What I gave up when I destroyed happily ever after

(A cautionary tale for those considering divorce)

If I knew how much I would give up, I might not have done it.  My empowered move to move out of a stifling relationship ironically forces me to give away power on a daily basis.  My ego is decimated, traditions are upended and any possibility of control is a joke.  I decided to give away 50% of my children for the possibility of ‘lightness of being’ in the aftermath.  I didn’t calculate the loss at the time and didn’t fully appreciate what I was stepping into or running away from.  I just wanted out.  I didn’t want ‘out’ of my children’s lives but that is what I inadvertently ‘accomplished’.

At the time of my divorce, the visions dancing in my head were most heavily steeped in freedom and justice and… actual dancing.  I was going to discover the perfect man, have perfect fun, and rediscover perfect joy.  Nine years later, my reality veers close to and away from my ideal, depending on the day.  This is what real looks like today.

Perfection? Not so much.  Yes, I did find a lovely relationship, after far too many painful, confusing ones.  No, he isn’t perfect.  I’m not either.  But, I like so much about him and he brings me heretofore unparalleled joy.  But it isn’t he who changed me.  It is I who changed.   I have discovered that all human beings are wildly imperfect, rather unpredictable but imminently improvable.  We can learn new tricks.    We have to do the work, not to reach perfection, but to realize there is no perfection and that a healthy, fun relationship requires your calm presence and undivided attention each and every day.

Friends with the ex? Not so much.  I had delusions, like many who make the call, that my ex and I would be friends.  I envisioned that I could take what I liked about us and give back the rest.   Extended family vacations, huge Thanksgivings with new partners and progeny in tow, the more the merrier in my rainbow-tinged book.  The reality is that we don’t get to dump someone and expect him to still be a friend.  It isn’t fair; it isn’t nice.  Be careful and fair about what you wish for.

Ease in my life? Eh, sorta.  At 45, I feel grown up for the first time in my life.  I feel calm and grounded, on some days at least.  So that is lovely.  But there is an important part of my life that never reaches ‘ease’; the non-stop requirement to negotiate my children’s lives.  Every decision now runs through two families: the sports they play, the weekend activities they sign up for, and the age at which they can date.  This fall, my son ripped his ACL playing football, the sport I didn’t want him to play, but I was overruled because I control only 50% of my children’s lives.   If you think about it, in a game where everyone controls 50%, no one can ever win.  Compromise is literally the name of the game.

This is what I realize now, nine years post-divorce.  I implore you to read and understand and really think through your separation or divorce.  Is it worth it?

When you blow up your vows, what are you really blowing up?

1. You will put your ego away.   With kids, it is rarely about you anyway, but now there will be even less of you in the equation.  When they cry for their dad in the middle of the night, you will simply call him.  When they tell you how much fun they had with their new step-sister, you will simply smile and say, “That’s great.”  You will feel pangs of jealousy clawing at you, threatening to thwart your promises to never say a bad word about their lives with the others.  You will remember that this isn’t about you; you will smile away the pain in your gut.

2. You will choose your battles.  Now, you control only 50%. This means that when your children are not with you, someone else is in charge, someone who sees him or herself as an extra parent but someone who you do not know.  In the beginning, I used to send over the chore chart to my ex just in case he wanted to implement the same dictates in his house.  I used to tell him what the kids ate in my house just in case he also wanted to reduce gluten, and red meat.  Now, I set rules for my household that go no further than my doorstep.  I ask my children if the different rules in the two households, both alike in dignity, bother them.  As long as they say “no”, I move on and leave the other household alone.

3. You will let it go.  In this new world of split time, you will have no choice but to let it go, lest your anger eat you alive.   On a day like today, a gorgeous autumn day, I have let go of my plans to go apple picking with my children next weekend.  Why would I do this?  My daughter just texted that her other family went today, yet again beating me to the punch, not in malice, but in happenstance.  This happens all the time with bowling, movies, and vacation destinations.  You will let it go and move on.

We seek freedom and we get it, but we lose some as well.  There is measurable good in this alternative configuration of our lives.  My children now know I will fight for what I believe in, and that I will persevere even when the cards are stacked against me.  They see me in a different light, as one who considers and makes choices, many of them hard.  By observing my interactions with their father, my children are learning to negotiate and to acknowledge themselves and others.  They understand that there are times when you speak up and times when it is just as well to remain silent.  They know that many people can love them, from all angles, in their own ways.  So, in the end, my ‘ever after’ is different and a bit more challenging than what I imagined, and, I am sure, from what my children imagined as well.  Divorce leads to compromise, and less control over your children’s lives, but if you can reach a place of peace with this altered ‘ever after’, your children will likely reach that place too.


Authored by Erin Oldham, Ph.D.

Erin is a researcher, relationship & divorce coach, and mediator.  Erin works with people as they navigate getting into, sustaining and getting out of relationships.  She also works with people as they negotiate divorce and the post-divorce world.  Erin has a Ph.D. in Psychology and has been researching child wellbeing and the formation of healthy relationships among children and adults for 20 years.  She is approachable, pragmatic, empathic and effective.  She facilitates intriguing, engaging workshops on these topics as well.  Contact her now at erin@localflamesmaine.com or 207-200-3970.  More information here.  localflamesmaine.com

6 thoughts on “What I gave up when I destroyed happily ever after”

  1. Erin,

    I recall the day this was posted, a gray, raw November Sunday. Cold and the leaves stripped from the trees. Perhaps your kids were not with you, holidays approaching, bleak, yet contemplative.

    The divorce journey is a sad and lonely road. With children the sadness and loneliness are magnified in ways we can’t imagine. Thank you for sharing your insights so that others contemplating divorce can pause and reflect on the possible new reality. For those of us “been there, done that” thank you for sharing our common bond and offering guidelines, especially approaching the emotionally charged holiday season.

    Peace, love and laughter be yours this holiday time -


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