A Graceful Uncoupling

I don’t usually talk about personal matters here.

Today I am making an exception.

“Some of us think holding on makes us strong but sometimes it is letting go.” — Herman Hesse

Tara and I have shared 20 years together as girlfriend and boyfriend, fiancées, and then husband and wife. Throughout that time we have always loved and admired each other deeply; we have always treated each other with the best of respect and dignity; we have shared some wonderful adventures together; and we enjoy raising our wonderful, spunky daughter together.

Late last year, we began to realize that we had become good friends, comfortable housemates, and effective co-parents, but we had lost the feeling of being in love with each other. We had grown and evolved and changed in ways that make us fit together less comfortably than we liked.

A few days ago, at our request, the courts here caught up to that reality – that our time together as a couple had reached its natural end – and declared us no longer husband and wife.

These transitions are never easy, but we’ve chosen to make it no harder than it needs to be.

“Relationships that do not end peacefully, do not end at all.” — Merrit Malloy

We made a commitment early on in this process to treat each other with the utmost of grace, dignity, and respect. I am deeply thankful for that. To be sure, there have been many tears and difficult moments along the way. But having now untangled our finances and possessions and day-to-day lives, I am proud to say that we remain very good friends and co-parents.

We are blessed to have a great circle of friends who have been kind and thoughtful to both of us and who have avoided taking sides as we’ve sorted through our personal business.

To this tribe that surrounds us: Thank you. Your support for us both is deeply appreciated.

To Tara: I look back on our time together with nothing but warmth. I am a far better person for our time together and I’ve been blessed to have been introduced to some of my closest friends through you.

To anyone who meets either of us in the future: Please know that maintaining our friendship will be important to us both. That said, we both wish each other well in finding new partners who can love us through the next chapters of our lives. We hope that you can respect and honor our past relationship as we do; in return, we will welcome you and your new role in our former partner’s life.

One of my friends, on learning last year about our intent to separate, shared this spectacular bit of wisdom:

“I’m always so impressed when couples reject the culturally-approved coping mechanism of mutual blame when separating, instead choosing to give themselves (and their kids!) the gift of honoring what was good about their time together and positive feelings for the future. I love Dan Savage’s question: ‘Why is the definition of a successful relationship that somebody has to die?’ ”

I wouldn’t wish this process on anyone, but if you do find yourself headed down this road, I can’t help but impart these few bits of painfully-acquired wisdom:

  • Take a moment when things seem difficult to stop and treat each other with respect and dignity. What’s difficult for you is almost certainly difficult for your soon-to-be-former partner as well. Divorce without spite requires emotional maturity from both of you, but is so worth it. (I should be careful here to note that this isn’t always possible. You have to both invest in that process for it to work. If your soon-to-be-ex isn’t capable or willing to be respectful, most of what I say here will be irrelevant. Tara and I were tremendously fortunate to be jointly willing to do so.)

  • If your state or jurisdiction supports it (and your soon-to-be-ex can agree to it), look into collaborative divorce or mediation rather than a litigated divorce. Yes, there are cost savings, but more importantly, by avoiding litigation, you avoid thinking about your soon-to-be-ex as an adversary. Doing so has been good for our souls. Our lawyers and the other professionals they asked us to work with along the way were nothing less than spectacular in coaching us through some of the more difficult portions of our process.

  • Be mindful of your own emotional state, especially as you approach new relationships. Any divorce, even one as amicable as ours, throws off a lot of emotional shrapnel. It’s easy to be overconfident about this. (I was.) For us, the emotional surprises came as we faced some of the inevitable financial decisions. Inviting someone new to join you on this roller-coaster ride is asking a lot.

  • The book Conscious Uncoupling contains many stories of couples who have transitioned from couples to friends in the most wonderful of ways. It inspired us as we faced our journey this year. It also contains many recipes for achieving that outcome if that is a goal for you.

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