This admission may come as a surprise for some – I don’t have a good relationship with the ex. One might think it would be better after a decade and our interwoven lives would be easing peacefully down their separate paths – this is not the case. Sometimes it feels we’ve been divorced for 10 weeks instead of 10 years. There are periods when the drama and blood pressure subside, but something always sends both skyward again.
In contrast, the Queen’s relationship with her ex-husband, by nearly any standard, is delightful. Divorced the same number of years, they can spend an hour, or an entire day, together without the urge to murder. They actually like each other. They are members of the very small and highly select group who are better friends than they were spouses.
There are countless changes that happen after a divorce. What gets most discussed and written about are the emotional shifts, feelings of loss, betrayal, and fear to name a few. What gets most overlooked are the mundane implications. On top of dealing with his anger and resentment, a newly divorced father may also have to navigate laundry, a daughter’s menstrual cramps, or juggling homework, bath time, and dinner for finicky kids, all for the first time. Likewise, a divorced mother coping with fear and doubt must now contend with car repairs, disciplining a teenager, trimming hedges, and dealing with the air conditioning that just went out.
Divorce propels us into uncharted waters in unexpected ways. What this means is regardless of how unwanted our former spouse, we still possess a need for that person no settlement agreement can alter.
Driving home from dinner one evening, the Queen and I stopped by her former husband’s house to grab something left by one of our teenagers. No one being home, I waited in the drive as the Queen got out of the truck, casually punched in the garage code, and walked confidently into his house as if it were her own home. While this wasn’t the first time I had seen this, something new and surprising revealed itself that night.
Before my divorce was even finalized, I was being replaced. Within weeks of signing the final decree, there were pictures throughout her new home of our children and herself – with a new man. It was if she had taken all our old family photos, cut out my face and put his in its place. Alimony laws were the only thing preventing him from moving in. Rarely did I stop by to get the kids when he wasn’t there; mowing the lawn, cooking on the grill, or replacing the broken taillight on her car. He had immediately assumed the role of husband – as if the job had been tailor made for him.
Backing out the driveway that night, it occurred to me this nuance was a major factor in why our relationship wasn’t better. This same element was missing in the Queen’s and her ex husband and that made their relationship so delightful, while ours was regularly dreadful.
Human nature predicts we will treat people differently if we believe they can do something for us or to us. It’s perhaps the truest test of another’s character; observing how they behave towards those who pose no threat or opportunity.
In those years immediately following the Queen’s divorce, she and her ex husband leaned heavily on each other. With two young children and no immediate family in the area they had to rely on one another to solve the daily hiccups that come with being a family, which are made more acute in modern families. If the lawnmower wouldn’t start she dialed him first. If the kids were sick or his daughter misbehaved, he called the Queen before any other. Practices and playdates were a constant struggle. In the shadow of a failed marriage they were forced to put aside personal differences and wounded egos to work together making it through a typical day.
A divorce may have ended their marriage to one other, but it did nothing to stop their need for one other. That would become important in the years to follow.
That’s what came to me to as I watched the Queen key in the garage code. Their dependency early on had helped nurture the trust and support they experienced during these later years. But that was, and still remains, a missing piece in the relationship between my ex wife and I. From the beginning there was someone else she could call on for help when the toilet didn’t flush, the car wouldn’t start, or the new TV needed wiring. She had someone to start the weed eater, fix the iPad, and pick up the kids when in a bind. Because she and I never depended on one another to meet those basic inconveniences of life and parenthood, as the Queen and her ex husband were routinely forced to do, our relationship was never nurtured by a mutual sense of appreciation, empathy, or cooperation. No sense of trust could ever be restored. As a result, our support for and teamwork with one another never took root or blossomed.
The result of this is clearly seen today and is most noticeable when placed in contrast to the Queen’s relationship with her ex. The greatest distinctions are our communication and support for each other. Their relationship exhibits encouragement, compromise, and a ‘team’ feeling, our relationship still retains much of its anger, inflexibility, and combativeness. .
By consequence, she and I aren’t doing the things necessary to make co-parenting work since we we’ve never had to show support for or reliance on each other. We don’t build the other up with our children, but subtly work to tear the other down. Instead of individual players on the same team working towards a similar goal, we act more as competitors whose purpose isn’t necessarily winning, but making sure the other guy loses. We routinely become threatened by anything or anyone that might change our status quo. As a result, we often act controlling and hostile at the slightest disturbance to the norm. We rarely take the other into consideration during decision-making and routinely fail to respect that person’s feelings or point of view. We’re unable to see the value the other possesses because we’ve never had or chosen to depend upon the value they offer. All of this inevitably leads to a general distrust and an underlying animosity and suspicion of the other person.
I’ve come to believe that the best co-parents, those who can look beyond the trees of frustration, jealousy, and differences to see the forest of a child’s higher good, are co-parents who naturally depend on one another. They need the other’s support and cooperation. It’s for this reason, each is invaluable and indispensable to the other’s eyes. Since without them, their lives and those of their children would be far more chaotic and stressful.
But lastly, an perhaps most importantly, this mutual dependency leads to forgiveness, understanding, and a greater appreciation for the other parent. Because it’s hard to hold a grudge or not try to see things from an ex’s point of view when you don’t know if you’ll need him to fix the washing machine or when you might need to give her the code to your garage door.