Finding A New Kind Of Partnership Through Divorce | KUOW News and Information

Finding A New Kind Of Partnership Through Divorce

Nov 10, 2016
Originally published on November 11, 2016 9:46 am

When you're facing a major life change, it helps to talk to someone who's already been through it. All Things Considered is connecting people on either side of a shared experience, and they're letting us eavesdrop on their conversations in our series Been There.

Sarah Weeldreyer, 37, is a stay-at-home-mom with two kids, has been married for 11 years, and is going through a divorce.

But she's not looking for a fight.

"There's this expectation that you want to hurt this other person, that you want to damage them and leave them forever, and I just don't think that, at least for me, is true," she says.

Instead, Sarah wants to go through a divorce in a way that "rebuilds a relationship that's different, but still healthy and helpful for everyone going forward."

Melissa Smith was in a similar situation last year — and blogged about it. After making it through her own divorce amicably, she's able to offer Sarah some advice on how to get through the worst of it.

"Take it one day at a time. And even that can sound insurmountable," she tells Sarah. "All you can do, honestly, is just be gentle on yourself and understand that it's OK ... to fall apart every now and again."


Lessons from Melissa Smith

On resisting the urge to get adversarial

It got to the point, you know, where I had somebody hand me $500 in cash and they're like, "Go get an attorney." And it was like, that's not the route I'm going down, that's not what I want ... And it's so difficult to stay out of that cycle. ...

I think we had two or three mediation sessions. And it would get heated. Not like we were screaming and yelling but it was like "Who's gonna get this $50,000?" You know what I mean? ... [H]e'd be like, "That's it, I'm walking out of here. I'm getting an attorney because I know I have a right to some of that money."

And then the second you threaten that, then you're like, "Well I'm going after your 401(k) or I'm gonna get the kids more than 50-50."

And so our mediators did such a wonderful job of keeping us in the room until we were both satisfied. ... Just keeping your eye on the prize. ... A year from now when I have to work late, I need to know that I can call him and we can have a real discussion about what's going on with the kids. ... I trusted him. I really did. And you kind of need that in order to go that way.

On joint custody

I think the trust is so hard, especially when you're talking about sharing custody with your children. I was terrified they were gonna have frozen pizza every night.

But, I can only control what I can control. ... You just have to trust that they have your children's best interest in mind. And you know, he's really stepped up. So you might be pleasantly surprised.

On respecting boundaries

We do have a parenting plan and that was part of the paperwork that we drew up with our mediator. And going into it we were getting along so well. I think we were both just very happy to be throwing in the towel. So, you know, I had this kind of false sense of security, that, "Oh you know what, I can see the kids whenever I want."

And I had to learn the hard way to be really respectful that I can't just show up and be like "Hey kids! What's for dinner?" You know, my ex, the kid's father was, you know we had to kind of draw some lines and say, "Listen, you know, we can FaceTime every now and again if there's something going on, or if the kids ask, but my time with them is my time with them."

On telling the kids

When we sat down with our daughter, I mean we literally sat on her floor, and held hands and told her, "We're still a family. We're just going to be a different kind of family. You are still going to go to swim class. We're still gonna read books before bed. You know, you're still gonna eat hot dogs for dinner." You know. So we just went through all the things that are gonna stay the same. "But ... your mommy and daddy are gonna live in different houses."

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

We're going to turn away from the election for a moment and hear a conversation about a more personal struggle. It's about divorce and the emotional challenges that come along with it.

MELISSA SMITH: The fear of, oh, God, what's next or, you know, how do I do this are these things that kind of just came out of the blue at you.

SARAH WEELDREYER: There are so many little triggers, like, when people ask about your husband or...

SMITH: Right.

WEELDREYER: ...When you get invited to a family reunion. Like, what's that going to look like?

SMITH: Yeah, holidays (laughter).

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

That's Sarah Weeldreyer and Melissa Smith. Sarah's been married for 11 years. She has two kids, and now she's going through a divorce. She and her husband are working with a counselor to help them through the process. They want it to be amicable.

