Divorce is a Four Letter Word

I wrote the following essay for the BC Council of Families. It was recently published in their magazine, Family Connections, in volume 14, issue 2, Spring 2010. I am reproducing it here, with their permission, because it’s the truth and because, right now, I can’t write anything better to capture my thoughts on divorce.

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An intense rain drummed down from tumultuous, black clouds. My husband and I were arguing again, and it was ugly. His response was flight, mine fight, but he was winning. He quickly reached our garage, car keys in hand, desperate to escape from both storms. I vaguely recall the hum of the electronic garage door inching upwards, focused, as I was, on my desire to not let him go. I was not ready for my marriage to end. Frantic, and with my options limited, I positioned myself bodily between him, now in the driver’s seat of our running SUV, and his escape route. I staked my ground hoping that my stance could convince him of what my pleadings could not: that he needed to stay. A vengeful wind ripped through my hair, long, Medusa-like tentacles encircling my head with the fury of the night while the cold penetrated my clothing. I shivered. Our infant daughter, our Little Miss, was in my arms.

In my world, divorce was a four letter word that begins with F: FAIL. As in, I have failed at marriage; I have failed my children; I am a failure…a tough pill to swallow for an over-achiever who strives for perfection. But what if divorce doesn’t have to mean failure? What if, for arguments sake, divorce can be a positive, healing action leading to better things? What if…

According to traditional mores, parents should stay together for the children. Divorce is seen as a sad, selfish, guilt-infused deed with undeniable psychological consequences for the poor children caught in the middle. Unfortunately, this is often true. But in my first marriage our little girl was exposed to palpable tension, ongoing anger and late night arguments in inclement weather. Together, her father and I were at our worst. Was this the relationship example we wanted to set for our daughter? No. Was I being a strong, confident female role model for her to emulate? Certainly not. To complicate matters, my then-husband came to our marriage with another child, a daughter from a previous relationship whom we co-parented with her mother. She was seven years old on that rain-soaked night, but thankfully, not with us at the time. How would all of this have affected her?

Just over a year after I watched the lights of our Jeep recede into the night rain, he stopped running, and I stopped caring. Uncharacteristically, the end came without histrionics. We hadn’t spoken in days, slinking noiselessly around our home, avoiding eye contact, praying that our shoulders would not accidentally brush and wondering who would be the first to just say it: “It’s over”. In the end, it was me. I was sitting in my office, staring blankly at the marketing campaign splayed in front of me, and with a sigh of resignation I picked up the phone and dialled him.

“I guess we’re done here.” That’s what I said. Not eloquent, I confess, but it got the job done.

“I guess we are,” he responded.

Mission accomplished. Marriage over.

Ten years have since passed, and through the lens of time I see things differently. I still consider my first marriage my biggest failure, but I consider my divorce my greatest success. Sometimes, after all available avenues have been exhausted, it is possible to get divorced for the children. My-ex husband, my step-daughter, my Little Miss, my current-husband and me, are still a family. We are a weird, wonderful, blended family, replete with a unique set of relationship permutations and combinations, yet we have managed to make it work. Divorce is still a four-letter-F-word, but for us it means Free. Through realizing, accepting and forgiving our mistakes, we have earned the freedom to move on, to make new choices and to be happy.

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