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Divorce Dialogues: 'Try to Have a Civil Relationship with Your Ex'

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Kate Meyers: Jennifer O. is an ophthalmologist in Pennsylvania. She's twice-divorced and has been happily married for the last 14 years. She and her second husband divorced when her oldest son was 6 months old. Her son's now 18, and she also has a 12-year-old. Here's her take on her long journey.

couple back to back

momlogic: Why did you divorce? 

Jennifer O.: The first marriage, I was very young -- 22 -- and I had doubts, but I was not strong enough to stop everything. Shortly after we married, it became clear to me that it just wasn't going to work. It wasn't a nasty divorce, we didn't have kids and I went off to medical school. The second divorce was very difficult because we had a child. We had lived together for four years before we got married. It was a romantic, loving, sophomoric relationship. As soon as I had the baby, everything changed. It was very contentious. [My husband] was not the center of attention. We had a lot of fights, a lot of anger and then he had an affair and that was it. It's been pretty much a hostile relationship ever since. There was a lot of fighting and legal issues. I haven't seen him or talked to him in a few years. My son is now 18, so there's nothing to discuss.

ml: What did you learn from it? 

JO: After a failed relationship, I think it's important to really try and figure out what was driving the relationship and learn more about yourself. See what both of your roles were so you can make it better the next time. It's hard to do. I didn't do that the first time because the divorce was my choice and I wasn't in pain. When you're not in pain, you don't have an incentive to do the work. Also, it's clearly better if you can have some type of working relationship with your ex. Unfortunately, I couldn't -- and it's horrible for your child. So my advice is, if you can have some kind of civil relationship, try and do it. It's not easy, but it's so much better for your kid.

ml: What was your toughest moment?

JO: The hardest part for me was dealing with issues I thought were going to be devastating to my son. My pain, my hurt -- as awful as it was -- didn't produce as much anxiety or worry as I had over his emotional welfare, especially when he was little. I think therapy is essential, but they have to be ready. I just made sure he knew all along that I had had help. They have to be ready to take therapy in. I don't know how my son became able to say he needed help, but he did at 14. There's only so much you can do on your own. It has to be somebody separate from you, because there's too much baggage with each parent. At the end of my own therapy, I had asked my therapist how not to use my child to fill my needs. I wanted to make sure I stayed a mother to him. And [my therapist] said, "Teach him that it's OK to get help and that you do the same for yourself." I didn't understand it then, but I understood it as the years went by. If you're doing that, you're continuously being a parent ....

ml: When did you know there was light at the end of the tunnel? 

JO: With me, I would say it took two years. A year of therapy and a year of living to get over the loss, and it slowly faded. With my son, I don't know if I ever really feel it's OK. I can still see moments where he's in pain. I don't think staying together would have been the answer .... You can do as much damage staying together.

ml: What's the upside of all this for you?

JO: I think I would never, ever be as self-actualized as I am. I would never know myself as much as I do had it not been for all that pain and work that I went through. I would not have as full a life. It took a lot of pain for me to really look at myself and do what I had to do to be a happier person, a person content with who I am. I know it's clichéd, but the worst things sometimes can be the best.

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