When last I wrote here I was going on about how to avoid feeling bad during the season when everyone wants to be paired up, if you're coming through a divorce. I thought it was a good piece about how to survive not being paired up when everyone wants to be paired up.
And then all hell broke loose, when my ex-husband had a heart attack a few days after I wrote that post.
It was sudden and unexpected, and he was lucky he got to the hospital so quickly. (Thank you to the EMTs who brought him there.) You can read his account here and my account here, but the basic scoop is that I got a call that he was having chest pains at the gym and was going to the hospital, so the kids and I followed, and by the time all the dust had settled I had decided to move into his house to make sure he was ok for a few weeks.
I know. Weird, right?
When people ask about it I say that divorce saved our family. Because my ex-husband and I were so dysfunctional and miserable together that we weren't able to work as a team to parent the kids, and we weren't able to make reasonable decisions about ourselves or each other. Once we got divorced, we could each be ourselves again. And because we weren't yoked together anymore we could be better people and we could figure out how to work together to co-parent the kids.
I know we each had to work through a lot. There's this myth that all you do is go through the legal and logistical stuff, and that's it. Makes some decisions (fight about them), sign some papers, wait for a decree. In the meantime you've split into two households and purchased all the things you didn't have two of, and you're done.
But there way more to it than that. You have to figure out why you got together in the first place, what you expected, what happened. Could you have avoided it? Can you avoid it if you ever get married again? How can you even think about being with someone new? Who are you and what do you really want? What kind of parent are you, when you're the only adult in the house? What are your boundaries? How can you be autonomous without closing off to new experiences? In other words, how do you become more fully yourself because of divorce instead of a broken, diminished person?
I went through all of that. To the best of my knowledge my ex-husband did, too. And that's why we are able to have successful interactions. There are a limited number of interactions we can have now that are wonderfully successful (you should see us at school events). There are other interactions we're not good at at all, so we just avoid them. And it's all good. Or it was.
And then he had the heart attack. And suddenly I was talking to his family, and living in his house, and keeping track of the kinds of personal details I hadn't thought about in relation to him in the almost-seven years since we'd split, almost-five since the divorce was final. We were way out of the zone of our limited successful interactions.
It was not easy. But it wasn't hard, either. We talked a lot. About boundaries and expectations. About how annoying we each found the other. About how deeply grateful we both were that he was alive (and in better health than he'd been the day before it happened) and about how deeply grateful we were that we weren't married to each other anymore.
You know that song "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother"? That's what it felt like. My ex-husband, by now, is family. So while it wasn't fun, it wasn't heavy, either. And while I was glad to move back out of his house when he didn't need me anymore, if it happened again I would move back in without hesitation.
If you are reading this and thinking that it sounds insane, that there is no way you could ever get along well enough with the person you used to be married to to do something like this, I'd say that that may be the case. But you also might work through enough on your own that you could do it. And that you can live on the successful interactions and not sweat the unsuccessful ones anymore. Because divorce is probably saving your family, too.
Magda runs Flourish Through Divorce, an online workshop that gives you the structure to pick up the pieces and move into a happy new life. It starts November 4 and runs through the end of the year (so you'll have support through the holidays). Information and registration for Flourish Through Divorce is here. Magda writes being a parent advice at AskMoxie.org, and writes about co-parenting after divorce with her ex-husband at When The Flames Go Up. She thinks you're the best parent for your child. And that it gets better.