How do I get past an amicable divorce?
November 24, 2005 10:26 PM   Subscribe

How do I get past an amicable divorce?

My wife and I are dissolving our marriage after 9 years (13 total years together). The problems in our marriage that caused it to go irreconcilably bad were some deep emotional issues rearing their head during a stressful period (infertility). Nonetheless we did spend 12 happy years together that will I will always be thankful for. We met at 18 and have been the only real loves in either of our lives. Ironically the problem with our divorce is that now that we are separating all of our pain has been put aside and all of the bitterness has gone. We realize that we love each other deeply, are soul mates / best friends, will visit and care for each other etc. The marriage cannot continue, however. There has been all sorts of counseling to verify this.

When I was angry with my wife it was easier to picture moving on, but now that I feel this strong love I am finding it difficult. I’d very much like to keep her in my life. I am very thankful for the good marriage that she gave me even if things didn’t work out. How much contact with my ex-wife should I have? How can I structure my life to have my ex-wife in it as well as any new relationship (I imagine any new woman will object to me being close to my ex)? Do I need to make a cleaner break than this? How do I say goodbye to someone I love dearly?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
i think you should give it time and not make any major decisions about a new relationship ... and not be too anxious over how close you remain with your ex

i think there's a lot of conflict going on inside of you and you're going to have to be patient with yourself and the situation and not expect to know the answers to your questions right away ... i don't think you need to make a clean break now, but you may find in time that you'll want to

it'll take at least a year to know what your real direction is on this ... in the meantime, hang loose and find ways that you, not someone else can make your life more meaningful
posted by pyramid termite at 10:47 PM on November 24, 2005

You don't necessarily have to "say goodbye". Just acknowledge that you cannot be together, hold the memories close, and "just be". Your relationship with your wife is changing, not dissolving.
I am in a similar situation - 3 years out of a "good" split. I could go on and on - email me if you'd like me to do so. My best advice for here, in a nutshell, is - "don't think". For example, I'm always concerned about whether it's "appropriate" or not for us to attend family functions together. Whenever I get wrapped up in this, my ex advises me to stop thinking so much about what's appropriate, and do what feels right. If your ex feels the same as you do, that advice holds true to you both too. Don't try to establish a path, just figure it out as you go. I find that when I'm starting to really miss my ex, it helps to communicate this and take a step back a bit to put things into perspective. But most of all - don't think, don't try to put rules and restrictions on things, and just be. Embrace this wild ride we call life and being human. And thank your lucky stars that you found a love that endures, no matter what form it takes.
posted by Iamtherealme at 11:09 PM on November 24, 2005

Oh, and as far as other relationships are concerned, our mutual attitude is "My ex is a big part of my life and will continue to be. This is how it is. If you want to be with me, you'll have to accept it." My ex is in a long term relationship, and the three of us get along wonderfully. Me, I haven't found anyone I wanted to get involved with, and I'm in no rush. When I do, the same will apply.
posted by Iamtherealme at 11:13 PM on November 24, 2005

You should have limited or no contact with your ex-wife, at least for a certain period of time.

Someone in another thread disagreed with me, but my personal experience and observations have shown that the "two years to get over a divorce" claim is true. The most effective thing you have is time.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 1:43 AM on November 25, 2005

I absolutely agree with EB. It's very common for people to experience divorce remorse and feel suddenly that their ex is a delightful companion; this happened with me and my first wife (at whom I had been extremely angry) and a good friend of mine and his second wife (ditto). And:

as far as other relationships are concerned, our mutual attitude is "My ex is a big part of my life and will continue to be. This is how it is. If you want to be with me, you'll have to accept it."

