ONCE IN A WHILE, RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF OUR ORDINARY LIFE, LOVE GIVES US A FAIRY TALE!
Not every fairy tale wedding ends in a happily-ever-after, at least not in the same manner depicted in our beloved Disney movies. When you say ‘I do’ to the person that you love, you do so with the intention of growing old together. At least that was the case for me. Divorce is not something I ever imagined happening to me. Yet, today it is something very real for me, and in many ways, divorce is an epidemic in our society.
The process of divorce often destroys people emotionally and financially. The worst side-effect is the lingering impact that tug-of-war can have on children. Sadly, a divorce does not just end a marriage but often it ends families. Most divorce proceedings usually end up destroying the little love or respect left for the two people involved.
The sole beneficiary? Your lawyers and their already wealthy law firms. If you did not go into your divorce hating one another, you better believe that you may walk out of it doing just that.
My marriage did not have a “till death do us part.” Nor did it have the typical fairytale ending, “And they lived happily-ever-after.” But it did have a different happy ending.
It is my hope that by reading my story, you get inspired. If you ever find yourself ending your marriage, I urge you to consider a friendlier route to separation as I did. Jeffrey and I are currently re-writing the rules of life after divorce. Here is how it all came to be.
Once Upon a Time…
I first met Jeffrey in 1991, at the University of Toronto. I can still picture it. I saw him for the first time in the lecture hall, Introduction to Canadian Politics. He carried his black leather bag-pack on a single shoulder and was always chewing his favorite gum, Big Red.
Shortly after becoming friends, a romance began. Six years later, we had a fairytale wedding. In the presence of all those we loved, we said our “I Do’s.” For us, it was more specifically: “Ani L’ Dodi, v’ Dodi Li: I am My Beloved’s and My Beloved is Mine.” Like many brides, I was happy to have found my Prince Charming and indeed, he was.
Fairy tale movies teach us that there is always a happy ending. In the stories, love conquers over the evil villain. The prince slays the dragon and eliminates the wicked stepmother. The prince and princess run off into the sunset in their beautiful carriage or their white horse. This is where most Disney fairytales end.
So what happens after?
My fairy tale lasted 23 years. Like any marriage, we had our ups and our downs. The best thing that came out of our marriage was our children.
Over time, our relationship grew apart. If I had to pinpoint one thing as the culprit for our dissolution, it was a combination of things.
It fell apart due to our business and the long hours dedicated to our work. It was our immaturity, our cultural differences, and in many ways my insecurities and beliefs. All these things combined took the best out of us.
In the end, we came to a crossroads. When Jeffrey and I first married, we made a pact. The pact was that if at any point one of us could no longer make the other happy, we would find a way to lovingly part ways.
The End of my Fairy Tale
The dreadful day came early in 2013. I have to say that breaking our marriage was one of the most difficult decisions Jeffrey and I ever made. My children grew up seeing two parents who loved them and who were fully involved in their lives. We wanted to make sure that their world would stay consistent as much as humanly possible.
I remember the night we called our children to break the news of our separation. We had already been apart for four months But our children had not even noticed the change because Jeffrey and I had kept treating each other the same. Jeffrey said, “I want to give you a lesson on true love. When you love something you set it free.”
Jeffrey and I never made the other feel guilty for the decision we had made. Jeffrey was especially strong around me. He accepted our fate with such grace and continued to be the incredible man I always knew he was.
We chose not to hate or resent the other. We chose consciously to maintain a harmonious relationship for the sake of our girls. Their well-being and happiness were always the priority. We put our selfish needs aside and committed fully to making this a different kind of separation. We did not want to experience the horror divorce stories one hears about. To end our marriage in this way was not in our nature to do. Our relationship ended not due to a lack of love. It ended because that was our life-contract. It was our destiny. Sometimes things are not meant to last forever in the manner that we expect.
Do not get me wrong; there was nothing easy about our separation. It was extremely sad and painful for both of us. It often felt unreal. It was in many ways inconceivable to end something that I had once thought was going to be forever.
But as the famous quote from Big Mama in the Disney movie, The Fox and the Hound said, “Forever is a long time, and time has a way of changing things.”
It was important to us to give our girls time to adjust. Our daughters needed to assimilate to the idea that their parents were no longer going to be together. Separation or divorce can be a devastating and scary situation for kids. For most children, their security is threatened, and we did not want to cause our girls any long-term harm. Both Jeffrey and I decided to co-parent under the same roof for the first two years of the separation.
Explaining the end of our relationship in a constructive way to our girls was not easy. It was important that my girls understood clearly that this decision had nothing to do with them. Both myself and Jeffrey emphasized to our daughters that they were loved. We continued to reinforce the fact that Mom and Dad deeply cared for one another, but that sometimes, unfortunately, these things happen.
