Stacey Freeman shows it’s possible to have a low-conflict divorce—even after infidelity.
My husband of 16 years, once my high school sweetheart, cheated on me. Left me. For his mistress. Got married to her, and they now have a child. Of course, I was not happy about this.
Yet, after each of the three mediation sessions that took place during our divorce, my then husband and I would go out for lunch together—eating sushi, sharing a tuna bagel, or having a quick bite at the diner where we ate fries off each other’s plates, just like we used to before the divorce.
A lot of people thought we were nuts. And at times, it felt like we might be. But we weren’t. We were only determined to get divorced as quickly and as painlessly as possible, with a minimum of stressful conflict. Even though my husband was the one who left, I was the one who ultimately wanted out. And once my mind was made up, I let it be known, especially to him.
It was while sitting in the car that day—the day I reached the understanding there would be no more “us,” my husband behind the wheel after I tagged along on tedious errands all morning only to hear how there was no longer time for the second session of marriage counseling I really wanted and knew we needed to attend—it was on that day that I picked up my cell phone, searched for the name I’d put in my contacts three months earlier, and hit send.
Moments later, I commanded the voice on the other end to “send the letter.” And it was done.
That voice belonged to my lawyer who, without my husband’s knowledge, I had retained six days after he left me to “see his new relationship through.”
Those first few months after I found the lingerie in my husband’s suitcase (a gift for his mistress) were ones I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. And anyone who was privy to the emotional upheaval in my life would never have believed that I could one day describe my divorce as amicable. But it was, taking just 11 months to conclude from the time my husband retained his lawyer to our one and only court date—during which our marriage was officially dissolved and which my husband didn’t even attend in person.
Make no mistake—I am not a doormat. I did not give up my rights or my money or anything else important to me. Our divorce agreement is fair—not altogether good or bad for either one of us.
I try not to look back and say would‘ve, should’ve, could’ve, especially when it comes to our mutual choice not to make our divorce a contentious one and the possibility I could have reaped a better settlement in return if I had. I am proud of what we achieved, and of how we have both moved forward and left the contention and bitterness behind.
Our family went through enough. Our three children, ages 10, 9, and 6, at the time of our separation, saw far more than they should have—a volatile relationship between two parents who showed disrespect to each other and, as a result, to themselves.
Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word amicable as “showing a polite and friendly desire to avoid disagreement and argument.” My now ex-husband and I accomplished exactly that. We each stood our ground, fighting about and for what we believed would be best for our respective positions and futures and conceding when we knew doing so would benefit the greater good, namely our children.
Contrary to popular opinion, having an amicable divorce doesn’t mean the absence of controversy. During those first few months of our separation, we had plenty. Rather, an amicable divorce results from a mutual desire and intent to go from point A to point B without traveling to points C, D, and E first. It means engaging in healthy conflict and healthy conflict resolution by delineating and enforcing your own boundaries while simultaneously learning to respect your spouse’s.
The best part is, amicability is contagious. And lasting.
This coming June, my ex-husband and I will celebrate our third anniversary, divorced. We have each moved on and are enjoying new lives independent of one another. We are, however, forever connected through our three children—as well as the grandchildren and, hopefully, great-grandchildren we will one day share.
So how does an amicable divorce look nearly three years later? Not like anything you would ever turn your head at if the same two people you were witnessing were happily married.
A few weeks ago, my ex-husband, who lives in Asia, came to my home (formerly our marital home) to pick up his car, which he still parks in my garage. He had not used it in a number of months and when he went to start it, the battery was dead.
I promptly called for roadside service, learning it would take longer than an hour for a tow truck to come. I yelled the bad news down to my ex-husband, who was hanging out with our kids in the basement and told him to make himself comfortable in front of the TV. A few minutes later, he came up the stairs wondering if I had anything for dinner since he had just landed after a 16-hour flight.
“Of course,” was my immediate response, and I prepared a plate of leftovers from our dinner a few hours earlier, as I had for countless nights during our marriage whenever he came home late from work. I set a place for him at our kitchen table and invited him upstairs when everything was ready.
In a way, watching my husband eat dinner at what was once our kitchen table was like seeing a ghost. Evidently for our children, too, as our 14-year-old daughter began walking back and forth through the kitchen to the laundry room (where, for the record, she makes it a point to set foot as infrequently as possible), and our 10-year-old son decided he was suddenly hungry and would have a bowl of salad at nine-thirty at night while his dad ate.
When I repeated the story to friends, I was criticized. Told I should have refused to give him dinner or, worse, advised him he could eat what I prepared at his own risk (wink, wink).
I understand why my friends were frustrated. They care about me and watched me suffer as my marriage imploded. But what they didn’t see was the look on my children’s faces as they watched their dad eat dinner—in their house—and watched their mom and dad get along. And those three faces are all the reason I’ll ever need to be his friend, and him mine.