Last week, my ex-husband and his wife took residence in a shiny new split-level some 15 short steps from the Los Angeles home I share with my teenage son. When I informed my friends and family, they thought we were crazy. In California, which houses more divorce lawyers than any other state in the union, separation doesn't usually work that way. But despite any lingering anxiety about living so closely... isn't it better to make an ex an ally rather than an enemy?
But it didn't happen overnight. Just like you to have work on a marriage, it takes work to have a civilized divorce.
When you promise to love, honor and obey (ok, scratch that last one, and think of it more as agree to compromise), why not take the grace of those vows into the divorce? Trust me, I know it isn't easy. After all, isn't that why we all split up in the first place?
But hear me out -- and think progress, not perfection.
Once the sadness and inevitability of the finalized divorce gets hammered out, shouldn't the hardest part be over? I've talked with other divorced men and women who say their relationship post-split is better than ever. No longer butting heads under the same roof or trying to make something long over work, the former spouse almost becomes more like a sibling.
That isn't to say there wasn't some initial hesitation about having a stairway between our two properties. But it's what organically unfolded over the last eight years. Shortly after divorcing, my ex moved across the street. When he married a few years later, a little healthy distance was required so he moved several blocks away. But the distance has now shrunken into two adjoining backyards after they had two more children, sold their home and found this latest one.
I'm not suggesting everyone live so closely, but why waste time finding reasons not to get along? My ex married someone quite stunning who is nearly two decades younger. That could be a good enough reason to be a hater, but the bottom line is that they met long after our divorce and she has been good to our son. However, I'm not going to deny that my ego required me to do a few extra Stuart Smalley affirmations at the outset.
So while our situation may be the exception to the norm, it seems more energy goes into fighting rather than just getting along. Just hear me out on five reasons to be friendly after the split.
1. Do it for the kids: They don't deserve being put in the middle or having to pick sides in private adult matters. Research and personal experiences prove it. In addition to being divorced, I come from a divorced family. The other night, when celebrating a special occasion, I could feel myself regressing to an anxious kid about how my mother and stepmother would get along at a small dinner. For the first time in years they chatted all night. It was a relaxing, drama-free night and we all breathed a sigh of relief.
2. Let go of the past: What are we really hanging on to? We all know people who just don't seem to want to focus on the future. Sure, you can tell your friends and anyone else you happen to be dating or married to all the horrible things your ex did (or keeps doing), but being on the other side of that conversation gets boring fast!
3. Don't throw out the good with the bad: You may be divorced, but that doesn't mean you have to be divided. Look for the good in your ex because he or she isn't going anywhere. Remember and enlist his or her better qualities to your and your family's advantage.
4. Don't waste your money on revenge: It's easy to set up your post-divorce relationship by going at it through the lawyers (and they are happy to litter the road with incendiary devices!). You can throw time and money at lawyers, but is it worth it? Just as the lawyers realize that time is money, so should you -- don't waste both interminably.
5. Be sweet, not sour: It isn't so easy to be sweet when it comes to emotional issues, but it can change the entire dynamic of the relationship. Keeping the peace will make your own life better. Never be a doormat, but letting small things slide makes life easier. See it as a gift to yourself -- and to your children.
Yes, there are some people determined to make life impossible. And yes, there are times when a new person comes into the picture and that dramatically changes the family dynamic. Reason with your ex and decide appropriate boundaries and responsibilities that work for everyone.
I'm not saying that I never argue with my ex. We're actually quite good at it.
But if we had both vowed to be nasty to each other eight years ago, life could have been some endless sequel to "The War of the Roses." And hanging from a chandelier together 'til death do us drop is just not something we want in our own backyard.