Saturday, October 27, 2012

Friendship after Divorce

I started this entry a long time ago, but never finished it. I've written and rewritten it and added things and taken away things... just trying to say what I really want to say, but I'm not even sure what I want to say... so... how do I say what I want to if I don't know what it is...

I don't know if it's complete or good.., but I've decided to share it today.

Once upon a time, I spent an awesome weekend camping, fishing, and riding in the mountains. BJ and I had this trip planned for a LONG time. We wanted to pack our gear, ride in to Kidney Lake, spend a few days fishing, and ride out.

(For those who don't know: Once upon a time, Dann and I were married. Now we're not. We are friends. Being friends was important to me, and it was important to him.)

I didn't want to tell Dann about the trip. I was afraid it would make him sad or jealous. I didn't want him to feel angry or freaked out. (I am very aware of ex-spouses that act crazy when they hear things they don't like.) We were all at my parents' house for dinner. I wanted to tell my dad all about the trip - especially since it was his idea. (He went to Kidney Lake and told BJ and I we needed to go.)

So, I talked about it. I ignored the voice in my head telling me that I wasn't allowed to talk about the things that make me happy... But the voice that said I was hurting Dann wouldn't shut up. So... I finally just said, "Does it bother you that I went on this trip? Or that I talk about it?"

"No! Why would it bother me? What kind of friend would I be if I didn't want to hear about the things that make you happy? What kind of a friend would I be if I got jealous when you were doing something you love? I want you to be happy. I want you to do things you love. And I want to hear about it all! Does it make you jealous when I talk about my dates and/or other girls?"

That was a good question. The answer is NO. I feel really happy for him when he's happy. I feel really happy for him when he's doing things he loves. What kind of a friend would tell him that he can't talk about his dates? That's a huge part of his life.

I want us to be friends. Real friends. So, I tell him about the stuff that I care about. I don't protect him from ME, and I don't hide me, and I don't expect him to pretend or hide either. We're FRIENDS.

All of this has gotten me thinking: We are definitely not common, so how are we doing it?
I had people tell me it wasn't possible.
"Once you break up with a person, it should just be over." And I agree, if that's what  any ONE of the people want, that is exactly how it should be... but what if both people want a friendship?

A relationship only works if both people have a desire to be in the relationship. It would have been completely acceptable if either one of us had said, "I don't want to continue a relationship with you." THAT is different from the way a lot of people think. For instance, Person A wants to be friends, so they try to force Person B to be their friend. That isn't a friendship. I don't know what that is... other than messed up.) If, in the future, one of us needed to change the relationship again, we would. A relationship only works when it works for both people.

I also think we had to let go of our past relationship. It would be impossible to be "present-friends", if either one of us was still stuck in " past-marriage". We have a history, but we let that be history. There is no talk of what might have been, or blame for the marriage ending, or even questions as to why it didn't work out. There is no trying to get back together - there is only our present friendship.

I had to make a lot of changes in myself. It was a big adjustment for people around me... including for Dann. He was used to me being different... more self-sacrificing... he was a huge support in my journey. Instead of trying to get me to go back to being self-sacrificing, he helped me grow the way I needed to grow...

While we were married, Dann did things that really hurt me. He apologized for those things, and he also understood that his apology didn't make everything all better. There was a lot of pain and anger that I had to go through, and he didn't expect me to rush it on his account. He didn't expect me to do anything for him... He didn't even expect me to be his friend unless I wanted to. Really... He had no expectations of me or of our relationship. By not trying to force anything, by letting go of what he thought it should be, it's unfolded naturally into the relationship we have now.

When I talk to him about anything, he doesn't use invalidating statements and comments. (And if he did, I could tell him. We could talk about it without him freaking out.)

