It has been 14 years since we divorced. 14 years. We were married for 18 years. And it seems that its now, only now, that I finally got that I had carried the same relationship expectations through our marriage into all the subsequent years of divorce – that he would show up with more desire to listen-to-understand, to openly communicate, to be authentically present, care, learn and grow, than he wanted to. I have realized in the last little while that I had retained my hope and my commitment and my expectations, that we would do our best in marriage and divorce, to be completely in sync as parents, and (magically) that we would find our way parenting together post divorce, with more conviction to positively influence each other, than we had managed during our marriage. (This is called ‘magical thinking’.) As I write that, wrote that, reread and reread it, I feel like I really am a fundamentally character-blind person…and I have always been more able to love someone’s potential no matter what the over-proved reality evidence is!
Other than the first couple of years post divorce that filled with me the ugly pain of disapointment in myself and my shame and blame stopping me from being able to share holidays and birthdays; we moved into sharing again family times – even going on small family trips together, sharing a bed once because that was less weird than sleeping on the floor, sharing financial and talking-it-through support for each other’s momentary life challenges, having endless co-parenting conversations through the years…helping with house maintenance problems (mostly mine)…even living in the same house at one point to help me out when I wanted to go overseas to work…which is all really to explain this: we never actually divorced. I retained all the benefits of having a partner, minus the lovely sex, the awful snoring and having to iron. He unwaveringly kept his commitments, he did everything he did during marriage and divorce; he reliably and consistently showed up in his best possible way and he continued to cook the turkey and gather the family for every holiday. When the chips were down, he has always been an unwavering rock and presence. So, what’s wrong with that?
There is an opportunity cost to every decision and action. Our committment to our post-divorce relationship cost us the opportunity to move on into other relationships. We have both tried several times, but we both learned the hard way that no future partner wants to know they are second to any call of need from the ex. In this past 14 years, neither of us have had the opportunity to be fully loved by another, to create a more integrous relationship with another person, to have had the experience of growing and changing as a human being in ways that shape and deepen a partnership. Our commitment to our relationship created for us both a ‘fractured’ life. We had separate friends, some were his, some had been ours, and they sometimes melded together. In times of fear and when life was extra hard, it was easy to slide back into judgement, criticism and silence as a response, vs communicating truthfully. Mostly it was easier to continue to ‘work around’ each other, rather than address real values conflicts. We were not and have not been authentically committed to each other’s growth and learning – that’s not part of our commitment to each other. So, though we did help each other out with the ‘daily life tasks’ we have in equal measure continued to hold each other back from life. Oddly, the core reason for our divorce, was my frustration that he was unwilling to learn and grow (at my pace), to examine (and change in my opinion) his beliefs and behaviours which I found limiting; and at the core, our relationship lacked a fundamental integrity – on both sides – to tell our truths to each other. It scared me, to know that what I wanted was to be fully accepted and to be freed or liberated from my immature life mistakes and beliefs, when in fact neither of us felt safe enough in our relationship to risk the ‘safety’ of our marriage for the authentic safety of being fully loved for our fullest humanness. [A conundrum two people often encounter within any relationship of mattering: when what we want most is the fullness of human relationship acceptance (safety) and the thing we fear most risks that very acceptance.]
My former husband and I shared an incredibly deep commitment to support each other as a post divorce ‘couple’ and to completely share our children’s lives and upbringing. Yet this beautifully intended committment also held he and I in patterns of unhelpful limiting behaviours. This commitment to be present for our children, and for them to know that their parents had each other’s ‘backs’ (so they would feel safe) – led he and I, at times, to sacrifice our individuality and our growth, which has likely created a false-family-hood experience for our children.
I hated the concept of divorce, always had publicly proclaimed – not us – ever. Never never will we do that. And yet – when I found myself on the divorce path – I loudly proclaimed that our commitment to shared parenting and doing our best for our kids together was our shared priority – regardless, it did not ever change the fundamental differences their father and I shared. We do life differently, we explore life differently, we care about different things, we wanted different experiences, and though I always felt he didn’t want to grow, I think now, its that his growth choices were not mine – and that is where the real rub still is – will always be. The lack of respect, acceptance and valuing the need for me and maybe for him too, to find ‘safety’ in the inherent risk growth equation, brings an expansion and treating growth as a ‘distancing’ and separation – that was the chasm in our relationship.
For 14 years, I have been divorced, but in reality, we have never not been in a relationship of mattering and caring for our family together, just that this 14 years we did it together from mostly separate homes and mostly separate bank accounts, and mostly different friends. We just have now, I realize, divorced; because divorce is putting down the expectation, the investment, the choice to show up. It’s not a diminishment of prioritizing my care for him, its about realizing that my care and my commitment for him, has to change, for me to actually grow and change and to be available to be loved fully by myself and another. That is what divorce is intended to do – to liberate the commitment – some of it, maybe all of it; but it did not liberate me 14 years ago – it did create breathing room, it did create opportunities to do for myself what I had to do and to stop putting on him, my own claiming of my own integrity – for myself – separate from anyone else’s approval. That is probably the most unsung or unrealized chapter of my divorce journey, til now.
I don’t have regrets. I could get lost in them…in the dark nights; but, what I know is that we have done our very best, and our commitment served a purpose, far beyond what I could have seen. He provided a relationship container and our fierce shared commitment to our children created a vehicle for me, to try things out – to grow up my own self. And for that and so much more, I am deeply grateful for his presence in my life. Claiming my integrity, liberating myself from my need for the approval and acceptance of others, yes, I imagine, that is likely my life long journey. Just as learning that it is a soul destroying mistake to make trading my integrity for another’s approval – for placing my happiness in someone else’s hands – for putting my judgements on others as a projection of my own disowned parts of my perfectly imperfect self. I borrowed his courage and his integrity, and I leveraged it so I could be bolder and to keep going even when I was afraid to fail.
I went to Bali this April for a holiday and I realized mid-way that I had had, for the first time ever, zero worry about our kids. Since returning from Bali – I didn’t set about contemplating or looking for profound realizations, yet, the unconscious sifting has occurred and new ‘pictures’ and understandings have emerged. The biggest maybe is that though we were married a few years longer than we have been divorced, in truth, this last 14 years of divorce has been the maintenance of a commitment we made to each other in 1986, and though the divorce papers were signed in 2004, we have only just now completed our real-time commitment.
Our relationship will be freer going foward – my care for him will always be a part of me; he’s a good human and I’m grateful he chose to show up for all these years together.
Our children stopped asking years ago, why we got divorced…it was unexplainable…many of our friends and family didn’t understand it – then or for years. I couldn’t articulate it well, without feeling like I would sound like a selfish heartless bitch, or a flake…until now. I wrote this in recognition and honour of our committment, I wrote this for our children and for him, and for me. I am very, very grateful for their extension of Grace – because in all these years, with all our life trials and achievements, we have never abandoned our commitment to each other.
Divorce is a legal change of marital status and it is a journey of liberation and of claiming; if you will let it. I’m deeply grateful that I’ve finally come to understand this and realizing now, that the journey had been happening all along, I just couldn’t see it, til now.
So eloquent, you write brilliantly. Thank you for this piece. My experience very similar but I’m still married. Separated for 4 yrs after a 30 yr marriage. Still can’t move on despite trying and living separately. Maybe its my fear of abandonment? Yet emotionally we don’t really connect on a deep level. So much discord with past hurts getting in the way leading to continued criticism, perceived or real.