The Process Begins
Different bedrooms, separate lives, but still a family for our girls. We kept all our traditions for as long as we could. We traveled together with our kids for March Break and Christmas Break. We celebrated birthdays and observed Shabbat dinners and High Holidays together.
As our children adjusted, so did we. We slowly began to carve separate lives of our own. We began to schedule days in which each of us took turns to be with our girls. Things felt a bit awkward when we began to date and even stranger when we had to explain to our new significant other that we still lived together.
However, it was crucial for us that our kids never moved. The stability they had grown to know had to remain untouched. The girls always stayed in one place. Always in their home. Eventually, we were the ones who would rotate in and out of the house depending on whose turn it was to be with the kids. We did all this at a great sacrifice, but it was worth it. In the end, our girls had continuity and safety. Their world did not change.
We were happy.
No child ever wishes for their parents to be apart. As much as we could, we tried to make the adjustment period smooth. I felt great and I was proud of what we were able to create for our children.
BUT…. as expected in all fairy tales, the villain soon appeared in my story. Obstacles appeared on my yellow-brick-road. My paradise in Emerald City came crashing down when Jeffrey began to date the ‘Wicked Witch of the West.’ Suddenly, I found myself neither in Oz, nor in Kansas anymore, but rather in the eye of the tornado. Everything we had worked so hard at building was destroyed.
Being new at this dating thing again, we both made some stupid assumptions. We built unrealistic rules that neither of us could keep, and as a result, conflicts arose. The Wicked Witch used every trick in her book to get Jeffrey to change things. When unsuccessful, The Wicked Witch blamed me for their ultimate breakup. She did a superb job at coming between the beautiful thing that Jeffrey and I had built. In the end, Jeffrey and I were deeply hurt and ended up building some thick walls around us.
From the beginning of our separation, people gave us a million reasons why our amicable relationship was never going to last. You know what they say, ‘opinions are like assholes, everyone’s got one,.’ So when the Wicked Witch took Jeffrey hostage, I could see people rejoicing in their “I told you so.”
I was devastated. Up until this point, I had never really felt the separation as real. Yes, we were not together as husband and wife. Yes, we were both dating, but the fact is that it never felt real to me because I was still with Jeffrey. We were still home together. We were traveling with our children and enjoying every dinner as a family.
There was nothing friendly between us anymore. Jeffrey would look at me with resentment, I could sense his heartbreak, and as for the Wicked Witch, Jeffrey simply walked away from her and her demands. Even though Jeffrey told me he was fine, I could see that he missed her and blamed me partly for their breakup. The Wicked Witch did not win Jeffrey over but she did win in severing the amazing relationship that Jeffrey and I had maintained.
Looking back now I can see that the situation we created was unrealistic, but the fact that it took this villain seconds to destroy something that was years in the making was devastating. I was heartbroken. It was the first time in my life that I felt completely alone. I had lost it all, I thought. I lost my family, my husband, and my best friend. Jeffrey and I rented separate condos near our matrimonial home to stay close to the girls, and we rotated in and out of our home.
While we tried to explain to the kids that divorce was the next step in the evolution of our relationship, they knew something deeper was behind it. One of the many things that I learned throughout this whole ordeal is that our children possess a sixth sense. They always know when Jeffrey and I are not in harmony with each other.
I cried so much. We had worked so hard, sacrificed so much of ourselves to protect our kids and here we were in the midst of the tornado.
Our family dinners stopped. High Holidays came and went, and we were apart. Shortly after us not living under one roof, Jeffrey told me he had filed for divorce. He always spoke to the girls and I about never getting married again. He said he would seek companionship, but never actually remarry. It made sense to keep the status quo due to our business holdings. So, you can imagine how the news of the divorce came crashing in on the kids and me. He further said to me, “I want you to know that I reserve the right to get married again.”
Wow. Jeffrey was doing all the things that he had promised never to do. I felt so betrayed. Yet, I had no right to argue. It was his life, and I had chosen to walk away.
The first step was dissolving our Jewish marriage contract, our Ketubah. For those of you who are not familiar with Jewish tradition, a Ketubah is a special type of Jewish marriage agreement written in Aramaic. It outlines the rights and responsibilities of the groom in relation to his bride.
It was easier to get married than to undo our Ketubah. I had to face a panel of three strange looking, long-bearded Rabbis. It was a scary ordeal. I remember the Rabbis were judgmental about the entire thing and showed little compassion for my tears.