I absolutely support your right to feel this way and to insist on that condition. But you must realize that most people will find it bizarre, particularly possible partners. I'm a very tolerant guy, but I would never dream of getting into a serious relationship with someone who insisted I accept that their ex "is a big part of my life and will continue to be." It's quite possible, if you hang onto that, that you will spend the rest of your life with your ex as your primary human contact. How will that feel, especially if/when your ex remarries? What if it then turns out that your ex is not as committed to the old relationship as you are? Lots of pain there. So, anon, I'd give this some very hard thinking before giving in to that "I can't bear to let this wonderful person go!" feeling. I promise you it will fade over the course of the next year, leaving you with a cleansed heart and ready to find someone new. My e-mail is on my userpage if you want to discuss this; I'm the soul of discretion and willing and eager to help someone through this stuff. Divorce sucks.
posted by languagehat at 6:14 AM on November 25, 2005

I married and then subsequently divorced my 'best friend' since childhood. Turns out that we both had unresolved issues that were completely unrelated to each other that kept us from being happy - with each other or anyone else, for that matter. We're both a lot better now, and even though we had some incredibly difficult times, there is no anger or bitterness left on my part. I can't speak for him; I think he's still wrestling with some of his own issues.

We aren't really close anymore, although we're pleasant and outwardly friendly. We stay in touch via infrequent emails. He's not geographically close enough to actually spend time with him. Whenever I think about him and the years we spent as friends, I get a little melancholy. It passes when I remember that I still carry with me every good memory, while letting go of the not-so-good ones. I am a far better person for having been married to him. I consider my marriage a success for that reason. I wish him well with his search for personal happiness, and celebrate his new life.

My life now includes a wonderful man who has a daughter from his first marriage. He and his ex get along very well where their daughter is concerned, and have learned to respect each other's differences. That was one of the key reasons I found him attractive - he never said one bad word about his ex. Matter of fact, I get along wonderfully with her. My boyfriend and I are invited to family gatherings, holiday events, school events, and we include her in whenever his family is in town. We're working together to redecorate his daughter's bedroom at her mom's house - we all spent a fun Saturday repainting her room, and I'm in charge of a major sewing project to make curtains and bed linens.

What does all this have to do with you? Well, I'm seeing this situation from both sides. I can truthfully say that I miss my ex-husband a lot, but not as a husband. I miss my friend and confidant. I miss the talks and brain-storming sessions we had about writing and business and politics. We have decades of history that we share with no other living soul. Sometimes I long for that connection. Time will tell whether we're able to find a new, healthier place for us to connect. If and when we do, he'll be welcomed into whatever part of my new life he chooses - as my friend. He'll always have a safe place in my heart... only now, it would be without the craziness and desperation that we had before. We might even learn to trust each other again. I have some amends to make...

Take some time to sort out what you're feeling. Don't cling to your ex, but don't automatically think you have to push each other away in order to start over.
posted by Corky at 6:37 AM on November 25, 2005 [4 favorites]

As someone who recently got burned by a somewhat similar situation (I was the "new relationship"), I would caution that your desire to "structure your life to have my ex-wife in it" indicates that you are NOT ready to start a new relationship. While it is true (as Corky pointed out) that liking one's ex is an admirable, attractive quality, you need to make sure that you're able to give your whole self to your new partner. Otherwise, you're putting your new partner into an incredibly painful position.

If you are still going to your ex to meet emotional needs -- in other words, if you still have an active emotional relationship with her, regardless of the legal status of your marriage -- you are not ready. Your new partner deserves to have all of you. Your love for your ex will remain, but you need to be sure that that love is history rather than a living entity.
posted by footnote at 7:04 AM on November 25, 2005 [2 favorites]

But most of all - don't think, don't try to put rules and restrictions on things, and just be.

With all due respect, Iamtherealme, I think that this can be terrible advice. In circumstances like divorce, where people go temporarily insane, it can actually be a good idea to follow cultural norms and conventional wisdom like "it takes a year to get over your divorce" and "cutting off contact after the breakup is a good idea" and "don't be the rebound." That's because what's good for you at the time is not necessarily what feels good, so you need some kind of external regulation to keep you on the path that's going to be best for you in the end.
posted by footnote at 7:15 AM on November 25, 2005

You do need some distance, for awhile. Be honest with your wife about why you need it -- you're both moving into a new phase in life and need to find your own identities again. Send the occasional email, maybe have coffee some afternoon. Don't spend intimate time together.

