Many years ago, a cousin of my grandmother’s here in Israel said to a family member who was at the time searching for her soulmate, “Make sure you marry someone nice enough to divorce.”
At the time I thought it was a bizarre statement.
I was young and innocent.
I was reminded of her advice when I saw an article by Jonathan Weiler in Salon.
The article discusses his now wonderful relationship with his ex-wife:
… My former wife and I have often laughed about the readings we chose for our own wedding, which all, somehow, had to do with not getting too close. Khalil Gibran’s “On Marriage” included the evocative phrase, “make not a bond of love …”
….But we weren’t happy and couldn’t remember a time when we gave each other the kind of intimate connection one needs from a lifelong romantic partner. Although our daughter was still young, we feared she would become ever more aware of the disconnect between what we were saying and what we were living out on a day-to-day basis. We didn’t divorce “for her” — it caused Lillian confusion and unhappiness. But we also knew that staying together would not have guaranteed her happiness, either. And we resolved to do everything in our power to keep our marital catastrophe from becoming a parenting catastrophe.
That summer of 2001, Anne said to me, “Well, there’s no person I’d rather be divorced from than you.” The mother of all backhanded compliments, I thought at the time. A decade later, it turns out, truer words were never said. Our now 14-year-old daughter is flourishing, Anne is happy in her new marriage and, though this will sound odd to some and worse to others, we’ve thrived in divorce. In fact, I dare say we’ve found true love with one another — without the romance. In some ways, then, our love story begins with our divorce, rather than ending with it.
I’m generally a skeptic about what’s referred to as amicable divorces. Often I have the sense that if you can get along as a divorced couple, then why couldn’t you make it as a married couple. I guess if the marriage is a simple a mismatch as was the author’s then it is possible. However, if the divorce is a result of vitriol and enmity, then it’s incredibly difficult to get over this.
Be that as it may, I think that the advice of “marry someone nice enough to divorce” is not so much about marrying someone who will be nice enough to divorce, but marrying someone who will be wise and sane enough to divorce as cleanly and swiftly as possible once it is clear that the marriage is over, someone who can overcome the shame and pain of the period of crisis, rather than dedicating themselves to making the divorce process as painful and costly so they can maximize their revenge.
The extension of this ability to overcome, is that in the post-divorce period they will be able to allow the former spouse to move on, develop an autonomous life, and not feel the need to inflict pain – or at least make their presence known – whenever a window of opportunity opens to attack.
It’s my experience that there is no way to accurately predict who will be wise, nice and mentally healthy about divorce. There are certain personality profiles that I can immediately detect will be problematic, but there are others I can’t predict. Some of these have surprised me by moving into a relatively tranquil and cooperative post-divorce period; others have surprised in the other direction, making the lives of their ex-spouses and children unpleasant to say the least.