support, but some of it was heavily mixed with judgment. (“Are you sure you can’t work this out? You know, on [some TV show about divorce], they said [blah, blah, blah].” I know they wanted the best for me, but all I heard was, “You’re making a terrible mistake.”
A turn of phrase
Divorce is never easy. It’s painful any way you slice it, especially when you have kids. But what can make the transition somewhat less painful and long-lasting are the relationships you’ve built. My ex-wife’s mother was understandably angry at me in the beginning. Harsh words were exchanged, and we both know that they came out of hurt and fear, not genuine disdain. One phrase that hurt so deeply in the beginning was the same phrase that would save our relationship:
“I loved you as my own son.”
When spoken out of a place of hurting, this sounds a lot like, “You’ve destroyed a sacred bond. You blew it. I hope you’re satisfied.” When spoken out of a place of forgiveness, it sounds more like, “I accept everything that’s happened and I’m sorry. I love you.”
I hate to single out my ex-mother-in-law, but this really gets at the core of this post. We’re on great terms now. Rather than referring to them as “ex-” anythings, I usually refer to them as my kids’ grandparents. Because they live in Michigan, I see them more than my own parents. They visit the kids (all of them), they take my boys for a weekend when we need them to (like next weekend for our Chicago trip!), and they even helped us move. Because of the relationship we’d built, and a mutual willingness to maintain that relationship, things are
just as good as even better than they were before. It’s amazing.
The same goes for my ex-wife. She’s involved with the kids and we’re all on good terms. She and Karin have taken the kids swimming together, they attended our middle child’s parent-teacher conference together yesterday, and they were talking about going to see The Lorax this afternoon. My ex-wife and her new husband have coined this functional, amiable network that is our blended family a “family ecosystem.” I like that term a lot. (She also happens to pay–voluntarily–a very reasonable amount of child support in addition to traveling to see the kids when she can. That’ll bolster your working relationship!)
Today I am amazed at how beautifully our blended family ecosystem is shaping itself. I am also so, very thankful for the relationships in my life, particularly the healthy ones. The unhealthy ones had a hand in shaping who I am today and who I am yet striving to become, but the healthy ones are the ones that last because they’re the ones worth holding onto.