Even After Divorce, Love CAN Be All There Really Is...

Filed under: Divorce & Custody, Expert Advice: Family Time

Susan Stiffelman with her former husband David, left, and an old boyfriend Peter, right

Unlikely grouping: Susan Stiffelman with her former husband David, left, and an old boyfriend Peter, right. Courtesy of Susan Stiffelman

I hosted a memorial at my house this weekend for a member of my tribe, a dearly beloved friend who had passed away suddenly. It was sort of a Big Chill event, but without the covert sex going on in back bedrooms.

Old friends gathered from near and far -- some who hadn't seen one another for 25 years -- and shared stories of our wonderful comrade, whom I'll call "D," with D's son and former wife, while the whole bunch of us wept unabashedly.

There were at least two of D's former girlfriends attending -- sitting together, comforting one another through the slideshow -- along with D's former wife. I had a great time hanging out with David, my former husband, and one of my boyfriends from long ago. It was one of those remarkable gatherings where everyone in the room focused on what mattered, knowing that most of what separates us from one another really could be left outside the door.

Divorce makes it easy to forget that. It's easy to become bitter, and to tell and retell stories of hurts and injustices. It's easy to get swept into the storm of emotion and remain stuck there. As amicable as our initial parting was, David and I hit some pretty low spots along the way, and it took a lot of letting go to arrive at where we are now.

But here is where we are now: David arrived at my house for the memorial with food and flowers, and he shared a great story about D from the days when we were married. He joined a group of six or seven men who came to my house the next day to watch the Super Bowl with D's son, who was staying with me, enveloping this young man into our tribe.

When David and I get together now -- whether it's at my house on Christmas, or in the emergency room for our son's strep throat -- there's a deep fondness for one another, and a growing gentleness. We have been through a lot, and there's a mutual respect for having journeyed alongside each another for a while -- closely, at first, and now loosely, as we co-parent our college-aged son.

It could have been otherwise. We could have politely avoided one another at gatherings we both attend, or come up with excuses to simply not show up. We could have stayed trapped in the stories, taking a look at the Everest we would have to climb to get over our anger, and simply turned away.

We aren't best friends. We don't have a relationship like you see in the movies, with former spouses turned daily confidantes. David doesn't fix me up with eligible men, and his girlfriend and I don't "do lunch." We don't have Sunday dinners together like my friend Laurie David does every week with her girls and their father. But we have made our peace, and with that, we have given our son the second best gift we might have given him. (The first being parents who stayed together because the marriage worked.)

So, it was pretty cool when I called our boy yesterday to say hi, and I handed the phone over to his father. I think my son was surprised -- pleasantly -- to find out Dad was watching the Super Bowl at Mom's.

It's not easy to "feel the love" after divorce. Making peace with a former spouse means scaling a mountain that appears to be too high, too slippery or simply impassable. But I know it can be done.

This doesn't mean we shouldn't remain guarded when we need to, or that we have to blithely maintain connections with former partners even if they're unhealthy or damaging.

But if the roadblock is simply a lack of forgiveness, or anger that has run its course, there comes a time when it's worth letting it go.

One of the most poignant remarks made at my friend's memorial was when someone spoke of the strength of D's love for the mother of his son. The marriage hadn't lasted more than five years, but their friendship had remained intact over three decades.

D's former wife had seen him a month before he died. They shared meals, laughs and time together with their boy. She is profoundly grateful that the difficulties they faced -- and there were many -- were handled with grace. No doubt their son is, too, as he begins traveling the road of loss with his mother there to support him and his father's beautiful spirit alive in both of their hearts.

The Beatles really did get it right when they sang, "Love is all there is." Despite the pain of moving on when relationships don't work, in the end, love really is all there is, and it's all that really matters.

AdviceMama, Susan Stiffelman, is a licensed and practicing psychotherapist and marriage and family therapist. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in developmental psychology and a Master of Arts in clinical psychology. Her book, Parenting Without Power Struggles, is available on Amazon. Sign up to get Susan's free parenting newsletter.

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