When you have both started new relationships, reassess your feelings. Maybe your ex is now just a fond memory and someone you can catch up with once or twice a year. Maybe you can build a new friendship now that you have solidly moved on. Your new partner might understand (I would), or might not. By then it might be easier to just let go.
posted by nev at 7:31 AM on November 25, 2005

My uncle and aunt divorced about fifteen years ago. It was less than amicable, but they both still feel that they love each other, and they go to each other's family functions. Even though I never met my (technically ex-)aunt until several years after the divorce, she's still part of the family and I consider her my aunt. This after my uncle has been in another relationship pretty much since the divorce and recently married the "other woman" - who I also consider my aunt.

My two aunts and my uncle seem OK with everything as they stand, and generally rather happy. Their relationship is a complicated one, but the two women are respectful of each other and even despite the swiftness with which my uncle found the new gal they seem to get along just fine. And I know for a fact that my "new" aunt doesn't resent my "old" aunt one bit.

So I'll disagree with what footnote says to some extent. Yes, you need to be able to give yourself to your new partner (as my uncle has), but you can still leave room for your first love to spend time with her, rely on her emotionally from time to time, etc., and you certainly don't have to cut off all ties.

My uncle and aunts are in their fifties. My perspective: I'm 24. So, take what you will of this response, life experience wise :). My siblings who were around for the divorce don't seem to get it and kind of resent our "new" aunt, but it does seem to work for the older trio.
posted by lorrer at 10:17 AM on November 25, 2005

You know, you guys are right - there should have been all sorts of quantifiers in my post. How long ago did you two decide to split? Are you in separate homes? Has it been a while? Have you been on any dates yet? If this is relatively new, it IS a good idea to put some distance. But it's tricky as cutting off all contact could cause you to romanticize things. It just seemed from the question that there are different circumstances than the normal "We don't get along" divorce. I've rarely seen my experience posted and I wanted to get that possibility up there. It took a full 2 years before I was adjusted to my divorce and didn't fluctuate between anger and loneliness.
As far as "just be", I suppose a better way to phrase it would be "one day at a time." When I wasn't over things after the standard year that people seem to give, it just made things harder and added to my stress and grief.
languagehat - that phrase about "a big part of my life and continue" comes across harsher on posting than I thought. It's more like a best friend than an ex - and yes, it is a bit strange when written like that, but in real life it's not as strange.
posted by Iamtherealme at 10:27 AM on November 25, 2005

languagehat and EB are right.

My divorce was not exactly amicable (though not really hateful either) and yet I experienced feelings very like the ones you describe. They went away. Had I acted on those feelings to the point of rearranging my life, it would have been a big mistake.

How much contact with my ex-wife should I have?
The minimum required to manage your remaining joint commitments.
How can I structure my life to have my ex-wife in it as well as any new relationship
(I imagine any new woman will object to me being close to my ex)?
Oh yes. See how many responses that personal ad gets.
Do I need to make a cleaner break than this?
How do I say goodbye to someone I love dearly?
"I need to spend some time sorting out my own shit now. I'm sure we'll see each other again. Goodbye."
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 11:27 AM on November 25, 2005 [1 favorite]

Just as a data point -- never been divorced myself -- one of my close friends has parents who divorced in 1965, married other people, and still call each other about once a week. They live a couple of miles apart, but only see each other in person about once a year. Now that the ex-husband's second wife is in hospice for Alzheimer's, he was invited over for Thanksgiving -- but told his daughter he wouldn't be able to get through it without a fight, probably over politics.

I know another couple that got divorced in the late 70s, lived separately in the same house while both dated, one of them lived with a new relationship for a while, then the two of them moved back in together -- as roommates.

