With the assistance of our accountant and a few of our friends, we came to an agreement. It wasn’t easy. Because our kids were so young, we both felt it was best for them to live with me in the family home and see their dad almost every day. He would have them at his place when I was travelling and for two weekends each month. We would always call each other as the first option for babysitting when we were going out.
Separating everything we owned proved more exhausting. Despite our best efforts to be fair, there were sticking points. When my husband made the reasonable suggestion that I compensate him for the family furniture, he hit a nerve. “Take whatever you want,” I challenged him. I was not going to buy him out of the crystal candlesticks, the sofa our children had jumped on, ruining every spring, the bed marked with his body print. Our perspectives were so far apart, and mine was irrational.
Many times I struggled to pull back from the brink of conflict. Reminding myself of my new vision for our family, I would simply refuse to fight. Maybe it was the yoga and meditation I had begun, maybe it was because each night I would collapse into that body-printed bed and pray for the strength and compassion to love my husband through this. I prayed my wounded pride would not poison our separation.
Every day I grappled with the sense of failure. Uncoupling was the end of a dream that both of us believed in when we took our wedding vows. How could I have missed the warning signs? I remembered asking the same question when I heard about other people who’d been shocked that their partners had left them. I’m ashamed to say I didn’t have much sympathy for those people. I thought they must have been deluded, too absorbed in other things. Now I was in the same boat.
What I needed most was faith that we could still do an outstanding job of raising our children. I was so afraid of the pain our separation was causing them that I called a family counsellor for help. She reminded me that she had never met an interesting person who hadn’t experienced some pain. What mattered, she said, was not protecting my children from suffering, but supporting them through it. When I couldn’t assemble the new Lego my son had received for his fifth birthday, he became hysterical. I called my husband, who was there within minutes to help. Watching our child struggle with the pieces, hiccuping with tears, screaming with anger, I would have done anything to take his pain away. I could only accept his emotions, remind him how much both of us loved him and try to understand what he most needed.
Meanwhile, I kept looking for answers: why did my husband leave? Why can’t we make it work? Why am I not enough? My friend Andre Spencer, a native healer, offered to lead a healing circle with my husband and me. My husband is a pretty concrete guy, so I thought he might scoff at my suggestion that we pass a feather around and burn sweet grass in a sacred circle. But I found the words that sold him: “I think it would help us move forward.”
We spent hours in that little cabin, the person with the feather speaking without interruption. Andre sat between us which gave us both the time to listen before we responded to each other. I was so tempted to ask my husband why he couldn’t love me, to demand he clarify the exact moment his loving stopped. Instead I shared my pain with him, I expressed my anger and I did a lot of listening. I listened to my husband’s guilt: I listened to a man with no answers. I began to understand that maybe he really didn’t know why. I also began to wonder what answer would make it all right that the marriage was over. After emotionally spending ourselves for five hours, we hugged each other and cried.
I had reached a turning point in my uncoupling, yet I had never felt so vulnerable–especially in the evenings. Alone with sleeping kids and an active mind, I would check the children incessantly, a little freaked out that their safety was completely up to me. My friends would take turns calling at night to remind me of their love and support. I am not good at asking for help in my weakest moments. But when my children left for their first weekend with their dad, my friend Kathleen heard my voice on the phone and knew I needed her. She came over and just held me as I sobbed. Day after day, setback after setback, my friends were there for me.
Meanwhile, my parents gave me a sense of perspective. In the 25 years since their own separation, neither one of them has ever spoken a harsh word about the other. My dad reminded me to value the years we had together. My mom, the consummate survivor, took a humorous approach, asking me if I could really trust anything a man turning 40 did or said.