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Sometimes it's best to walk away

According to an article written in Psychology Today titled "Divorce and Special Needs Children" written by Ann Gold Buscho, PhD in February 2023, a marriage is more likely to be stressed when there is a child with special needs in the family. Buscho states, "Surveys show that the rate of divorce in families with a child with disabilities may be as high as 87%. The divorce rate in families with a child with autism is about 80%." I am a part of that staggeringly high statistic. My ex-husband and I met in college in the Spring of 1989, married in September 1993, and Hannah was born in October 1999. Our marriage was not built on a solid foundation of respect and communication so when she was born, and her special needs started to become evident, what we lacked in our relationship became apparent. We were both raised in families with ineffective communication styles not only parent-to-parent but parent-to-children and sibling-to-sibling. We just never learned how to settle differences effectively. Yelling was common in his family and silence followed by yelling was common in mine. Because we didn't learn how to effectively communicate growing up, we didn't do it when we got married, and it continued to be lacking after Hannah was born. I knew something was wrong with the way she was developing but he refused to see it. Every time I took her to a specialist and they couldn't pinpoint what was wrong it gave him fuel to say "See, I told you she's fine." To me, there were so many red flags that something was wrong but I couldn't make him see any of them. We both had blinders on and refused to see things from the other's perspective. This led to plenty of arguments and, in turn, a feeling of isolation that I felt to my core. This bred anger and resentment which led me to physically and emotionally distance myself from him. Divorce was brought up, by him, multiple times the two years before we actually decided to divorce. I always said no and that we could work it out. One day, however, I was in the bathroom after an argument we had had and I was crying. I distinctly remember looking in the mirror saying to myself through tears "How did I get here? I deserve better than this. I can't do this anymore." Something shifted in me at that point and I knew I needed to make a change. The next time he asked me for a divorce, I said yes. I'm sure he expected me to talk him out of it so he looked shocked when I said yes. We did go back and forth a few times in the following months and tried to work things out but each time we tried I felt deeper and stronger that it was time for me to let go. I told him we both deserved better and so did Hannah. The guilt tried to come in because our marriage was ending and Hannah wouldn't have her parents together. I felt like a failure. Thankfully this feeling didn't last long because I knew what Hannah was experiencing with us together was much worse than what it would be when we were apart. I had to do what was best for me because that would make me better for her. And it did. Divorce is messy and it is a loss; a loss of what could have been and what you dreamt of. Although it was a turbulent time for me with so much change, it was also the birth of something amazing. I was getting to know myself in a new capacity and I liked what I was seeing. Oftentimes, we don't see the beauty in the mess we are in until we have some distance. My life was a dumpster fire in every way but boy was I learning lessons. Looking back on it now, I see the strength and courage I had to do what was best for me even though it was hard. I was determined. I was fiercely protective of Hannah and always had her best interests at heart. I also learned I had people I could rely on to help and learned how to ask for help.

Divorce isn't for everyone. My story is just that: my story. But one thing I firmly believed and did everything in my power to remember is that Hannah was my number one priority. My anger and hurt feelings toward him were not more important than her. As a result, I was able to set aside my pain in order to talk with him about her and only her. All other topics were off the table. If it didn't have to do with her schedule or something she needed it wasn't discussed. It wasn't easy but it was necessary. Divorce brings out the worst in people; me included. I was furious and hated the sight of him. In truth, I would have been happy to never see him again. However, he was Hannah's father and he wasn't abusive toward her (which would have been a deal breaker) so he had a right to be in her life and she had a right to have him in her life. I felt it was my job, as her primary caregiver, to help ensure this relationship continued. Let me be clear: I did it for her. She was the innocent one in the situation and didn't deserve to be put in the middle. Another point of growth that eventually came for me was the realization that although I couldn't control the mean things he said to me I could certainly control how I reacted. When I felt our conversation going in the wrong direction I chose to end the discussion. When he texted me angry messages that hurt my feelings I didn't respond. Instead, I yelled into my pillow and swore up and down at him when I was alone as a way to release the energy associated with the anger. I was triggered by the mean comments but chose not to engage. When one person disengages, the other person really has no choice but to also disengage or they are just arguing with themselves. Sure, I fell into old habits every now and again and would end up responding to his anger with anger but each time I did I'd kick myself later on because it did nothing but make me feel worse and more worked up. So I learned it would serve me better if I made the active decision to discuss Hannah with him only when it was a purposeful, respectful conversation. This has served me pretty well in the almost 20 years we've been divorced.

If you are struggling to co-parent your child, whether you are still together or not, I encourage you to reach out for help. There is no need to suffer alone because there are plenty of people to support you. As a certified transformational life coach, I am just one of many to lend a hand.

Remember, you've got this and you aren't alone.

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