Blameless Divorce: I Had a Dream Where You Apologized

WHOLE-tantra

I don’t want my ex-wife back, but I’d give almost anything to have my time with my kids back. All those nights and weekends where I’ve had zero access to them other than a phone call (“Hey, honey how was your day?” “Good.” “Um… Anything cool happen at school?” “No.”) I wouldn’t consider remarrying her, and I’m sure she has even less interest in that than me, but I’d consider almost anything…

Okay, but I’m day dreaming here. And I saw for a moment, in the dream, my ex-wife coming up to me with a beautiful smile on her face. “I’m really sorry about the divorce,” she said. “Yeah, me too.” And then she (no she didn’t) said, “And I miss you. Would you want to come home?” In the dream I was intoxicated with joy. I was willing to do almost anything to make it happen. If she’d said, “But there’s one condition, you have to scrub the toilets every night until I’m happy with them” I might have considered… But again, these are just demonic fantasies.

Our divorce was based on clear communication of what we thought we needed and what we thought the other person was incapable of giving us.

I would not remarry or rejoin my ex-wife. I would love more access to my kids. And I would’ve stayed in a troubled marriage until I was fatter and deader than I was when we split up. I would’ve stuffed my sadness and disconnected feelings in the name of staying married, for the kids. Yikes! That’s not good.

But something in the dream was about forgiveness. Something in the dream was a redemption. That all this pain and suffering that we’ve all been through, was forgiven. I was forgiven. She was forgiven. And I was coming home.

I’ve sort of blamed my ex-wife for the divorce in the past. When I was in a divorce recovery class, I classified myself as the dumpee and her as the dumper. And for that I’ve grown familiar with my tendency to hold her up as the reason we got divorced. That’s not accurate at all. It never is. Even when there is a clear dumper and dumpee, there are a lot more factors that go into the loss of love in a marriage. And I’m sure, we were no exception.

In fact, I had begun to get pretty vocal about the things that I was unhappy about in the marriage, towards the end of our last year together. I was learning to talk about what I didn’t like, as opposed to just keeping quiet in some sort of sadistic buddhist practice of suffering in my contemplation of my own suffering. I was beginning to give voice to my dissatisfaction. I was learning, for the first time, to get angry. (Anger was something we didn’t do in my family of origin. Dad had more than enough anger for all of us combined.)

And my anger and voicing of my own frustrations was not helping things get closer between us. However, I saw a tipping point in my mind, if I could just get to the heart of the fight about our marriage. If we could just dig in and let it out. If our counselor could give us the tools to express, honestly, what we were feeling.

And what if that IS what happened? (I’m having an ah-ha moment as I’m writing.) What if the clarity of our communication was what lead us to actually getting a divorce, rather than staying together in some painful compromise? I hadn’t really thought that idea through when I began writing this.

So, I got clearer about what things were hurting me in the divorce. And my then-wife was doing the same. We learned that a complaint was a fine form of communication. We learned that listening and truly trying to hear what the person is saying, rather that thinking of our defense, was the best way to get clarity between us.

We discovered our truths. We learned to communicate them. And we agreed to come apart as a couple but stay close as parents.

When we parted, we agreed to disagree in the ultimate relationship in our lives. Our divorce was based on clear communication of what we thought we needed and what we thought the other person was incapable of giving us.

We met for one last time with our therapist. We needed closure with him and between us. It was decided that we were going to divorce. We wanted to say one last time, with his support and love, what we thought the fundamental issue was that was causing us to seek release. He was not trying to fix us. He was helping us communicate better, and that’s how we ended.

I went first: This is a moment in our relationship where have an opportunity to strip back down to the basics. What we want in our lives and our relationship together. I feel like we’ve been given a warning flare and this is a new beginning. I’m committed to doing whatever it takes to rebuild with a new foundation.

She said: We are two very different people. Things you keep doing are triggering me and I don’t feel like anything is getting better. I do not see a future where you are different. And I think I’m done.

And when I thought back on that exchange over the 4+ years, I’ve had this feeling that she did me wrong. I see now that she didn’t. She spoke her truth. And she had the courage to speak honestly about her desire for a different future.

While I could hold on to this event as her decision to leave the marriage, that’s not what it was. We didn’t agree on next steps. We didn’t see the future in the same optimistic light. I wanted to rebuild. But I was also saying very clearly, that things have got to change. A dramatic change was taking place, and I wanted to capitalize on this moment and make the leap to the next chapter of our relationship as married partners.

She saw the world from her eyes and didn’t want to go on trying to be different, or trying to work it out. (In the final two years we spent a lot of time and money in therapy, trying to “work it out.”) And it wasn’t going to work out, in her mind. Or she wasn’t willing to change in the ways I was asking her to change. Either she couldn’t, or she didn’t want to, both are acceptable truths.

We spoke our final piece. We blessed our therapist for working with us and giving us such a safe place to explore our individual realities and how we were trying to find the “fit” between us.

It worked for a long time. I experienced the bliss of love and parenthood with a best friend. That is truth. And as we grew into our parenting roles, we had different ideas about how that should look. And I fess up, I was unhappy. I was asking for a massive change. And in the end we disagreed on what we wanted as a couple. As parents we have never disagreed. And today, we’re still pretty tight on issues that involve our kids. And I’m happy to release her from any blame I might have been carrying.

We discovered our truths. We learned to communicate them. And we agreed to come apart as a couple but stay close as parents. And that’s our life together, without blame.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

Note: I think this is a continuation of what I wrote this morning:  Stop Thinking: The Lost Art of Deep Listening

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image: samvara, seriykotik1970, creative commons usage

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2 thoughts on “Blameless Divorce: I Had a Dream Where You Apologized

  1. I understand what it’s been like for you. It’s weird to read all your posts and to feel deep in my heart – yeah I get it. But it’s wonderful. I also read the blogs of some others. I am not crazy! There are others who experience divorce much more deeply than others. And that is okay. I give myself permission to be me and feel what I feel. My then-husband, as you like to say, is all about denial of feelings. Even when it involves his own children. I have been made to feel that my need for connection and intimacy and touch and so much more is an aberration. I see increasingly that this is wrong. Thanks for spreading your message that vulnerability IS true strength. Men or women. Doesn’t matter. (Love Brene Brown) Thanks for your courage to be authentic in your love for your children, express grief about the multiple losses due to the divorce, and to continue your determination to be positive in the face of heartbreaking circumstances. I acknowledge a conscious fellow traveler on this difficult path of open hearted divorce and co-parenting. Especially when the two parents have different “love languages.” So hard. Yes, the concept of divorce is a fallacy when children are involved. As you’ve pointed out so many times. Again, thank you for your blog. I’ve enjoyed reading many of the posts in the last two weeks. And yeah Huffinton Post for publishing your articles. ;)

    1. Thank you Kelley. I appreciate your feedback and your summary of my path thus far. We do the best we can as hyper-feeling individuals. Even if others don’t understand, we know what’s right for us.

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