This piece originally appeared in The Huffington Post.
I love my ex-wife. Seriously.
You wouldn’t think that would be such a shocking statement, or even a particularly unusual one — after all, we were married for over 15 years and share two amazing kids. Yet people just don’t seem to understand.
Friends, our families, most of the people in our lives feel like we’re “too close”; the running joke is that we have a better divorce than most people’s marriages. Others commend us on our relationship but there’s invariably an undercurrent: This isn’t the way things are supposed to be. You fight, get divorced, you’re bitter, your relationship with your ex morphs into one tinged with tension, frustration and anger. You voice your complaints about one another in private but it sometimes seeps out in public. You fight over money, parenting, schedules. You remain civil for the kids but it’s a struggle.
But what if that’s not what happens?
Our marriage ended for the reason I imagine many do — we woke up one day to discover that we were friends instead of partners. There was no way to go back to what we once were, so we decided to split as husband and wife but remain close friends. Do you suddenly stop caring about each other? Stop being supportive in any way you can? We spend time with each other’s partners. She has a wonderful man in her life — a great father to his own three kids and a warm, funny and caring presence in all of our lives. He is probably the only other person who understands the relationship with my ex; perhaps because the one he has with his own ex is strained, he is more appreciative.
One thing I’ve noticed that really throws people is the fact that we’re still affectionate with each other. We’re both touchy-feely types, especially with our kids. After years of being that way with each other, it was difficult to just stop. When we first separated, it was confusing for the kids and sent the wrong message that perhaps we’d be getting back together, so we were more careful. But once we divorced, the kids got older and new partners entered our lives, it wasn’t unusual to be at a big family event and see me with my arm slung affectionately around her (something I do with her fiancé as well).
I’ve dated a couple of women since the divorce, and all had a hard time accepting the “situation”. They meet her and the questions follow: Do you still love your ex-wife? Yes I do. Do you still want to be married to her? No I don’t. Are you sure? Yes I am.
This baffles me. I haven’t dated anyone that’s divorced, so that may be a contributing factor. But do they have any idea how painful it is to separate from what was supposed to be a lifelong partner, put your kids through a divorce, make them constantly move their stuff from one home to the other? Why would anyone put themselves and their loved ones through that without a really good reason — and unless you were damn sure your marriage was over?
I have an unusual role model in my father, who is currently on his third marriage. That makes him sound like some kind of lothario, but the truth is a lot less scandalous. As he describes it, he’s been in love three times, to three great women. First to my mother, with whom he enjoyed 20 years of a good marriage followed by a year or two of not so good ones. They tried hard to work things out but couldn’t and ultimately got divorced. He was married for another 20 years to an incredible woman whom we all loved dearly. She passed away in his arms several years ago, and his relationship with her children remains as strong as with his own. Finally, he is now married to a lovely widow, both happy to find love and companionship at this stage of their lives. I’ve never heard him say a negative word about any of his exes or their former spouses, and he’s gone out of his way to ensure that each wife and their accompanying children (and now grandchildren) feel comfortable with his large and unusual extended family. When in doubt, he acts with grace, class and kindness towards all. Essentially, this is my father’s message: It’s only weird if you make it weird. And I don’t really care what others think or say as long as we’re all happy.
Is being married to one person a thing of the past or a recipe for unhappiness? Is there a right or wrong way to act with your ex? While nobody wants to experience divorce or the death of a spouse, I can’t help but think that having three loving marriages might be better than one unsatisfying one. No matter what, I remain open to the idea of falling in love again and committing to another human being for the rest of time.
Hopefully my ex will like her.