'What you can learn from my messy divorce'

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After Elisa's marriage failed, she couldn't even be in the same room as her ex-husband, now they consider themselves friends and attend family functions. She believes others can learn from their mistakes and successes.

Preview above: Insight takes a look at whether it’s possible for a divorce to end well. Full ep. available on SBS On Demand.

I grew up with separated parents, I know all too well how a broken family can affect you personally and how it makes you more determined to do things better in your own life.

So, after having my daughter and becoming a single parent when I was only 17 years old, I was hopeful that my next relationship would be forever.

I met Billy when I was 21, I knew the moment that I met him that I wanted to be with him. He was confident, smart and funny. He was thoughtful, attentive, I felt so loved by him. He also quickly fell in love with my three-year-old daughter and our bond just grew from there.

We got married after having our son when I was 23. I was so happy to have a family of my own, but after only two years of marriage things weren’t going well and he left me. To say that I was rocked to the core would be an understatement, I couldn’t understand how it had gotten so bad, so quickly.

Elisa
Elisa and her husband on their wedding day.
Supplied

I didn’t take the break up well and when he moved on quite quickly with someone else things went from bad to worse. Communication between us got so bad that our interactions almost always ended with aggression and anger. I felt hurt, rejected and could not always see the most sensible way forward. Billy’s way of dealing with things was to completely ice me out. I wanted to feel some empathy from him and couldn’t imagine how he was moving on with his life and just leaving me behind like I meant nothing to him.

It came time to sell our home, a place that I had held so many hopes and dreams for us all together. Billy brought his new girlfriend around to help him pack up his belongings from our bedroom. I was shaking with anger, I remember not being able to reign in my emotions and lashing out at them both. After this, and some other less than ideal fights with the kids around, we agreed it would be best to communicate through a diary. Childcare was used as a neutral space where we could do a changeover of care and didn’t have to see each other.

After a year of separation, the divorce came through, pretty much 12 months to the day that we had parted. I felt I had failed - failed myself, my children, my family, my future. I felt humiliated for ever believing in happily ever after. 

Billy and I weren’t speaking, we couldn’t even be in the same room together. I could not imagine us ever being able to be friends again.

I am so glad that the past has not defined our future and that we have been mature enough to have grown past the hurt and rejection.

But slowly over time we started to build up trust in each other. At first it was just being able to be at our son’s football matches at the same time without incident, and then one day I offered to save Billy a seat at one of Calvin’s packed out school assembly’s, he accepted and sat next to me.

Slowly our interactions became more positive. This was partly due to the fact that the hurt and anger had faded and because we were both growing as people and making the most of the future, even though that wasn’t together as a family.

It did also help that Billy had left the original relationship he was in after we separated. I believe third parties can play such an important role in a break up, they can either be a world of support or they can antagonise a situation and make it 10 times worse.

As the years progressed it made sense to travel together to Calvin’s sporting events and share his birthdays and other celebrations together where possible. It was these times that allowed us to get to know each other again and rebuild a bond. Some of the reasons I fell in love with Billy in the first place were reasons I enjoyed being mates with him as well.

Recently, I realised that although I had forgiven Billy for the things that had occurred, I had never taken responsibility for my actions and a lot of blame that I had placed on him over time. I called him one day to ask to be forgiven and Billy said I had done nothing to forgive and that he was glad that we were able to get where we were and acknowledged all the mistakes we both made throughout that time. Even though we had already repaired our relationship, this conversation helped us both heal even further.

Nearly 15 years later I feel we have come full circle, I attended Billy’s 40th birthday last year and he and his partner are coming to mine this year also. Billy has become not only my ex-husband and sons’ father but someone I call a friend. I am so glad that the past has not defined our future and that we have been mature enough to have grown past the hurt and rejection.

Sometimes it takes some tough times to realise what kind of person you want to be and if you are constantly doing things in reaction to one another, the anger and spitefulness will never stop.

If we can go from communicating through a diary to attending each other’s significant birthdays, others in the same situation can too.

Source SBS Insight

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