A few months after separating from my husband, a friend compared the loss of my marriage to a death. Despite it being a popular theme in writings about divorce, I had never heard anyone make the comparison before. At the place I was in my life and in my divorce recovery, it made sense. I went with it, even penning a (depressing) blog post on the subject.
Still, the analogy never sat right with me, probably because the years I spent married continued to frame my worldview, serving as the springboard for me to build a new life rather than permitting me to die along with my old one. In my mind, the famous mantra coined by filmmaker and divorce enthusiast Nora Ephron that “[m]arriages come and go, but divorce is forever” was misleading. For me, the growth that came after my divorce was far more reflective of an evolution than an ending, of life rather than death. And it was my marriage, not my divorce, that motivated me to get where I am today and is the standard by which I continually evaluate and reevaluate what I want and what I don’t in my future relationships, whether romantic, platonic, or somewhere in between.
I can only speak of my married life when I say that the relationship I shared with my ex-husband didn’t cease to exist when our marriage did but, instead, changed. And it continues to grow every day as we co-parent our three now teenage children to the best of our ability from two continents. Like most post-divorce “couples,” we face challenges. What we must also confront is interference from outside forces, from people and circumstances beyond our control, to keep our current relationship alive and able to function well. Like a marriage, this requires effort and attention, specifically to the way we communicate with one another, something we failed to do well during the last years we spent together. If a death had occurred, if our marriage had died and our relationship along with it, this transition would not be possible.
About two months ago, my 13-year-old became a bar mitzvah, and we celebrated with a dance party the following night. I would be lying if I said wasn’t a little scared beforehand how the evening was going to go, especially since my ex-husband was bringing his new wife, the same woman he cheated on me with, and their young child. But there’s a saying: “While there’s life, there’s hope.” The excitement, happiness, and love that could be felt all around the room for my son was nothing short of a testament to the fact that our marriage didn’t die and was most definitely a direct product of the relationship my ex-husband and I cultivated during the years since our marriage ended. It was also a reality I remained skeptical I would ever see, particularly during those early days after our separation.
When we finalize a divorce, the construct of our marriage may be gone but the relationship we shared while we were married lives on, either through the bond we presently have with our ex or, in the case of someone who has been widowed or is no longer in contact with a former spouse, in the mind. For as long as we are alive, we each have the power to attach meaning to our memories by deciding how we process them and then how we integrate our experiences into our post-divorce life. That leaves it up to us how much of our married life we choose to breathe into our divorced one, and where we choose to let that breath carry us.
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