The trend today toward more active, hands-on fathering means many former couples find themselves interacting frequently for years after divorce. The reality of co-parenting puts a lot of pressure on us to get along. It also provides a chance to use those wonderful relationship skills that are tough to master in a miserable marriage, but far easier (I found) to employ in discrete doses. I wrote this piece for QZ.com about my realization that the man I married is the ideal ex-husband—and why I think this is an incredibly important role.
Here is an excerpt from that piece:
"If you’re one of the million or so American men facing divorce this year, you probably aren’t exiting your marriage with a backlog of praise about your performance as a husband. Maybe you cheated, or spent all your time at work. Perhaps you lacked empathy, interest in her family, or the ability to pick up your socks off the floor. Or maybe she caused the marital breakdown, leaving you betrayed and bereft. Regardless of who was officially at fault, the waning years of a terminal marriage aren’t a forum for manifesting our best selves. As my own ex put it, “A bad marriage brings out the worst in both people.”
The good news? Now you are (or are about to be) an ex-husband—a totally new role, and one in which it is surprisingly easy to excel. As an ex-husband, your duties are discrete. Expectations shockingly low. You get credit for minor acts of kindness that were expected in marriage, and (in some cases) disparagingly assessed. If, as an ex-husband, you take out your ex-wife’s trash when you come to pick up the kids, as my own ex sometimes does, she’ll call five friends to sing your praise. As a husband? You should have done it yesterday.
As I've seen in my own post-marriage relationship, marriage can bring out the worst in people. Divorce? It can be chance to reconnect with your best."
* This post originally appeared on wendyparis.com.
Wendy Paris is the author of Splitopia: Dispatches from Today's Good Divorce and How to Part Well (Simon & Schuster/Atria, 2016). Splitopia and her work on divorce have been covered by The New York Times, Real Simple, The Washington Post, The New York Post, The Globe & Mail, Psychology Today, The Houston Chronicle, Salon.com, Parents.com, Family Law Quarterly, PsychCentral.com and radio and TV shows nationwide. She has an MFA in creative nonfiction writing from Columbia University, and is involved in the family law reform movement in the United States. She is divorced, and lives in Santa Monica, California, a few blocks from her former husband, with whom she has a warm co-parenting relationship.