He told me to trust myself.
"I trust you. Now, YOU trust you. If you don't want to talk to me, don't want to see me, or don't want anything to do with me: It doesn't matter. Trust yourself. If you fake it because you think that's what you're supposed to do, or because you think that is what I want, you will NEVER recover... But if you learn to trust you in EVERYTHING, healing will happen." (taken from an online chat)
He told me not to answer the phone when he (or anyone) called unless I WANTED to talk to him (or them).  For nine years, I thought it was my responsibility to take care of his needs: to put him ahead of myself. It was hard to change that belief. It has taken me a long time to get to a place where I am okay having needs, wants, and desires...  He understood that, and supported me. I'd like to say this isn't still hard for me. It is. It's been years, and I still have to fight against the feeling that I have to take care of him.

Knowing the way I work, how awful would our relationship be if he wanted me to fix things for him? How awful would it be for me, if he wanted me to continue taking care of him? If he thought that was what I was supposed to do? Or if he blamed me for not doing more to "save" our marriage? I'd have to fight against the false beliefs in my head AND in his head. I don't think I was (or am) strong enough that I could do that. That relationship would be deadly toxic for me.

He respects me when I tell him no.
I'm still working on telling people (and specifically him) "no". I have had to learn to stand up for myself. When I tell him "no" for any reason, he actually thanks me for taking care of myself, instead of pushing to get his way. That, more than anything, makes it possible for me to be around him. To talk to him. To count him as one of my friends. I have been way too much of a people-pleaser to have people in my life who expect me to please them... in any way...

He doesn't act like he knows what I should be doing, or what my path looks like.
Again, he trusts ME to find my own way, and he is a support as I walk my path. He doesn't give me advice or tell me how to live my life. 

He celebrates when I am happy. 
When I moved, and I was SO excited, he was excited for me. He helped me move - into the house I live in with BJ. Dann is grateful that I found BJ, because I am grateful. He wants to hear about our camping trips, our horseback rides, our fishing trips. He also gets angry when he feels BJ or I aren't being treated right.
"When you love someone, you are happy when they are happy. If you feel sad or hurt when another person is happy, that isn't love, that's selfishness." (taken from a text.)
Can you imagine how healing it is to have him say that to me? Can you imagine how wonderful it is to have a friend that really does care about MY happiness?

I feel lucky. I know how beautifully odd it is. It is rather perfect that we've both come to this place. It's rather perfect that we both wanted a friendship, and we defined friendship in the same way. Our separation and our journey was not short and was not easy, but considering what so many people go through, we're very lucky.


  1. I'm grateful for our friendship. I found myself in tears reading this. I am truly blessed to have you in my life. I wish I could write as well as you and could say it eloquently, but seriously, thank you for being my friend!! ...what are the odds of that??

  2. I'm grateful you are both friends, too. It makes my life easier to still have Dann in our lives. I grew to love him unconditionally and thought of him as one of my sons so to have him suddenly not be a part of the family was hard for me too. I'm glad Dann can still come to dinners with us and celebrate birthdays and such. I don't ever expect to see him at extended family things cause I know he hates them. We still love you Dann!

    1. Divorce only ends a marriage - it doesn't change any other relationship. I would feel very very sad to not have Dann part of the family. I couldn't do that to him or to you (or anyone else.) Of course, for a while, I was sure my family would rather keep Dann than me if they had to make a choice...

      It has worked out better than I ever imagined.

  3. Jen posed a question about how what are you doing to make this work. I don't have an answer for you but I'm glad it does. Jen you ROCK, Dann also rocks and it makes my heart happy that you both are happy with each other and I hope your hearts are happy that my heart is a happy. (I just reread what I wrote and I'm pretty sure that's what I wanted to say.)

    1. Zack - we are SO siblings. It still amazes me how much alike we actually are...

  4. I'm really glad you posted this. I needed it. Thank you.
    (especially that link about invalidation)

    1. You're welcome. I want to do a whole post about invalidation, but I haven't done it yet. It's such subtle and painful form of abuse, and we all do it.

  5. It is an odd relationship, indeed. I am glad, though, that both of you found happiness after the divorce. Staying friends with your ex-husband is far from the ordinary for most people. But if you see yourself more at peace with each other as friends than a couple, then I don't see anything wrong with that. As long as you know how to protect yourself physically, emotionally, and psychologically. Don't let him in to your life if you'll only suffer, okay?

    Jermaine Gardner