I think, however, I would see these as indications for the long term. For the short term, you need to work harder at establishing a new life, and the more time you spend with your ex, the less incentive you'll have to do that. Where I do have personal experience was staying close friends with someone I'd tried to have a relationship with while she moved in with somebody else, and being in a relationship with someone who still "roomed" with somebody else, and there's plenty of awkwardness involved in those aspects -- challenges that new relationships don't need, being hard enough.
posted by dhartung at 12:38 PM on November 25, 2005

You're clearly unresolved about your ex-wife. I don't mean for this to sound cruel, but you have to LET GO. Be with yourself for a time, feel the pain of this loss, and heal. The worst thing you can do is get involved with someone new if you're still this emotionally attached to your ex. It's unfair and selfish to drag someone else into this situation because you're not really available yet. Amicable or not divorce is No Joke-Good Luck Anon.
posted by vurnt22 at 2:29 PM on November 25, 2005 [1 favorite]

languagehat and EB are right.

And how!

Listen, I have been there, and since helped a few other (guys) get through their divorces. The two year rule is a ground rule - you will be too pent-up insane to make any kind of good judgement during that time.

After being really angry and lonely I ended up re-discovering pot. And guess what? It helped me get through those two years. It dissapated my anger. When I finally found the Amazing-Where-Have-You-Been-My-Whole-Life-Love-Of-My-Life I quit (she don't like pot, and now I didn't need it.)

Moral of story: You May Meet Somebody Even Better. But you need Patience. Probably at least two years patience. Maybe three.

Should you dwell on your good memories of your ex in conversations with new relationship-people? (Excuse me.... I gotta say it this way.) WERE YOU BORN YESTERDAY? They do not actually want to hear about your ex, EVEN IF THEY ARE ASKING YOU DIRECT QUESTIONS ABOUT YOUR EX.

Weird. Just one of those inherited Primate genetic tendancies, like opposable thumbs.
posted by zaelic at 5:23 PM on November 25, 2005 [1 favorite]

"languagehat and EB are right.'

And I should have mentioned that of the three long-term, serious relationships I've had in my adult life, I'm on good terms and keep-in-touch with two of the women involved. Of course, the one I don't is my ex-wife. But everyone who knew us and knows me agrees that this is the case more because of her and her issues than me.

My most recent serious, long-term relatinship ended four years ago. She and I really and truly were best friends are were remarkably compatible. I always say this, but it's true: there were times when we were together 24/7 for weeks, mostly hanging out in the same room, and we never, ever got tired of each other. In truth, our compatibility and friendship formed the bulk of relationship and that there wasn't much more than that is why it failed.

Anyway, both of us really wanted to remain friends after we broke up. We did, and this was both good and bad and I think how it was bad will be illustrative of what you should do.

Immediately after the breakup we remained in touch. She was the one who ended the relationship, and I'm the kind of person who doesn't let go very easily, and so, frankly, our being in touch then was not the best thing. After about eight months, though, we'd both restructured our lives and for whatever reason, she moved back in with me not as my SO, but as less than that but more than a friend. That was comfortable for both of us, but I think it was a mistake, too. A year later when she finally moved away to get the education she always had wished she had, it was like breaking up all over again except much more mild. But many of the same problems.

In the end, four years later, she and I keep in touch, occasionaly email and occasionally talk on the phone. We aren't the close friends I wish we were and she's just married. Perhaps if I were in another committed relationship we might be able to closer friends since she only lives 60 miles away. But I'm quite happy with counting her as one of my long-term friends and that we keep in touch. That's a hell of a lot better than the way most other exes treat other. And the same is true for me and another earlier relationship I had after my marriage.

So, the bottom line is this: If you and your ex are capable of it—that is to say that doing so fits your personalities and isn't too much of a strain—it's great, admirable, and life-affirming to be on good terms with your ex. But even then, my experience has shown me that you absolutely must have a initial period of time, measured in months or even a year or two, where you aren't really in contact and you re-adjust your lives without each other. You've got to do that. Your friendship later will be the better for it, too, I feel certain.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 8:17 PM on November 25, 2005

I split with my wife of fifteen years and spent a bit over two years apart living entirely separate lives. After that we were independent, but after some dating decided to get together again. This second time we are more realistic, more grounded, and perhaps even a little happier -- it's been over ten years since we "remarried".

I think you really have to get to the stage of being independent and without ties to each other, before thinking about being together. Be as far apart as you can until your lives have no mental/emotional entanglement.
posted by anadem at 9:46 PM on November 25, 2005 [1 favorite]

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