My daughter’s mother is a wonderful mom. I am an equally wonderful dad. We did not have a wonderful marriage, but we have had a fantastic divorce.
Most people that discover I am divorced usually treat me like a cancer survivor. When people discover that my daughter lives with me— the father— people almost always respond, “Wow! Where is the mother?” Both responses always fascinate me, because they both give the impression that divorce is something unexpected in society and single father’s are rarely good parents.
Marriage does not end when you sign on the final divorce decree, or when the last of the bedroom furniture is moved out, or when you sit down and tell your kids that mommy and daddy aren’t going to be living together. Marriages end silently and usually unnoticed long before that. Nevertheless, it is always a surprise when one spouse hears the word “divorce.”
It is a lot like the Jack in the Box. You know that eerie little clown is going to jump out at your sometime, but you are never ready for it. The trick is to know how to deal with it when he shows up.
My first step in my divorce was to find an anchor to steady myself. This was important, so I could put the world in context. As a Buddhist, I recommitted myself to more and more spiritual practice and meditation. Each night I had to deal with the questions that kept creeping into my head. “How will this affect me? How will I deal with my daughter? How will I afford it? How will I rebuild my life?”
With each anxiety ridden question, I felt a bit of fear and frustration rub against me like a new scratchy wool sweater. It was uncomfortable, painful and I wanted it to stop. There had to be a reason why I was feeling this way, and it seemed logical the person asking for a divorce was the cause.
However, as logical as it seemed, it wasn’t the case. I knew that. This divorce wasn’t about me, but about my ex-wife’s unhappiness. It was made worse by our insistence on staying together for hope, for family, and for all the wrong reasons: problems that we ignored until they were un-ignorable.
So many relationships end badly with the singular purpose to make each party feel better about the conclusion. Each side tallies up the wrongs done them and tries to determine who is the loser. We decided to accept that relationships end, and that is a fact of life. Our only fault was closing our eyes to each other’s unhappiness.
So without blame, we recommitted ourselves to our divorce. It wasn’t always easy, and it took a lot of communication, but we have done pretty well over the past few years. We communicate at least weekly on issues about our daughter and coordinate her time respectfully.
Divorce is usually seen as a pejorative, invoking images of pain, arguments, and bitterness. It does not have to be that way. This is a choice, not a sentence. Find an anchor (your spirituality, a therapist, mature friends) that will steady you in the initial turbulent times so you can get your bearings. Remember, change is opportunity not a curse.
Successfully navigating divorce requires perspective and introspection and a lot of hard work, but the rewards are worth it. I am certainly happier for it. My ex-wife is happier for it. My daughter is happier too.
This article was originally published January 21, 2010 at http://www.pittsburghbettertimes.com/2011/01/31/the-happy-divorce/