SHAPIRO: Melissa Smith is also a mother of two and recently went through her own divorce using mediation. They sat down together for our series Been There, conversations between people at either end of a shared experience. One big question Sarah had was how to explain to friends and family that despite being hurt, she isn't looking for a fight.

WEELDREYER: I feel like everybody expects that there's going to be this desire for, you know, really go get him and stick it to him and, you know, that kind of thing.

SMITH: Yep. They can try to light a fire in you for sure. And you know, I actually - it got to the point where, you know, I had somebody hand me $500 in cash, and they're like, go get an attorney. And I was like, I'm not - that's not the route I'm going down.

WEELDREYER: Right.

SMITH: That's not what I want.

WEELDREYER: Yeah, I think it - there's an atmosphere of fear around it where it's like if you don't do it first, then he's going to come after you, and you and the kids are going to be out on the street (laughter).

SMITH: Yes, and it's so difficult to stay out of that cycle. I think we had two or three mediation sessions, and it would get heated - not like we were screaming and yelling, but it was like, who's going to get this $50,000, you know what I mean?

WEELDREYER: Right.

SMITH: I mean that's a big deal. You know, he'd be like, that's it. I'm walking out of here. I'm getting an attorney because I know I have a right to some of that money. And then the second you threaten that, then they're like, well, then I'm going after for your 401(k).

WEELDREYER: Right.

SMITH: Or I'm going to get the kids more than 50-50. And so our mediators did such a wonderful job of keeping us in the room until we were both satisfied. And I don't know how she did it. She was a miracle worker.

WEELDREYER: (Laughter).

SMITH: But you know, just keeping your eye on the prize, you know? That's what I just had to keep in mind. It's, like, you know, a year from now when, you know, I have to work late, like, I need to know that I can call him and we can have, like, a real discussion about, you know, what's going on with the kids.

WEELDREYER: Yeah, that sounds far less stressful than the alternative.

SMITH: You know, I would say I trusted him. I really did. And so you kind of need that in order to go that way.

WEELDREYER: Right. I think that is going to be one of my biggest hurdles. But (laughter) I am hopeful that the counseling will help with that (laughter).

SMITH: And I think the trust is so hard, especially when you're talking about sharing custody with your children. I was terrified that they were going to have frozen pizza every night.

WEELDREYER: (Laughter).

SMITH: But I can only control what I can control. You just have to trust that they have your children's best interests in mind. And you know, he has really stepped up, so you might be pleasantly surprised.

WEELDREYER: Do you guys have sort of a - like, a parenting plan kind of thing, or is it more sort of fluid with just what - you know, work schedules and things like that?

SMITH: We do have a parenting plan, and that was part of the paperwork that we drew up with our mediator. And going into it, we were getting along so well. I think we were both just very happy to be throwing in the towel.

So you know, I had this kind of false sense of security that, oh, you know what? I can see the kids whenever want. And I had to learn the hard way to be really respectful that I can't just, like, show up and be like, hey, kids...

WEELDREYER: (Laughter).

SMITH: ...What's for dinner? You know, my ex, the kids' father, was, you know - had to kind of draw some lines and say listen; you know, we can FaceTime every now and again if there's something going on or if the kids ask, but my time with them is my time with them.

WEELDREYER: Right. Well, and I think for them to be able to see you both being healthy and separate but living your lives and doing what's right for you - that's a huge life lesson...

SMITH: Yeah.

WEELDREYER: ...Right?

SMITH: Yeah, and when we sat down with our daughter - I mean we literally sat on her floor and held hands and told her, you know, we're still a family. We're just going to be a different kind of family. You are still going to go to swim class. We're still going to read books before bed. You know, you're still going to eat hot dogs for dinner, you know?

WEELDREYER: (Laughter).

SMITH: So we just went through all the things that are going to stay the same, but we're just - your mommy and daddy are going to live in different houses.

SHAPIRO: That was Melissa Smith, who went through an amicable divorce last year, and Sarah Weeldreyer, who is at the beginning of that process. They spoke as part of our series Been There. If you're going to a big life change and want advice from someone who's already been through it, send us an email at nprcrowdsource@npr.org. Put Been There in the subject line. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.