You've heard the old adage "for the kids", right? I've never seen anything work that was done "for the kids" in a divorce.
Yet I just came back from having morning coffee with my ex-wife. She texted "coffee?" and I went down and met her. Last night she, her boyfriend and I all went out for a drink. Is that weird? I think it's wonderful...but it's not for the kids. We just like each other.
Now let me give you some background, so you know that we are just like all other divorced couples. After ten years of a pretty good marriage, she left. We were both frustrated with our marriage and all indications were that it wasn't going to get better. She needed a man in her life, not a spineless little boy in a 40 year-old body, and I didn't know how to be that man.
The next four years of my life was a whirlwind of different states, different jobs, different people and different experiences. Like so many who have had their world yanked out from under them, I was alone, lonely and contemplating suicide. It had never crossed my mind that I would not be married any more. That was my life. I loved her completely and I thought things could have been better, but, overall, it was fine the way it was. I was content. She was not.
It took a gun pointed at my head and realizing that I didn't care to make me realize how far down I'd come.
I read somewhere, I think in a book by John Eldridge, but I could be wrong, that there's nothing more dangerous than a man who has come to grips with his own death. I had become that man. Things that had seemed so important the day before were meaningless. I saw clearly what mattered and what didn't. It was the greatest experience of my life.
Suddenly I could honestly see life through her eyes. I realized that I would have left too. I also understood that I didn't know how to be a man - no one had ever taught me. This led to forgiveness - certainly of her - but, more importantly, of myself. Now I was ok. I was me and if you didn't like it, sorry about your luck. Suddenly I was the guy breaking up the fights and I was the guy that ran toward the fire, rather than away from it. I finally felt the beginnings of being the man that I was meant to be.
When I finally moved back to Colorado, where my ex-wife and son lived, I was different. No longer did she have to worry about hurting my feelings. She was no longer responsible for my happiness. I immediately struck up a friendship with her boyfriend, the man she had left me for, and we got along great. She began to trust me because she knew exactly what to expect of me. Soon joint custody became just that: shared responsibility and time with our child. We began to count on each other and we both came through. And we could see each other as people again. We remembered why we liked each other in the first place, all those years ago.
Now our son lives with each of us and is very comfortable (although he still rolls his eyes when I invite his mom and her boyfriend over for dinner). He doesn't worry about what he says about either of us because he knows that we already know. We're still family. It's a beautiful thing.
I suppose there is a downside when it comes to me and relationships with other women. My ex-wife is my best friend and that seems a little hard to swallow for most women. The truth is, I don't care. As I said, I know what's important and what's not. I don't worry about being alone or dying alone because I've been alone...alone on a beach in a sleet storm waiting to die. I figure if God pulled me through that He wants me around a little longer. That is the most liberating feeling I have ever felt. I don't worry because it's not up to me. All I know is that now I know what it means to leave it on the field. Every day I do the best I can and that's good enough. Nobody has a measuring stick on me. I'm free. How many people can say that?
I know it's silly to think of this as a How-To article on liking your ex. The point is that all of the clichÃ©s and anecdotes are true. Once you accept yourself, right where you're planted, as my friend Rex Gamble would say, you can begin to grow. I look back at the decades I spent in constant fear - fear of not being good enough, not being accepted and approved of. What a horrible existence that is, but so many of us live it every day. We think that's how it's supposed to be.
Now, if you're happily married, please stay that way. I'm not suggesting by any means that the way to improve yourself is to get divorced and go through hell. I'm suggesting that it's true that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Now I live with no fear. I know what it means to love without condition. It may have taken a battle within my soul to get me here, but I'm glad I made it.
For those of you who are divorced and having a hard time with your feelings, with the anger and regret and shame that come with it, I would tell you to stop focusing on who's to blame, don't "do it for the kids", just work on becoming who you were meant to be. That's what God wants for you and He will help you. Trust me.
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