Many things flashed through my mind at that moment. I saw us, the young kids we once were, excited to be signing our Ketubah, and excited to start a life together. Yet, here we were 23 years later signing to dissolve the one document that had every significance to me. I played in my mind the echo of the words once spoken by Jeffrey at the time of signing our Ketubah: “I will love thee. I will work for thee. I will honor and support thee by the practice of Jewish husbands who work for their wives, honor, provide for and support thee in truth.”
I could sense the Rabbis were a bit uncomfortable. They felt confused about my display of remorse and emotions. Jeffrey saw that I was a mess and crying, but did nothing. Jeffrey remained unmoved, convinced that this was the right thing for him to do.
I wasn’t so sure anymore.
Why did it hurt so much? Why was it so difficult to let go if that is what we had both agreed was best? I knew in my heart that the love I had for Jeffrey was still ever-present, but I also understood that we were not able to make each other happy anymore.
Things progressed quickly from there. Our legal divorce came shortly after. Nothing was contested. We were both fair. A parental agreement was created, and everything was outlined for how and where to see the children. School and medical decisions were all a part of it. The parental agreement was rigid. Nothing was left to chance or interpretation. It was best to have it all laid out in case there were difficulties in the future.
Rebuilding After Divorce
As time passed, our girls became accepting of the new rules and lifestyle that we had. As difficult as this period was, the one thing that kept saving us was the love and commitment that we had for our girls.
Time went by, and we put our differences aside and decided to do what was best for our children. In spite of our best efforts though, our relationship never quite healed to the point it once was. I guess when something breaks, even if you piece it back together, it will never be quite the same. There are lines in the cracks we attempt to glue, and those cracks mark us for life.
“SOMETIMES GOOD THINGS FALL APART SO BETTER THINGS CAN FALL TOGETHER”
“The biggest failure in my life was our marriage not working,” Jeffrey said to me years later at an equestrian event while we were watching our daughter Victoria compete. I didn’t know how to respond. He had been far too long under the Wicked Witch’s spell so there were things he could not see. Five years had passed, and I had gone on my spiritual journey to heal my life from the inside out and was seeing the world through different lenses. It took a few seconds to respond,
“I am sorry you feel that way,” I said. “I consider our marriage the biggest success and victory of my life. Just because it ended doesn’t mean it was a failure. We achieved together more in 23 years than most people get to do in a lifetime.”
To make a long story short, it took nine years of struggle and much grief to repair our bruised relationship. It took a series of traumatic events to bring us back to a good and stable relationship again. They say that every adversity has the seed of something great. I have to agree with that. Today, I am happy to say that we have rebuilt even a better relationship as friends and co-parents than we ever had. We feel great that we can respect and care for each other. We both do what is in the best interest of our family. We have each other’s back and protect what we so greatly have built.
Today, I can look back and be proud of my decision to part ways because it was based on love and respect for the other person. I’ve come to believe that not all things that end should be considered a failure. There was so much good that came from my relationship with Jeffrey and most importantly, it has allowed me to redefine what I believed failure is. I’ve also learned that we make our own happy endings, despite what we grew up believing. I no longer wait for my Price Charging to come to free me from the tower as Princess Fiona did in Shrek. I’ve learned that each of us is capable of slaying our own dragons. I am more like Mulan and Moana because we write our own happy endings. The end of things is never a failure, not if those experiences gave you joy, lessons and changed you in some way for the better.
Happily Ever After Divorce
Today I am blessed to enjoy an unconventional family. We enjoy dinners, birthdays, and all kinds of holidays together. When one is in trouble, the other runs to their rescue. We have made a new pact to treat each other with respect and keep present that we are here for something bigger than ourselves: OUR CHILDREN. We live to demonstrate for our girls that love does conquer all. No witch or villain can ever win. In the end, fairytales are true. It may not always be the case of the prince and princess running off into the sunset, but it can be a happy ending, nonetheless.
As I reflect on writing this blog, I am crying with a feeling of gratitude. I hope my words can transmit the truth that is in my soul. Jeffrey and I still go through ups and downs but with love and gratitude, we are rewriting, every day, the rules of life after divorce. My advice to you, should you ever find yourselves in a situation to part ways, I wish you find it in your hearts to not let anger and hate win. I urge you to consider a friendlier route to separation. A route in which you both continue to be a family, unconventional yes, but still a family. Never stop believing that there is a better way to end things and remember that ends don’t necessarily equal failure.
As long as you let love prevail in your decisions you will, just as we did, arrive at what works best for your type of family. Divorce, separation, and breakups are not what destroy families, children, and friendships. It is the ‘War of the Roses’ (movie 1989) that does. Choose what truly matters in life and, like us, you and your family can carve a new way to happily-ever-after.
With gratitude, Waleuska.