If you need an example of how to exit a marriage gracefully, look no further than Michael Cheshire's recent "An Open Letter to My Ex-Wife." A short, easy read, Cheshire's letter marvelously encapsulates much of the spirit and perspective that I wish more divorcing spouses could find their way to embrace.
Be Grateful for the Good Times
It is common for divorcing spouses to think they've just wasted 5, 10, even 20 years of their lives on a "failed" relationship. That sense is diminished a bit when the couple has children — few parents would suggest reversing history so that their children were never born — but there can still be an acute sense of time and opportunities lost. Yet, as with most things in ilfe, nothing is that black-and-white. Rather than regret buying an ice cream cone because it doesn't last forever, we are happy for the experience of tasting and enjoying it. So too with marriage. "I would have married you all over again... even if I knew it would end like this," Cheshire writes.
There is a raw humility to Cheshire's letter, in which he acknowledges personality traits that contributed to the breakdown of the marriage. "You deserve an award for making it 20 years with a man like me," he writes. That's not to say that divorcing spouses should throw themselves on their swords and take all the blame. As the cliché goes, it takes two to tango. While I wouldn't apply that logic to abusive situations, it certainly applies to the normal gamut of human relationships. Cheshire acknowledges as much and apologizes for his shared role in creating a marriage dynamic that eventually couldn't hold.
Focus on the Children
This one is simple. If you have children and are getting divorced, never forget that you are still parents together, and will be for the rest of your natural born lives. Respect each other as parents ("You are an AWESOME mom," Cheshire writes), and be grateful for the special places you each hold in your children's lives. I know some divorce professionals who ask feuding spouses to put pictures of their children in the middle of the table, to bring their presence into the sessions. This is a perspective that Cheshire seems to have fully absorbed and reflected in his letter.
Keep a Sense of Humor
There is much to dislike about divorce. Less time with your children, the financial strain of a second household, the loss of a life partner — but it is not the end of joy and happiness. If you can, try to find some humor in those stressors and inconveniences. For example, placed in the position of dating again after 20 years — a daunting prospect, to be sure — Cheshire demonstrates a self-deprecating wit that will surely serve him well. I won't recite his jokes here, as much of the humor is in the delivery. Just read the article!
Don't Count Yourself Out
In the midst of divorce, it might seem impossible to imagine writing these sorts of things about one's ex-spouse. As Cheshire writes, "Fear makes the wolf bigger than he is." But this open letter is a standing testament to the fact that it is possible. If you are going through a divorce and have trouble seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, this just might be the one piece you want to keep pinned to your refrigerator.