Michelle and her husband separated in August 2010. Today, just eighteen months later Michelle is happy for her ex which is quite remarkable considering that by the time she’d gotten to be serious about divorce, communication between her and her husband had reached the point where she truly felt that couples therapy was not option. She didn’t trust that he would hear anything she had to say and she didn’t trust that she could be authentic. I asked Michelle how she came to see her ex in this new light. Here’s Michelle:
It’s really weird. It almost feels like two different men. I was so disappointed all the time and I think I was disappointing him, too. Once we stopped trying to be a couple, once I wasn’t expecting him to be what I wanted him to be as a husband, it took a little time, but I started to appreciate him just as a man. He’s a good father, he’s been really involved and responsible with the kids, he’s helpful, he’s supportive. I was able to feel a lot of good qualities in him that I was totally blinded to when I was so unhappy in the marriage part of our relationship. It’s almost like I’m talking about a different guy.
When he first moved out, he was upset. It wasn’t what he wanted. It ultimately was my decision, me more than him saying “No, I can’t do it.” He was bitter, his pride was hurt, his feelings were hurt, so it was pretty tense for a while. That was hard.
Then he started dating somebody within a few months. He moved out in August and by January, he was officially in a relationship with somebody else, where he said, “Yes, it’s official, we’re in a relationship,” to me. They’d been spending time together for a couple of months before he told me and what was cool about that was that it made him happier and it made him a lot easier to deal with. He was feeling better about himself, so all of his animosity or whatever…it seemed to really help him.
It was interesting, because he actually started dating another parent at our school, and our children are friends. I had a lot of friends who were like, “Oh my God, how can you…?” A lot of people want that to be big drama. Well, I had noticed a change in his behavior towards me instantly, I didn’t want him back, so all I could do was just say, “I’m really happy for you.” And I was happy for him, and I recognized it actually made my life easier to just let it be and not make a stink over it.
There’s part of me that’s like, “Wow, he’s really broken up over a twenty-year relationship, he has a new girlfriend within a couple months.” It’s not like that doesn’t occur to me, but I had a choice. I remember thinking to myself when we were in the process of splitting up that I wanted to be like that Bruce Willis and Demi Moore type of a couple later on. I knew that my goal was that we could do things still as a family, have friendships still as a family and just not be a couple.
I asked myself when he started dating this other woman how much time needs to go by in order to get to that place? Some might say it was too soon but I figured out that I get to choose how much time goes by until we get to that place, and I’m going to choose now.
So I just decided to make it okay. The other reason was I didn’t want my kids to feel torn or feel guilty or feel that they had conflicting loyalties if they were spending time with him and my daughter’s friend’s mom. I didn’t want to put all that angst on everybody.
I had a really cool conversation with a friend whose parents had gotten divorced around when she was the same age that my kids were and we were talking about her experience because I was really, really worried about my kids when we first split up. She said,
The thing I really admired about my mom was that my dad had a new girlfriend really soon and we would go spend the weekend with them when it was dad’s weekend and then he’d bring us back and sometimes the girlfriend would have to bring us back and my mom would just come out to greet us and say ‘hey, welcome home, I’m so glad you’re here.’ I knew my mom could have been bitter, my mom could have been short with the other woman, she could have made it uncomfortable and she didn’t, for our benefit. She just welcomed us home and said how much she missed us and had a plate of cookies ready. There was no talk of ‘what’d you do over there.’ I really appreciated that.
It really stuck with me and I thought, “You know what? That’s what I want to be like for my kids, too.” So when he started dating, that was a choice I made, and I think that’s really what healed our relationship because he is happy, and he deserves to be happy.
The Divorce Coach Says
One of the things I loved about talking to Michelle is hearing her take responsibility for her part in the marriage and her own behavior. Notice the way she doesn’t say that her ex changed his behavior after they separated, she says it was she that was able to see him from a different perspective. It’s true his behavior might have changed since it’s inevitably an interaction but she had a role in that. Recognizing that role is an on-going part of the healing after divorce.
Since Michelle initiated the divorce, it might seem odd that she would feel affronted that her ex started dating “so soon” but deciding to end a marriage isn’t a choice made freely and there’s always grief involved. People deal with grief differently and the time frames for grief are different.
I admire Michelle for being able to see that she had a conscious decision about how to react to her ex’s girlfriend and I do believe she’s right, you do always have a choice as to how to behave. It isn’t always easy, especially if your ex was seeing the new girlfriend before you broke up and you’re feeling rejected but you can still make an intentional decision about how to behave. It reminds me of Lorraine who had to choose between being a woman with class and dignity or a screaming bitch and Kay who didn’t want to be seen as a victim. It also reminds me of Carolyn whose former friend is now her children’s stepmother.
Have you been in a situation with your ex where you consciously decided you wouldn’t get upset? Have you decided to turn a potential drama into nothing?
Photo credit: anyjazz65