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© 2020 Sandra Mitchell 

Writer. Marketer. Coach.

616.460.4696  /  hello@sandramitchell.online

Grand Rapids, Muskegon, Grand Haven, Holland + Afar
MICHIGAN

  • Sandra Mitchell

Breaking up is hard to do (but you don't have to be such an ass about it)


When my ex and I hit the detonator on our marriage, I seethed. Venom seemed the only alternative to the tidal wave of heartbreak that threatened to pull me under. I was empowered by the anger. Hostility shoved me into each day, and allowed me to put one foot in front of the other.

But, this man is the father of my only child. At the end of the day, Kiddo and I both need him around. It took me awhile, a lot of yoga and meditation, and a therapy session or two, but the anger gave way, and civilization took over.

Time and experience have shown me that the way we treat those we once pledged to love ’til death do us part is a fluid, tempestuous journey. And three events in recent weeks have me thinking over-time about marriage and divorce.

Event 1: Things get ugly

A couple of weekends ago, some friends and I saw a two-hour stretch that was surreal and fraught with maliciousness. During that few hours, at the pit of my stomach, something that felt akin to the blades of a blender chopped and whirred a boiling cocktail of love, dread, and anger. Heartache of the highest degree has befallen a childhood friend of mine. Some people in her life aren’t treating her respectfully, and I want to throw some punches on her behalf.

I can’t tell my friend’s story, because it’s not mine to tell. I am only a bystander, mover of boxes, cheerleader. As my friend’s story unfolds, a myriad of primal emotions have surfaced – fierce and enraged are leading the pack right now. Suffice it to say, my friend’s ex didn’t get the memo on civilized divorces and things that might be best for the children. Instead, he’s pretty intent on keeping things ugly, and I don’t think he’s the kind of guy who might think yoga and meditation will help.

Event 2: Baby Daddy (BD for short) gets rant-y on Facebook

It’s Mothers Day 2013. I’m settling into my seat at the Ada Lowell 5. I have popcorn, Raisinets, Diet Pepsi, and good company. Not thinking much about it, just as the previews start, I pull out my phone and check in on Facebook saying that I’m at the movies with all my boys. I’m happy, and I want to share it. I tag the three people I’m with: son, fiancé, ex-husband.

About a week later, this shows up on BD’s Facebook feed:

“Before I sleep tonight I think I’ll rant just a little…last weekend my ex-wife tagged me in a post saying we were at the movies together. I’ve received so much crap about that since then. First off…NO…we are not “back together.” And, YES, we did go to a movie together, but our awesome son and Sandra’s fiancé, Joe, also went. Sandra and I are and always will be great friends. We are also family. She is the mother of my only child. We will always have that. Yes, we were married for many years, but that didn’t work out so well. We are still friends. We are still parents. We communicate daily. Most of the time it’s about what’s up with the boy, but we still often chat just to see what’s up with each other and gossip. I’m still close with her family, too. Always will be. She and Joe will be married soon. I consider Joe part of the family as well. Now, I know this is a little different than most EX relationships, but it works for us. For all of us. I don’t care if it doesn’t work for you. I don’t ever curse, but if anyone has a problem with this…two letters… F…U!”

A string of comments follows the post. I thought: Hmmm, that’s interesting. I posted a comment asking him if he wanted to go to the movies with me next weekend, along with one of those annoying emoticons. That’s how it works with us . . . now, anyway.

Event 3: My Fiancé’s Ex = So. Much. Work.

For as well as BD and I get along, my fiancé’s relationship with his ex is the complete opposite. To me, with Joe’s ex, it’s an ongoing drama of bad communication and demanding behavior – on her part. Because his ex-wife is remarried – to an attorney, at that – I have to be very careful about what I say next and I’ll be brief. Here are my observations (minding my word choice carefully!):

  • Ex-wife seemingly blames Joe for every last thing in the relationship that went wrong

  • In ex-wife’s eyes, their beautiful, outrageously smart son seemingly is the prize

  • Ex-wife seems to punish my beloved for leaving the marriage and takes no accountability for her half of the relationship

  • Ex-wife seemingly will not meet me, let alone speak to me (did I mention it’s been almost 5 years?)

  • Ex-wife seemingly speaks to Joe and to their son as if they are intellectually inferior

  • Ex-wife seemingly respects no one’s time, energy, or intelligence as much as she respects her own

*Disclaimer: These are my opinions only, not necessarily facts. The word “allege,” in all its variations, should be applied to the above points.

If it weren’t for that troublesome law suit I worry about, I could and would go on for thousands of words about this. Instead, here’s my last thought about this: It doesn’t have to be this way. Wait, one more thought: I’d do nearly anything to change it.

A little Mitchell marriage history

Baby Daddy and I split up about 5 years ago, for reasons that are no one’s business. For better than a year, my emotions ran hot and angry. I shot my mouth off a lot and said things I regret. BD isn’t one for conflict, and he told me in one email when we were tying up the details of the divorce that he had no intention of being the jackass ex-husband and dad. He’s been true to his words.


As I said, I eventually let go of the anger, and came around to a more civilized way of treating BD, and the entire situation. It was, in the end, easier to get along. It was certainly easier for Kiddo. And that was most important to me, and I’m sure to BD.

I’ve known BD since we were both about 14 years old. We dated very briefly in high school, but it wasn’t until the end of my senior year of college that we connected again. Six weeks after dating, we were engaged. Of course, we were too young and it was too soon, but we would listen to no one. We were married a year later. When I look at the numbers now, I see that I’ve known BD for

30 years.

