Unhitched: Getting Divorced, Yet Staying Connected

Unhitched: Getting Divorced, Yet Staying Connected

Most of us know couples who drift into marriage, buy a home, start a family and find themselves looking at each other ten years later and wondering what they were thinking. You may be one of those couples. It’s easy to understand how it happens. When couples reach their 30s, the pressure to marry has begun to build. Everyone seems to be coupling up. Their friends are getting engaged, married and having babies. Getting married is the inevitable next step.

But time passes and these same couples realize that being married and raising a family is so much more work than they ever imagined. Perhaps the important things such as values, goals, the way they spend money just don’t align after all. Maybe they married too young or weren’t mature enough to make this kind of a commitment.

A spotlight on one couple’s marriage and divorce lifecycle

Let’s take a look at a New York Times series called Unhitched, as they examine couples who divorced for a range of reasons. What’s particularly interesting in this case study is the relationship’s evolution. While this couple ultimately divorced, the process was illuminating, an important learning experience for both. They now share parenting responsibilities and have a close relationship.

Peter and Olga met in 2002 in graduate school at Georgetown, where they both received degrees in communications, culture and technology. They seemed well matched in a number of important ways. With the addition of their one child, however, their ideals changed; their connection frayed and finally broke.

Let’s take a look back

Olga’s family were Russia Jews who emigrated when she was three and settled in Northern California. Her parents are still married and now retired. Her father was a physicist, her mother a cartographer for a startup. Peter grew up in rural southern New Jersey in a Roman Catholic working-class family. His parents, both social workers, have been married for 44 years.

It began at Georgetown, when they both wanted to make a difference in the world

They met at Georgetown. “Peter was sharp, funny, a nice human being with a good heart,” she said. “Olga was attractive, thoughtful, compassionate and patient.” They got married because Peter put pressure on himself to be married by 30; Olga felt like the right fit. They shared values; both wanted to make a difference in the world.

The early years went according to schedule

They moved to Colorado, bought a townhouse, got jobs, and their life started to fall into place. She practiced yoga; he was an avid runner. On weekends they explored the city and nature. He never felt acceptance from her parents and that was problematic. She agrees.

The first signs of trouble came with their daughter and parenting

Parenting put pressure on the relationship. They forgot how to talk with each other and she felt on her own. They felt differently about what their roles would be. Olga worked part-time and took care of their daughter. They argued about money and time. “I thought we were not going to give up who we were to become parents,” he said. He assumed they would share household responsibilities and child rearing equally.

Their relationship morphed into that of roomies

They stopped being intimate and their relationship morphed into that of roommates. Co-parenting went well, but they started pursing activities separately. “I felt like I was leaning across the table and she wasn’t,” he said. “I didn’t want to compromise my values of fidelity and started to think about separating.” Olga felt she was giving up too much to try and make it work.

They tried to make it work: Three years of counseling

Three years of counseling helped their communication. Peter sought change on four issues: money, intimacy, religion and the role of their extended families. He wanted to blend religious traditions, but she disliked all organized religion. She thought this issue reflected a lack of connection between them.

The inevitable split

Peter decided to call it off in September 2016 after three years of counseling stalled. They talked for four days and mutually agreed it was the right course. They assured their 6-year old daughter that she was their top priority. Both share parenting fully. “Even in the worst of the divorce, the slicing of assets, we understood there was a life ahead of us with our daughter,” he said.

Moving on

The first year was brutal for Peter; paying alimony was stressful. He was lonely and worked on making new friends. He found casual dating unfulfilling. She had mourned the relationship during the marriage, but the day she saw his side of the closet empty she had a huge cry.

The economics of Divorce

They split everything 50-50. He kept his company, but lost the house and much of his retirement savings. “I have the same alimony gripes as anyone else,” he said. “Our earning capacity is relatively equal — we even have the same degree — but I will be paying her expenses for quite a while,” he said.

Olga felt like her role as primary caregiver was always undervalued. “In taking time to be a mom, my career took a hit and my earning power isn’t the same as someone who continued in the workforce,” she said.

Should they have divorced sooner?

No. But they would have liked to suffer less. “I stayed as long as possible to get this to work and I am proud of that.” Olga thinks that’s an impossible question: “It takes what it takes to end something.”

Starting over

  • She returned to activities she had liked. She began hiking, connecting with friends and taking art classes. She also reestablished a close relationship with her family, which had been difficult to do during the marriage.
  • He focused on his company and on being a good father. They now live in the foothills outside Boulder, about 200 yards from each other. If there were no mountain lions in their neighborhood, their child could walk from house to house.

Is their new life better?

Peter sees a brighter future. He is now in a yearlong relationship with a woman who accepts his close relationship with his former wife. He feels like he’s grown from the experience. Olga feels like more of a three-dimensional human now. He and Olga talk more honestly now.

Their advice to other couples contemplating divorce

“Identify and stay true to your values. Get past troubleshooting, blame or assigning fault. Being good parents to our child was a priority for both of us. ‘Keep asking yourself: What will it take to go forward?’”

California Document Preparers has assisted hundreds of Bay Area couples with Uncontested Divorce. Make an appointment today at one of our three Bay Area officesOur dedicated team is helpful, compassionate and affordable.