Eight years after saying we did, my husband and I decided that in fact we did not. Both being children of divorce—him once, me three times—we knew what an upheaval this could and would be in our then-5-year-old daughter’s life. He had only seen his father twice since his parents’ divorce, once at a family wedding and once as his father lay dying. My mother had put in minimal effort until I was 8 and then disappeared from my life forever.
We agonized over how we could make this as easy as possible for our daughter and communicated in ways we never had about our marriage. We lived in the same house unmarried for months as we adjusted to this new chapter of our lives and we started each day with as much of a clean slate as possible.
While it hasn’t always been rainbows and unicorns, my ex-husband and I have settled into something that works. So finding ourselves six years, two marriages, and a new baby later, I can safely say that I love my ex. Here’s why:
1. He gave me time without judgment.
Right after our divorce, I found myself jobless and broke. I had dumped the money I received from selling our house into a new home right about the time that I lost my job. For over a year, I worked two full-time jobs, and during this time, he took on more than his 50% co-parenting time and responsibility. Knowing I was down he never kicked me, and when an unexpected bill came in that I could not cover, he loaned me the money, no questions asked.
2. He gets it.
Running late because even though dinner at my mom’s started at 5:00, no one showed up until 6? No problem—he was married to this family for eight years and knows that our divorce did not suddenly make them timely. Last-minute plans change because out of state in-laws show up unexpectedly? We’ll work through it—he’s also married into a new family of in-laws with their own traditions and challenges. My pregnancy has me sick in bed for days and I can’t make it to the after-school pickup line? He doesn’t mind to pull my weight in pickups and drop-offs, because even though I’m pregnant with my new husband’s child, it doesn’t mean he has forgotten how tough my pregnancies are or how vulnerable I am to yet another miscarriage.
3. He backs me up.
I love my daughter, as does her father, but she honestly can be a little hard to handle. Headstrong, intelligent and heading into the teenage years, she can push limits and can, as we joke privately, “drive a dead man crazy.” During these trying times, it is imperative that we be a united front, and that is what has happened. If she is grounded at my house, she is grounded at his and vice versa. When she was rude and belittled me in front of her friend, it was her dad who let her know in no uncertain terms that that behavior would not be tolerated, ever. Knowing that he is there to back me up makes this co-parenting challenge that much easier. When our daughter declared, “I wish you and dad didn’t talk to each other like other divorced parents,” I knew we were doing something right.
4. He married someone who loves our daughter.
It probably doesn’t hurt that she is young, beautiful, educated and hardworking, but the fact that she loves our daughter was and still is very important to him. She and her family treat our girl like she is their blood, and when my daughter insists on calling me for homework help in spite of the fact that her stepmother is more than qualified to assist with sixth-grade math, she doesn’t make a big deal about it, just gives her space and privacy.
5. We aren’t married to each other.
I have no doubt that my ex and I could run a Fortune 500 company. I am fairly certain that we could successfully rule a small country. But I am positive that we can’t be married. The fact that at the end of the day we go home to separate houses with our separate spouses makes us work. We can talk daily about issues with our daughter, things that are going on in our lives and past friends, but the when we hang up the phone we are married to other people. I can love him without being in love with him and definitely without being married to him.
I am well aware that I am in the minority of divorced people who not only tolerate their ex but actually get along and consider them a friend. It takes less than five minutes in mixed company to hear countless horror stories about exes and bad behavior. I also know that I am lucky to have such a compassionate man in which to share a daughter. While this makes me very unpopular with those who want to commiserate, it also reminds me that all the work, texts and phone calls have been worth it, and we are doing the best we can do for our daughter. And that is all that matters.