The Good Men Project: You two are co-authors, co-parents, and former spouses. Tell us about the transition from marriage to divorce to a successful book about the divorce: How did you come to the “happy” part of your divorce?
Nikki DeBartolo: It did not happen overnight. It was definitely work. I think it took time for both of us to take a true look at ourselves and realize it takes two to make it and it takes two to break it, no matter what the situation in the relationship is/was. Losing your ego, and forgiveness of not only your spouse but first and foremost of yourself.
Benjamin Heldfond: As Nikki said, it definitely took time and a lot of commitment to our son to get to the happy part of the divorce. I can’t pinpoint the exact moment we crossed the invisible line into a happy divorce but at some point, the clarity came that Nikki and I were put on this earth to be best friends and co-parents to this beautiful child. It just became natural.
GMP: What kinds of joys and challenges did your family experience that our readers will be able to relate to? How did you handle those challenges?
Nikki: Some of my biggest challenges were fear, ego, get over the “what-ifs.” I had complete fear of being a single mom and disappointing my parents at the time who have now been married almost 52 years but, I think my worst obstacle was my own ego. It’s hard as a mom to not be able to put your son to bed every night and not be there every day for him. But add another woman/mom in his life and that is really hard to swallow. I had to keep telling myself that I want him to be loved as much as he possibly can be and she did, so much that we are best friends today.
Ben: At the end of our marriage and through the divorce process, I had so many negative emotions running through me like failure, fear, resentment, and anger. By far the biggest challenge for me was having to put those feelings and my ego aside and focus on our son and his happiness and well being. In concept, this was pretty simple but putting it into action is not easy. It wasn’t in the beginning and it is still a challenge 13 years later. Today the challenges we face are accepting the other person for exactly who they are. That includes the good as well as the bad. We have both matured and changed a tremendous amount but there are moments where those personality traits or behaviors that caused the marriage to break down, rear their ugly head. However, we have experienced the most joy and success when we put our egos aside and make decisions that are made from a place of what’s best for our son.
GMP: What kind of guidance did you receive going into your marriage that made sense for you, so you followed it? What advice did not make sense before problems arose but now, in hindsight, you wished you had heeded?
Nikki: Advice …ha! I wish someone would have given us advice. After the fact I had family members tell me that they didn’t feel like I should have been getting married and that they knew if they told me that I probably would have told them something not so nice. I wouldn’t change being married for anything. It taught me so much, helped me grow, made me realize what I wanted in a partner but most of all gave me my most precious gift a beautiful son. My mom’s advice now is “you better love their guts.”
Ben: I think the best advice I wish I had followed was that of my gut. I am sure Nikki feels the same way. I remember looking at myself in the mirror at the hotel 5 minutes before I left for the church thinking to myself, “this is a mistake”. Nikki and I went right through every red light that was thrown up while we were dating and despite those red lights, we got married. However, knowing what and how things are today if by a miracle there was a way to go back and heed the advice my gut was giving me, I would not change it. This process has made both of us better parents, better spouses and just all-around better people.
GMP: Why is it beneficial for a divorcing couple to take the advice you offer in your book? How does the guidance of your book help the reader achieve a healthier outcome?
Nikki: We took the advice of so many that would comment on social media about our “family,” asking us to share our story and write a book. For us, we are not therapists or doctors and would never claim to have the answer for everyone. We are simply sharing our story of what worked for us. We started off the way most divorces do going down a dark path, but we managed to turn ours around and this is our story.
Ben: The reason we decided to write this book wasn’t to give people advice but rather to share our story of how we did it. Through all my struggles in life, I have been able to get through them with the power of relatedness and taking guidance from someone who has gotten through the challenges I am going through. We are not experts but we have successfully created a healthy happy divorce. We are convinced that if Nikki and I can do it, anyone can. We are two hard-headed alpha’s who are very stuck in our ways. If anything we wanted this book to give people hope that a happy divorce is possible. We are by no means saying that this is the only way and there are different types of happy divorces. IT WORKS, IT REALLY WORKS.
GMP: You were consciously aware of your son’s needs throughout the divorce process and you wanted to ensure he would be OK afterward. Tell us about how you helped your son through the divorce. What kinds of divorce-related challenges did you see in your son that our readers’ children may face?
Nikki: I learned firsthand early on how aware and smart kids are. There was a period of time when Ben was “pretending” to still live at home. Asher walked into our bedroom one morning he was about 4. He looked at the bed that I thought I did a pretty good job of messing up and said, “Mommy, where did Daddy sleep last night?” So from that day on, I realized that honesty was the only way with him. Be truthful, yes it hurts but it also earns respect. The kids figure it out so don’t lie. Asher, to this day, will still tell you how hard the divorce is/was on him. The back and forth, the different rules, the spreading of his time with each parent and we have made it as easy as possible on him. They are not tackling dummies, they are not a mail service to send info back and forth. They are our children, they didn’t ask for the divorce, so don’t make them foot the emotional bill of it.
Ben: One of the most “sobering” moments for me was about 5 years ago. Asher and I were on a fishing trip and he said to me, “this divorce is really hard on me”. My first reaction was I wanted to tell him that he has no idea what hard is and how hard his mom and I have worked on putting him first and making sure he didn’t get stuck with the emotional bill. However, at that moment it hit me and I was taken back to when my parents got divorced. Taking away the nonsense that my parents did, it still sucked having to have two houses and get displaced every few days. So no matter how well Nikki and I get along or no matter how ‘good’ Asher has it compared to other divorces, it still sucks for him and his obvious choice would be for his parents to be together,
GMP: In order for each of you to move forward in life, you made a conscious decision to embrace the extended family your new relationships created. Your book tells us “coordination, communication, and bonding” are required. How did you come to realize it would take work, and has the work proved to be worthwhile for your extended family?
Nikki: I realized we were doing something right when we went to Asher preschool conferences and said to the teacher “how is he?” Explaining to her that we were getting a divorce and we wanted to see how it was affecting him. She looked at us and told us, “he hasn’t missed a beat.” That’s when we knew that we were on the right path. We had plenty of bumps and bruises with him emotionally along that way as expected, but what we have established as a family together has proved to ease the pain tremendously.
GMP: What’s next for you individually, and as co-parents? Is there another book in either or both of you?
Nikki: Oh boy, maybe? We are going to continue to work together and be the best parents we can be. It’s not always perfect, but it is our perfect. So if we can keep that up we are on a good path.
Ben: We are a good team even though we were not a great team as a married couple. We want to be able to tell our story to as many people as possible and it really only works if we are doing it together. This outcome would never be possible if we were not both 100% committed to it, So we would love to be available to help people going through divorces through relatedness. Not sure if it works by us doing that individually. As far as another book, I don’t see Nikki and I writing another one but what we have found through this process is a deeper respect for our spouses. At the 11th hour, we decided that Nadia and Chad needed to write chapters in the book because they play as big of a role in Our Happy Divorce as Nikki and me. Step-parents can play such an integral part in the success of an amicable divorce but also in the breakdown of and amicable one. So maybe we can convince them to write a book that goes more into what their daily struggles are as step-parents.
Read more by Nikki DeBartolo and Benjamin Heldfond:
- Our Happy Divorce: How ending our marriage brought us together.
- How Ending Our Marriage Brought Us Together
Living in a hotel isn’t so bad.
There could be a happy divorce at the end of all of this.
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