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Coupling

Divorce’s happy ending

Rejecting the notion of a “broken home,” a wife and ex-wife find friendship.

By Susan Robison and Jeannie Robison
May 30, 2010

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We share the same last name, though we’re not related by blood. We’re related by marriage, though not to each other. Periodically mistaken for a gay couple, we shrug our shoulders and smile. It’s a more natural leap to view us as gay than to imagine that we are a woman and her ex-husband’s wife, standing together as friends and family.

Susan: Shortly after my divorce, I attended a lecture with my ex-husband, Wayne. The speaker frequently referred to “broken homes.” That phrase ricocheted around my head for days. Growing up, my parents fought incessantly but remained together. I learned early on that “broken” and “intact” are relative terms.

To reduce our son’s feelings of being torn apart by our separation, Wayne continued to live in our home and I moved to a house nearby. We agreed to split Tyler’s time evenly between our homes and pledged to choose partners who would support our commitment to stay united behind him.

Three years after our divorce, Wayne married Jeannie. I didn’t like her for several years – I had her pegged as a former cheerleader, and, worse, she was feathering my once contemporary nest with Ethan Allen furniture. She was eight years younger than I, blond and statuesque – your basic nightmare. I also resented that Wayne quickly slid from our marriage into a replacement relationship, while I was slogging through too many dating misadventures, separated by long, lonely stretches.

But as I settled into a fulfilling relationship with Lou (whom I recently married) and I saw how good Jeannie was to Tyler, I slowly softened to her. One day when he tugged me into his bedroom to show me the massive K’NEX roller coaster he and Jeannie had spent months constructing, I felt a barrier in me fall. I realized that if I truly wanted him to feel that his home was not broken, I had to be more open to Jeannie.

Jeannie: Early in my relationship with Wayne, I was wary. I had witnessed children of divorced parents getting caught in the crossfire, and I wanted no part of that. I was impressed and relieved to see that Wayne and Susan, while they had their differences, remained friendly.

Initially, when Susan would drop Tyler off at Wayne’s, I’d try to engage her in conversation, but her desire to leave was palpable as she inched her way out the door. I resented that she didn’t seem to care that I was trying to cultivate a relationship with her son. As my frustration mounted, Wayne said, “Maybe she just thinks you and she have nothing in common, because she doesn’t know you.”

Physically, it’s true. Susan’s dark, wavy hair, olive complexion, and petite frame (barely grazing 5 feet) contrasts with my straight blond hair, fair complexion, and Amazonian stature (nearly 6 feet, shoeless). However, as Susan’s resistance to me began to fade, it became clear we had quite a bit in common. The nice-to-have stuff: similar taste in books and movies, compatible sense of humor. The meaningful stuff: shared political and social views, strong commitment to family. And ultimately, with the births of my two children: motherhood.

I believe a turning point in our relationship occurred when Will and Lindsey began engaging with Tyler as only siblings do. Tumbling, teasing, playfully affectionate. It became clear to Susan and me: They were all siblings. Our children are related, so in a sense we are related, too. And as we watched them grow up together, that universal maternal desire a mother has for her children – to be happy, successful, fulfilled – became a shared dream.

Both: Friends for 10 years now, we have become closer recently, encouraging and critiquing each other’s writing projects. Writing this. We count ourselves lucky that all seven members of our new families enjoy occasional dinners and game nights together. With our own parents and siblings scattered across the country, the notion that we’ve created an extended family mosaic from originally sharp shards is very comforting. And for Tyler, we believe that the connective bond of family has been barely cracked. And certainly not broken.

And just to set the record straight, Susan is well over 5 feet tall. And Jeannie was never a cheerleader.

Susan Robison is a fiction writer, and Jeannie Robison is a marketing professional and children’s book author. They both live in Wayland. Send comments to coupling@globe.com. Story ideas Send yours to coupling@globe.com. Please note: We do not respond to ideas we will not pursue.

  • May 30, 2010 cover
  • may 30 globe magazine cover
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