Keeping The Love In Divorce

Partially Excerpted From My Book "The Ten Commandments Of Divorce"

 

We are all familiar with the expression “people come into your life for a reason or a season”, but in the case of divorcing parents, we have reasons and a life time of seasons we need to “endure” to keep the family unit in tact. If we can understand the reasons why we married in the first place, then it is understandable that we can learn to accept the lifetime commitment we need to make with our ex-spouse, but sometimes it takes years to understand the benefits of our past relationships. What do we do in the meantime? 

PerceptionOne of the stories I tell families I coach is about my children and how I explained to them why I was divorcing their father. In an attempt to relieve their fears about causing the break up, or worse, having them believe one of us would want to leave them, I made clear how I still loved their dad but couldn’t live with him anymore. At the age of 12 and 3, they were not wise enough to understand that if their father and I stopped loving each other, at some point, could we stop loving them as well? 

Wanting to make sure they never felt fear of alienation from either of us, I asked them, “Do you love your Aunt Anita?” They both nodded and said yes. Having a close, unbreakable bond with her since they were born, it was easy for them to relate. Then I asked, “Would you want to live with her?” They both shook their head and adamantly said, “No waaaaay!” 

We laughed because as much as we love her, at the time she was going through a difficult transition and was living in an apartment downstairs from us. She was not easy to share space with, and the kids, as young as they were, understood what I was trying to convey. Gazing at their faces, I could see the fears begin to dissipate.“I love your father and always will.” I told them. “We are a family. We will always be tied together. I can’t live with him though and in order to be a great mom to you, I have to leave the marriage. We are still your parents. That will never change. Divorce means we leave each other, not you.”

During the entire divorce process and to this day, I have tried to relate this same emotion to them. Quite frankly, I believe it is the most profound, unselfish gift you can offer your children. To stay loving towards someone you have the desire to disconnect from emotionally is not an easy task though! In fact, most people believe they need to hate someone in order to stop loving them. How bizarre when you think about it. At one point, you were so in love you wanted to spend the rest of your life with him/her, and wham, not long after, you want to cut them out of your life forever.

When alienation of love occurs, how do you still stay “loving” without hurting yourself? How do you disconnect from each other’s lives emotionally without separating as parents? How do you accept the concept of only being life partners for part of your life and still be parents for the entire duration? Again, it is not easy, but it can be done.

Understanding that every relationship offers us a unique opportunity to grow is the key to accepting our ex partner. If we split the relationship into two parts, we can make the distinction between our life with our ex-spouse and the future as co-parents. One doesn’t really have anything to do with the other if we don’t allow it. No matter how awful the marriage was for either party, the co-parenting can still be successful, because the goal and motive are different. And no matter how painful or traumatic the break up was, you can still love the other person as the parent of your child. There is a distinct difference between love and marriage and love and co-existence. 

During my most difficult times with my ex, I had to manipulate the heck out of myself to stay loving towards him. I used my children as a motive time and again and it almost always worked. I say almost because I am human and make mistakes. For the most part, I remained true to my promise to my children to love him forever, telling myself that I could love the parts of him that were good (yes, you must find good aspects no matter how angry or injured you are) and reminding myself that everything that hurt me during the marriage is not an issue anymore because I am divorced from him! That gave me a certain freedom and strength. I could disconnect from the pain of the past and concentrate on the future and all of the graduations, the birthdays, and split holidays I would need to navigate with this man. If I wanted my kids to be relatively pain and stress free, I would need to understand that he is loved by them, he has rights to them, and he is a huge and important aspect of their lives. If I don’t stay in love with all that they are in love with, I create a huge “disconnect” with the most important little people in my life.