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How I Learned That Divorce Can Make Families Stronger

I finally became OK with getting a divorce, even after years of swearing that I wouldn't.

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My divorce to my husband and the father of my 3 children in 2007 was the end of everything I’d ever imagined and by far the scariest thing I had ever done. A child of divorce, I swore I would never. But life is what happens when you aren’t paying attention. Severing our marriage disrupted everything about all of our lives. The years since have been up and down and all around but today we are a family anew. Courage and grit and loss and love and all the pain and sweat and tears in between have led my ex and I, our kids, and our current partners to surprising growth and wonder. Noticing what we’ve lost brings us to what must be found. Divorce can make family stronger.

We were gonna sail around the world.

He and I, the father of my three children, dreamed together for countless hours, pouring over chart tables, learning about blue water sailing, and planning for the day we would unplug and take off. The dream was so real we could taste it and carried us forward through many a dark time right up until we split. We lived aboard “Talapus”, our 30-foot, Bob Perry designed, double ender, ¾ keel blue, water sailboat with our cat (Kaiser Brown) and I can still smell the coffee brewing on a wet Saturday in Seattle where we read the paper below deck prepping to untie and head out across the Sound.

The dream of sailing around the world fueled a shared experience and oh my how we both wanted it.  Right up until the day we separated, that is. The shared dream of sailing around the world evaporated when our marriage ended in 2007.

I will always remember a few awful details like coming home from a business trip to an empty house, and realizing that in separating and sharing custody, I was depriving myself of 50% of my precious time with my children. And so was he. And how the house felt after he took furniture and art out that I had grown used to loving. Address changes. Photos. How to use the clicker.

I remember the loss of contact with his family and the way friends sorted out, more with one of us than the other.  I remember frantically buying two of everything I could so my kids had equivalent homes with each of us. I remember the feelings of failure that ran so deep in the wee hours of the morning that I could barely get up the next day.

But here I was, divorced, with three kids, and shared custody, and an upside down world.

I remarried a few years after our divorce, and on my honeymoon I recall feeling more grief than joy a few days in and trying to explain to husband #2 that I was supposed to be in the South Pacific with my family before him, didn’t he get it? It occurred to me then that I was grieving the loss of what might have been, even more than the loss of what actually was. Even in the joy and awe of new love, the loss was there.

There was a lot of anger between my kid’s Dad and I, and pain. But somewhere deep in my heart I held out hope that there was a seed of connection between us that mattered and would live to grow again. I think everyone around me thought I was crazy for holding out such a hope and many advised me to just let go.

But then, I got a sign.  It was after the accident.  One crisp summer day, our 18-year old son fell 35-feet on Asterisk Pass at Smith Rock State Park. He ruptured his spleen and came within an hour of bleeding to death. Sitting in the waiting room outside surgery not knowing if he would live and unable to reach across to his father, was a low point that epitomized the ravaged hearts of divorce.  But the sign came the next morning.

Coffee.  “I’m getting coffee on the way in. You still take it with cream?” And that was that. A breaking open, and a deep knowing that after 18 years and 3 children, this man and I knew each other still. That started a routine while our son was in ICU. I’d take night shift, he’d take days, and he always arrived with coffee for me.  That dark event started a rocky and fragile road to forgiveness and eventually, friendship.

The divorce booklet term for what we do is “co-parent.” But what it feels like to me is so very, very much more than that.  He singularly knows the stories of our children’s birth, the personalities they carried from the womb, and the dreams that two young 20 something’s could concoct and evolve about oceans and cats. We share the unique experience of being the two adults on the planet who will always be willing to lie down in traffic for these 3 human beings we created even when they are difficult and ornery.

And there is no one else I would consider turning to first to manage my worst fear (one of the kids is in trouble) or my biggest joy (one of the kids has a moment of joy or achievement.)

Today we spend some holiday and birthday meals together. We tell stories of past and present, we laugh and we connect. The relief amongst the children to sit with us, together and happy in our respective lives, has been palpable. 

Our children’s worlds were turned upside down when we split up as well, and the family they imagined shattered. So having us all there…me, my love, him, his love, celebrating and holding space for everyone is a gift beyond compare.

I do not know the private journey he has walked to land at forgiveness of me, and of himself, and into connection again, but I can feel that it is a journey he has taken. And I, for my part, have traveled my own long way to come back to a friendship that matters in some ways more than any other.

We met and married and had three children together before we blew up our marriage. In a different configuration than I ever imagined we now sit: trading recipes, flexing schedules, asking for updates, and offering support.

I can tap into the loss at times, and the-what-might-have-beens. I also have borne witness to the powerful growth and change my ex and I have both encountered in the years since we split. And I know now that noticing what we’ve lost brings us around to what must be found. Divorce can make family stronger.

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