The Gift Of Divorce

It's tempting to just remember the bad parts of the marriage, but you're doing yourself a disservice if you forget the good stuff.
01/23/2013 01:28 am ET Updated Mar 24, 2013

Divorce has its gifts. They may not be obvious while your marriage is breaking down, but they're there.

In the middle of divorce, it's tempting to just remember the bad parts of the marriage. You're doing yourself a disservice if you forget the good stuff -- what you learned from each other and what you gave to each other when the marriage was good.

I've started reading the Modern Love column in the New York Times Style section, and it got me thinking about my first marriage and my relationship with my former husband.

While things ended badly and sadly, as they so often do as a marriage unravels, there's also plenty to be thankful for.

This is my story. I dare you to write yours.

I met Bill through a personal ad back when personal ads appeared in print. He was recently divorced and went to a Learning Annex class on how to meet new people. The class homework was to do something you've never done before to get a date. So he answered a personal ad. Mine.

We eloped five weeks later.

We spent the next four years having the adventure of our lives, renovating our broken down 1730 farmhouse, throwing amazing parties and growing up together. When the quitting bell rang at our professional day jobs, the mischief and creativity started.

I've never felt so alive.

And while the fun ended, I learned a lot from being married to Bill. I learned that I couldn't control him. I could only insure him. That was an excellent lesson in relationship maturity.

I learned to cook without a cookbook. John Lennon was right -- life is indeed what happens when you're busy making plans. And the cooking without a cookbook wasn't always existential. Bill's hot dog burritos were excellent, as was his ravioli pizza. We were always broke, yet we always ate well, even if the ingredients were instant mashed potatoes, organ meats, freezer burned piecrust and leftover dip.

Bill also taught me to use the right tool. If you're going to do a project, use the right equipment and use it correctly. That's a great life lesson that goes beyond power tools. That said, thank you for teaching me how to use power tools. As a chubby middle-aged woman, I love startling people with my circular saw skills and ability to install electrical wiring, shingle a cedar roof and hang wallpaper on the ceiling.

I'll always be grateful that our lack of money never ruined anything. With Bill, life was always something interesting and new. When our refrigerator bit the dust between paychecks, we kept our food in the snow outside the back door and it seemed like an adventure, not a hardship. I learned that money isn't everything.

Bill taught me that no matter what other people are doing, you can be happy. We moonlighted as home decorators and our biggest client, Fastidious Donald, could pick out a pinpoint of missed paint behind a switch plate at 40 paces. "This color doesn't match the sample," he would say. "Come over immediately. A corner of the wallpaper has pulled the wall," Donald petulantly pestered weeks after he'd signed off on the job. "Donald," Bill said patiently, "You've got to stop sniffing Liquid Gold." "You're the worst decorators EVER and I'm going to tell EVERYBODY!" Donald screamed. "That's right, Donald, we are pretty terrible. Now can we go out for drinks?" was Bill's response.

Bill taught me that everything is fixable and everything has a solution. I learned that when we installed a new sink without turning off the water first. Measure once, cut twice, but it still works out, even if the bathroom turns into Old Faithful in the process.

I have a lot to be thankful for during those years.

Bill and I got divorced before I even knew mediation existed, but thanks to a sensible friend (thank you, Cliff) we resolved everything in a sane and sensible way. I'm proud to be a mediator now, helping couples have the same kind of divorce that Bill and I had.

And in a way, even the bad times were valuable. During one fight, Bill said, "You're never going to finish that book!" and that was precisely what it took to make me. Your Divorce Advisor was published by Simon & Schuster in 2001. And I didn't stop there, following up with Making Divorce Work in 2010.

Bill taught me not to let anything stand in my way. He never let something small like not knowing how to play guitar prevent him from starting a band or learning to paint. He's now played music internationally and runs an annual art festival in New Haven.

And not being a politician didn't stop him from running for mayor. Not on the ballot? Not a problem. He crashed the debates and made his speech anyway. The hostile incumbent, simultaneously appalled and mystified at Bill's eloquence, complimented Bill on his speech. Bill responded, "I'm crazy, not stupid."

And when the newspaper called me for comment, my first thought was to let fly with everything bad I knew about my ex-husband (which is what the paper was after, I'm sure), I told them that the reason Bill ran for mayor is his belief in local government as a voice for the people, and that the current administration had lost its way. His campaign was meant to bring attention to that.

Bill's leaving the marriage freed me to go on to have the marriage I was meant to have, which has now lasted 14 years -- over twice the length of my marriage to Bill. So even getting dumped was, in the end, a blessing.

Now it's your turn to write your own thank you note.