Ten years after my own divorce I am absolutely going to go to bat for the benefits of re-partnering. In my unqualified opinion the single most important thing I have done over this decade of separation, divorce and single parenting is to have fallen in love again.
So much of the advice I have received, read, and listened to boils down to the ‘truism’ that time heals all wounds. I don’t agree. I think that if I focussed on feelings I have dealing with my ex-wife, the mother of my two kids, even this far down the track, I would be as defeated and confused as I ever was.
The amount of space on the internet devoted to people trying to deal with anger years after the event of separation and divorce shows that regardless of how much energy you devote to being ‘successful’ in divorce you are likely to be disappointed.
Whether you like it or not you probably divorced for the sort of reasons that can’t be reasoned and negotiated away. You are trying to reason and negotiate with someone who can’t be in the same building with you anymore.
Love heals. The feeling that you are worthy of unconditional love is what heals everything. That is one of the huge benefits of re-partnering.
Katie Hafner, in her blog in The Huffington Post cites research done in the early 1990’s which pointed to the serious adverse health effects divorce could have, especially for men. It’s more than just the bad habits that can creep back in once a man is on his own, the late night burgers and the extra carton of beer. No matter how much we shy away from intimacy as a man, feigning disgust, deep down we all know how good it feels to be touched and to be able to touch. And to simply be around someone who really loves you.
My First Marriage
I was unlucky in that I was part of a marriage which was not much more than cohabitation at its end. And on reflection it was a marriage that didn’t hold many of the pieces needed to make up a marriage that does work.
We didn’t have shared goals in life; we didn’t even really have the same world view. We had no shared interests, and crucially we had very different ideas about raising kids. All those differences meant that in the end we didn’t respect each other as we should have to be married to one another. It can’t become a task to simply like the person you wake up next to.
But on the flipside, that made me lucky in that we had been leading very separate lives for some time when it became evident our marriage was over. I read pieces talking about how on separation you lose half of the man that you have become. I didn’t.
I left and reinvented my life, which was lonely and had the feeling of starting over from scratch. My daughter drew a picture of dad’s new home; it was a trestle table and four chairs in one room and the two single beds for her and her little brother in another. As always, I was a stick man yet somehow she managed to get a certain wistfulness into the smile that was the usual curved line.
A decade later I look back at all that has gone on. I can only speak for myself in terms of what has worked and what hasn’t. One thing stands out for me more than anything else. Successfully re-partnering and falling in love.
The Benefits of Re-Partnering
Like every man with young kids I worried about how they would react to the idea of dad re-partnering. It seems to be something akin to grieving. It’s so hard to quantify when is the appropriate time to begin to think about meeting someone else.
So many people have strong opinions about the subject. Some people, my parents included, seemed to labour under some misapprehension that there wouldn’t be any re-partnering. Perhaps that was to do with the kids, I’m not sure. I think on the part of my mum and dad it was largely because they had been together forever, and the notion of pairing off for life made absolute sense to them. If your partner disappears, you just go on, continuing with life but taking a moment at the end of the day to gaze off into the distance ruefully thinking of the things that have been lost.
As I said, I didn’t feel the sense of loss that many do. I was ready to see what life could be outside a relationship that didn’t bring any of the safety and fulfillment it should.
So it was strange to realize that many people seemed to look at me as only part of the old me now that the married part was gone. They would begin conversations by asking about my ex-wife and so on. And more than that, they did seem to treat me as if I would always be missing a part of myself.
There is a lot to be said for the time spent on your own after separation. It was a time when I rediscovered a lot of things that were important to me as a person that had been subsumed by the fact that I was a husband.
I looked after my kids for most of the week. But they were young and we had a good routine of reading together before bedtime, then them reading in bed for a while longer and then lights out. So, I could get back to an evening for myself where I sat down with a glass of wine and watched the evening news. It made me feel part of the world, informed, interesting, lots of things I hadn’t felt in a while.
During the marriage, especially towards the end, I had given up these things. We were just different people, she would deride the news I watched, ABC or SBS, as being for people with tickets on themselves. The sort of people who saw themselves as superior to the Channel 9 watchers. And alcohol became problematic, she didn’t drink and made out that drinking during the week was a bad behavior and not a good thing to teach the kids.
