My 20 Percent Husband

I was so pleased that Psychology Today magazine ran a cover story essay about my improved, pared-down relationship with my ex.  I'm certainly not alone in this kind of relationship.


When my husband and I split up, I assumed it would be difficult for a couple of years, and I would then fall madly in love with a more suitable suitor.  What’s evolved is something different.  I haven’t, in fact, fallen in love.  (At least, not yet.)  

But my own once-spouse has not receded into the past as a distant, conflicted memory, nor morphed into an active enemy, as some friends predicted.

He lives a few blocks away and has become what feels to me, like a 20 percent husband.  My ex shows up for our son, and he’s there for me, too, handling about 20 percent of the tasks you might turn to a spouse to fulfill.  He hasn’t exited the stage of my life, but taken on a lesser, supportive role. 

I also feel somewhat like a 20 percent wife.

Certainly part of our good relationship has to do with the lower expectations one has for a former spouse. And from the fact that we learned a lot in our marriage, and in our divorce.  As I’ve written about before, the process of divorce can actually improve your interactions—especially if you choose a collaborative, supportive legal process.

Our positive post-marriage relationship didn’t develop overnight.  I had the intention to create a good divorce, but I also had plenty of challenges along the way.  

The notion of a good relationship with an ex also can make other people pretty uncomfortable, it turns out.  Some insist that the fact that we don't hate each other means we ought to have just stayed married.  "You should get a room and try again," one mother from my son's school has suggested, more than once.

“Rancor is a helpful emotion!” insisted a divorced dad I met at a wedding in Texas.  People can easily accept the idea that a couple might transition from real love to deep loathing.  But to move from romance to some lesser, still positive relationship?  That idea can be harder to accept.

To me, a decent divorce is far more realistic than an all-out war.  I loved this man enough to marry him; obviously he has traits that I appreciate and that I want in our son's life.  

I've seen plenty of other couples who have worked to create a new kind of family, on the other side of marriage.  It's not easy, but no important relationships are easy all the time.

So what does my 20 percent relationship look like? Read the story here.

* A version of this post originally appeared on Wendy Paris's website, 


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,,, Family Law Quarterly, 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.