It’s not just a long time…it’s most of my life.

In the time since BD and I started keeping separate addresses, he’s seriously dated a couple of women, and I’ve dated Joe and become engaged. Within a year or so of my seeing Joe, I bought a new house, and my dad, Joe, and BD worked together, without conflict, to put in a new deck and fence. Turns out, the 3 of them are all pretty comfortable in the same space. This is good, because with Kiddo’s music and gigs we often find ourselves pulled up to the same table on a Friday night.

One of BD’s girlfriends hated that he and I are friends, that he’d drive out of his way to help push my car off a patch of ice so I could get to work. She didn’t care for BD taking care of Very Bad Dog for days at a time while Kiddo and I went on one of our summer road trips. I think since that girlfriend, BD has decided if the woman in his life can’t accept our friendship and play nicely with the mother of his child, he won’t be dating her for long.

And, here’s an anecdote that nicely illustrates just how things work with BD and me these days. When Joe proposed to me, BD was in the midst of a pretty nasty breakup. It seemed insensitive to tell my ex about my new engagement. When I finally got him on the phone 5 days later, he was genuinely happy for me, asking me first for details of the proposal and if Kiddo knew yet. His second question was if he was invited. Then he chastised me for waiting so long to tell him my good news.

Divorce is a special kind of hell

There’s nothing like a divorce to humble a person, at least most persons (my fiancé’s ex not withstanding … I know, I know I’m POed). When I look backward, I see a trail of mistakes and can pinpoint all my flaws. Hurt, fear, and loss of control fired my unattractive behavior. I try only to examine the past to remind myself of the things I don’t want to repeat in the future.

Once the thought of ending your marriage seeps into your thoughts and your conversations, the true and special hell of divorce takes over your life. At least it did mine, and I’m sure it did BD’s. Marriage therapy, misdeeds, antagonistic words and actions…oh, it’s too much to spew out to the world wide web. There’s no point in re-living my and BD’s divorce history just to exemplify a point. It was just hellish, and there’s no other word for it.

Vows undone

Do you remember when your love was brand new? Do you remember your wedding? The time, attention, and money that went into the planning and execution of the big day? For most of us, there were big gowns, bridesmaids in bad dresses, groomsmen, deciding whether or not to have an open bar, a plated dinner. The day finally arrives and you stand up in front of your god of choice and all your family and friends and promise to love each other. No matter what.

BD and I married on an early May afternoon, me in gorgeous beaded, bustled confection of a gown, and him, looking much younger than age 22, in rented black tux. A church wedding was followed by champagne, gifts, dancing, and so many well wishers. There are a thousand photographs of us, innocent and hopeful, ridiculously young. The party was big, and it was followed by a week-long honeymoon on the Outer Banks.

That dreamy, fantastic wedding is a jagged contrast to the day of my divorce. BD and I had settled the details of our marriage’s end over several emails and two sessions with a mediator. It went as well as could be expected. The day the divorce was finalized, I was relieved and sad.

On a Thursday afternoon in January, the sky a flat gray, I struggled against the wind into the court house, alone. The nearly all-black outfit I wore seemed a fitting and dramatic choice for the occasion. I edged my way into the appointed courtroom.

With bouncing knee and churning stomach, I waited my turn through person after couple after person dissolving their marriages through a storm of paperwork, attorneys, emotions, and finally through some words. I was nearly the last person in the courtroom. When I finally made it in front of the judge, I read in shaking voice from a print-out the abracadabra that undid my more than 15 years of marriage.

There was no celebration for my divorce. No gifts, no party, no dancing. It was just over. My, BD’s, and Kiddo’s lives went on. We found a new way to live. Was it easy? Not in the beginning. Is it easy, now? Mostly it is. But only because BD isn’t the jackass ex-husband and dad, and because I followed the path BD directed us down.

I’m not writing this post to brag about how great my divorce is (that would be weird)

I’m writing about my divorce to clarify some thoughts and to share what I’ve learned. Take it or leave it. Each break up comes with its own set of game changers. Each partner in the divorced couple has to want to get along for things to be amicable. Having lived through these past 5 years I can see that it was imperative for my health, and for Kiddo’s well being, to get along with BD. I worry so for the well being of my new man and his beautiful, bright son given the nature of his relationship with his ex.

What I learned is that such a life-changing event affects more than just those at the center of the marriage. Anyone who’s been touched by divorce knows the ripple effect a break-up has. Sons and daughters, parents, siblings, and nieces and nephews are sad and miss the ex spouse at family events. Friends are often forced to take sides.

I’d like to say everyone has a choice, but it’s not so. My childhood friend who’s being mistreated by her soon-to-be-ex doesn’t have a choice about many of her circumstances. The hostility from her ex can’t be overcome with kind words or through attorneys. It’s a cross to bear, and one I know she’ll bear stoically and with much dignity. My fiance, his son, and I have years ahead of us of adverse dealings with his thorny ex. I wish there were a way to change it, but no matter how I look at it, I don’t see how.

So, for the foreseeable future, my divorce is pretty okay. Baby Daddy is a great friend and father. And, this weekend, we – Kiddo, BD, and I – again went to the movies together. The movie wasn’t so great, but sitting in the theater with my family certainly was. While we were in the theater, I tagged all of us in my Facebook check-in. Let’s see how many wonder, once again, if we’re back together.