The following was written for The Fatherly Forum, a community of parents and influencers with insights about work, family, and life. If you’d like to join the Forum, drop us a line at TheForum@Fatherly.com.
A little over a year ago, my wife and I decided to end our marriage.
While our marriage had run its course, what we’ve found since then is that our friendship, relationship, and commitment to each other and the family we’d built hadn’t — they’d just changed.
We’d been friends for almost 10 years before we were a couple. We became a couple after her boyfriend, who was my best friend, died, when we were 28. At the moment of his death, the moment when the monitors flat-lined, I was holding his hand in my left and hers in my right. We had absolutely no idea then of what was soon to come for either of us.
We were a couple for 21 years after that, almost 17 of those married. Today though, we’re in the midst of a beautiful divorce, the nature of which makes us a little sad that the phrase “conscious uncoupling” has been so beaten up and trivialized, because there’s none better to describe what we’re doing and how we’re trying to do it.
Like many marriages that expire, ours had probably run out years before we acknowledged it — to ourselves, or each other. There were quiet, always internal, and individual battles to hold on to it, more than there ever were any to try and fix it. I think we held on for as long as we each could, which, in retrospect, was almost certainly longer than we should have given how unhappy we both were. Sometimes it’s easier to look the other way when elephants walk in to the room, but that it’s easier doesn’t make it right or good, and this wasn’t.
Unspoken hurts and truths, stifled resentments, and annoyances had brought each of us despair and sadness. Not just about our marriage, but about our family. In retrospect, we’ve come to understand that we’d both ultimately given up on the marriage inside our own heads and hearts, but we were both so afraid of what that meant for our children that we couldn’t do anything more than try and live inside a status-quo that served no one, least of all our children.
“We’re beginning to see what our family looks like moving forward, because we are still very much a family, just a different and happier one.”
But all of that is what got us to here. And here is extraordinary. Here is a return to being friends. Here is a renewal of our commitment to raising our children and parenting together. Here is a place where we’re beginning to see what our family looks like moving forward, because we are still very much a family, just a different and happier one.
Our friends have asked us if there was any one event or one moment that lead to the end. There wasn’t. Just as love tends not to be about any one thing, but more about everything, for us, this was the case with the end too.
I handled it terribly, and we handled it badly, again, mostly because we were afraid. We were afraid of what no longer being “us” meant. Afraid of who we each were if we weren’t together. Afraid of what not being together would mean for our children.
But there came a moment when the fear of what might happen if we did something was suddenly less than the fear of what would happen if we did nothing. And while it certainly wasn’t in this moment that our marriage ended, it was in this moment that we acknowledged it already had.
For me, this moment might be the best and worst moment of my life. It was the best moment because we were speaking and sharing a truth that needed to be shared for the first time in years. Best, because without this moment our beautiful divorce could never have begun. My friend would not be back. My children would still be living in a far-from-happy home. She and I would still be swimming in loneliness and sadness.
“When we stopped wearing the pressure of keeping things the same despite how bad they were, we were free to create a new version of our family and ourselves … together.”
It was the worst moment for perhaps all the obvious reasons. We were committing to changing everything that had mattered and most things we had known. Worst, because just speaking the truth doesn’t always immediately erase all the fears related to it. Worst, because I was afraid of what it meant for me, for her, and most importantly, for our kids who were old enough to understand some of it but lacked the true ability to process much of it.
Worst because life as I’d lived it for 21 years ended over a cup of coffee. Best, because life as I’d lived it for the past few years ended with that same cup of coffee.
Over the course of those first weeks, we found ourselves looking at each other differently, moving around our shared space differently, as we tried to figure out what if anything could survive the moment and the shift. Not knowing if either of us could as fully trust the other moving forward as we had so absolutely before was, in a word, awful. Trust was what had sustained us, even when being in love had faltered.
But then, like one of those old-school radiators in a New York City walk-up, the steam of anger, frustration, and words unspoken that had been allowed to build up started leaking out and being let go … and new space was created.
But when new space is created, when room is made for possibility, we can’t just leave it open; we have to hold it or fill it mindfully. So we did. And when we stopped wearing the pressure of keeping things the same despite how bad they were, we were free to create a new version of our family and ourselves … together.
Our priorities are totally and fully aligned. That hasn’t changed. It’s all about our kind, curious, and beautiful kids. So we have this still in common. And with this and without the pressures that were then released, we were reminded we still liked each other. We were reminded we still liked spending time together. And then we were reminded we still loved each other. It’s just a different love than it had been.
“Truths unspoken and fears not faced are always harder and worse than those met head-on.”
It’s more like the love we had for each other before we fell in love with each other. It’s the love of a beautiful friendship, and it’s become the love that is driving this beautiful divorce.
That it’s beautiful shouldn’t, by the way, be confused with it being easy. It isn’t and hasn’t been. But we’re finding our way through what’s not easy together, like we have for so long. Together, just differently.
We’re committed to the 4 of us remaining a “forever family,” understanding that others will come in and out of our forever family, as one has now, expanding it, changing it, and adding to it, and what we learn about ourselves and each other.
We knew we wanted to find a way to maintain proximity so neither of us had to go a day without seeing the children, when in December, like some flashing neon wink and nod from the universe above, the house next door to our home of 13 years came on the market for the first time in 40 years. So she and I bought it, together. We took down the trees and fence separating the 2 properties, and have now built one new property…just one with 2 houses. We each live in one, and the kids move back and forth along the path we’ve built between them. We move along that path too, having dinner there and desert here, creating a flow along the way from here to there and house to house that we hope will serve and protect our new family dynamic.
It’s now a little over year later, and by and large, our kids’ day-to-day lives haven’t changed at all, except for one important thing. Now, they are once again surrounded by love and happiness, and not swimming in the tide pools of their parents’ unspoken hurt and resentment and frustration. And there’s no doubt that even at their precious young ages, they were and are aware — and effected — as they were before, but this time it’s for the better.
Our family is now a much happier one. Again filled with laughter, like, love, possibility, and energy. And the lesson that truths unspoken and fears not faced are always harder and worse than those met head-on has been taught to us once more.
She and I had an amazing marriage for so many of our years together, but it ended.
Someone I love said it best when writing about her own divorce, saying she wouldn’t trade their years together for anyone else’s forever. And I couldn’t say it better or agree more.
It’s still early, and life is long, and who knows if this will work and what may come? What we do know is that while our marriage may have expired, our relationship and our friendship and our love for each other and our family have been renewed. Together we’ve come to realize that anything is possible, even in divorce, but especially in a beautiful one.
Seth Matlins has served as the global CMO for Live Nation as well as senior executive for Creative Artists Agency.