I could go to the gym again and did so on the nights the kids were away. I worked shifts so that the kids would be at their mum’s when I worked during the day and then with me on my days off. So it meant that in the evening after work I could go to the gym as I had before kids came along, and I could say yes to going out after work, which I hadn’t in a long time. It wasn’t that our kids were difficult. I found towards the end of the marriage things became a contest, if I was to go out, or to have an evening at the gym or playing sport there would always be a period of ill will afterwards, as if I was not being fair.
As the time as a single father lengthened I still enjoyed all of the parts that made up a healthy life after separation. I did a lot of exercise, I had always been a good cook and kept eating well, I had a good network of friends through work and outside. I had friends I had met through the kids so that as a family unit we could spend time with others. I always saw that as a very important part of the kids remembering that dad was a good man, people liked me, they respected me as a man and as a parent and it was natural for life to go on with me being with my kids without their mum.
But, over time I began to find that it is the same as perhaps it had been before marriage. It is great to watch the news. But it is exponentially better to be able to watch it with someone and ask their opinion, realize there are things they know you don’t, and visa-versa. Things you can talk about going forward that you know interest them.
It is great to recognize that you are cooking a good meal, and continuing to eat well and maintain your health through a very stressful time. Eventually, it just becomes eating alone. Or eating with people who may well invite you over, or come over, or meet at a café, and they are with their partner.
Those can be great times, and less stressful perhaps than it was before you separated. I’ve been out a number of evenings where the discomfort between a married couple almost chokes the room. But you are still the odd one out.
The best thing about dinner parties is always the reliving in bed afterwards the things you remember, the things she remembers. When you roll over and there is no one there, then it isn’t the same.
My ex-wife became very angry during the divorce process when any mention was made of the future, in terms of she and I meeting new people. Whether that was raised by court registrars, the family relationship people that you meet as part of the process, even the magistrate. She saw that as a negative, not a positive. Especially for the kids.
Personally I found that the process of separation moves towards re-partnering. Eating habits, exercise, sleep, interests. Great. Those things are really important as a base, they can become hollow if that is all there is.
I think a natural part of remaking yourself is recognizing that you are someone very worthy of being part of a relationship again.
You have come to the end of a marriage. You played a part in that and it is really important to understand what that part was, for you and your kids, your ability to relate to your ex-wife. But most importantly for any other woman who is going to be part of your life.
I have re-partnered, and will remarry shortly. One of the biggest things that we recognize in each other is that we have looked honestly at ourselves back when we both came to the end of a marriage. And we looked at ourselves now, and compared the two. We both agree that what we see most in each other is the lack of the things that drove us apart from the person we married, the things that were innate in them, or that they simply refused to discuss that made things untenable for us.
We’ve been looking at the vows celebrants suggest for the wedding. A lot are cringe worthy, just because. Some are cringe worthy because they are just wrong in my opinion. No one completes anyone. You get divorced for a lot of reasons. You give up a partner. You don’t give up any part of yourself. You are still one hundred percent there from day one of separation.
It’s about finding the things that you gave up of yourself that have made you unhappy in the loss. And recognising the things in yourself that really shouldn’t be part of any relationship, being honest enough to admit what they are because sometimes we all revert to bad habits.
But, more than anything, it is meeting someone who recognizes you are who are now, a single man. That is the day that you realize a lot of the time spent as single has been about people unconsciously, for a thousand reasons, treating you as being ‘okay’.
Okay simply means – you could be doing better. For me, the benefits of re-partnering was about remembering that I am a hell of a lot better than just okay. A lot of the grieving process that goes on at the end of a marriage seems to make the mistake of talking about the loss of love, so much so that I think you can begin to believe that it is like death, there is no coming back. You will never have this thing again.
Some of the vows we have seen are recommended for remarriage. ‘I’ve finally moved on and am giving it another go’, ‘ready to see if we can do it again’. I don’t want to do any of that again.
Re-partnering for me personally seems a very natural end to a decade of change.