Last night, we had supper at the home of Tom’s first wife. She and her husband invited us because Tom’s daughter was visiting from Vancouver with her partner and baby. Although Bonnie would be spending time with us, her partner was returning to B.C. today. We had a lovely evening. I’m aware that for many children, this kind of evening is not even a possibility. In this era of broken marriages and blended families, animosity often rules. What has made the difference in our situation?
I cannot speak for Bonnie’s mother and stepfather, but I can speak of the life learning that Tom and I have received. Today and in the following three posts, I offer you the wisdom we have gained. Before I begin, I need to say that for all of us, fear of personal safety is not an issue. When that fear is active and real, the following ideas need to be tempered, to ensure safety.
Why not consider our former spouse as dead and never be in her/his presence willingly again?
- Divorce cannot mean the wipe away of relationship and all of its history. Not even death can accomplish that. Even though we might like to forget, the past travels with us. It is part of who we are and how we will respond to life. We call it baggage. For me that’s not a good metaphor, because baggage can be considered excess and thrown away. Our past, the pain and the good times, are an integral part of us. Therefore it’s important to make peace with our past. That doesn’t mean we need to be close friends with our former spouse. It does mean we need to choose the best kind of relationship we can have, especially when children our involved. When we choose to be part of our children’s lives, we will be involved in school events, weddings, baptisms, visits home, funerals. All of these carry the possibility that our ex-partner will be present. We have no control over him or her but we do have control of ourselves and our response to our former spouse.
Why do we choose to maintain a civil respectful relationship with our former spouse?
- Last night, as a foursome we were willing to put our children and their needs first. Divorce ends the marriage relationship, but it doesn’t wipe out the fact that our children have both a mother and a father. When the children want to maintain the experience of family with both parents, it isn’t helpful, it isn’t kind and it isn’t loving to offer only hostility and anger. When we focus on our children’s needs, offering at the very least civility, kindness and respect to our former spouse, we give our children an amazing gift of love. When we don’t, we end up punishing our children for our past mistakes.
What does “letting go” mean, when we are talking about divorce?
- Divorce means letting go, not just of our former life but also of the expectations, the vision of what that failed marriage could have been. Whether we lay all the blame on our former spouse’s shoulders or we see our own mistakes as well, or we understand that this relationship was not good for either of us, it is easy to get caught in lamenting what might have been. Some people talk of wasting 5, 10, 20 or more years of their lives on that marriage or that partner. When we use the word wasted, we’re still focused on what should have been. The bottom line is that the marriage wasn’t what it should have or could have been. The relationship developed in a manner that wasn’t helpful for either of you. There is nothing you can do today to change that. It’s important now to focus on living your life today. There is lots to be learned from the past. You don’t want to live through a rerun. Therefore, rather than lamenting the possibilities that never happened, it’s time to step forward to something totally new.
What role does our faith have in this relationship journey?
- A foundational learning, for both of Tom and I, is to tap into the power of prayer. In any difficulty, and for sure with troubling relationships, the power of prayer is essential. When we are hurting and unhappy, we can get caught in giving God orders. Please change my partner so I can deal with her/him is a common prayer. My suggestion today is to ask for God’s help for yourself. For example:
Dear God, I need your help. I want to be respectful and civil with my former spouse. My anger, my resentment is getting in the way. I cannot change him/her. Please open my heart to hear and accept your wisdom. Keep me focused on you and the love that surrounds me. Teach me your way. Give me what I need to respond in a positive way. I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen
In this relationship journey, for what can we be thankful?
- Over the past eleven years, both Tom and I have given thanks that our old relationships ended. After all, without those endings we wouldn’t have the joyous loving relationship that we have with each other. In fact, I have said to Tom, I’m sorry for the pain your past has given you, but I also give thanks that your former wife did not value the wonderful man that you are. Otherwise, we would never have met.
In the past Tom has said, “I wish we had met thirty years sooner.” That sounds good and is a lovely compliment. Yet, maybe he wouldn’t have fallen in love with the Janet who was married at nineteen. For sure when I was nineteen, fourteen year old Tom would have been too young to be considered.
Today, life for both of us is good. I am thankful that we have grown through our tough times, and learned to appreciate the goodness that is now. We give thanks for who we are today. We see each other’s faults, of course. Sometimes, we become frustrated with those faults. Overall, we value each other for who we are. There is an old country song by Ricky Skaggs, Tom and I often dance to. Here is the chorus:
I wouldn’t change you if I could
I love you as you are
You’re all that I would wish for
If I wished upon a star
An angel sent from heaven
You’re everything that’s good
You’re perfect just the way you are
I wouldn’t change you if I could.
From the beginning of our relationship, Tom has called me “his just right Jan”. That says it all. We are just right for each other. Maybe not perfect as individuals, but for each other we are angels sent from heaven, “just right for each other”. With that foundation, our dinner with Bonnie’s mom and stepdad, was fun. We appreciated their graciousness, and caring. We were truly blessed.