Finding A New Kind Of Partnership Through Divorce

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Melissa Smith (left) offers some advice to Sarah Weeldreyer about amicable divorce.

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."

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