Meeting middle

The author knows all too well that divorce can tear a family apart—she lived through it as a child. So when her own marriage ended, she vowed to spare her son the same despair my ex-husband and i had little love for each other in our last months of marriage, both of us wounded, both of us in tears, both of us heartbroken. If there weren't a child, we'd have put each other away like an old rag, either tossed in the garbage, shoved way back in a cupboard, or maybe burned to a crisp. It could have ended with us destroying each other out of spite. But there was a child, .fake. And we couldn't ruin him with bitterness.

Yet how do two people who have no need for each other raise a son? I had no idea. When my lawyer recommended that we see a co-parenting counselor, a type of therapist I'd never heard of, I did what I always do when I need perspective: I called my mother.

"You're divorcing him for a reason, Hayley," my mother said, "You're not supposed to get along with your ex-husband, otherwise you'd still be together."

"But I want to he friends with him, like you and Dad are/' I said.

"It took years for your father and me, you know* that," she said. "So don't create a fantasy about my relationship with your father."

She was right. My parents1 split was messy. As much as my mother attempted to shield me from a lot of the hurt, they still fought, and like many couples, they made their share of mistakes. It took ten years, but eventually, my parents managed to share low-calorie cranberry sauce on Thanksgiving and brisket on Passover.

Still, when my own divorce struck, I was determined not to repeat their missteps. So I broached the subject of see-

By Haytey Krischer

Illustrations by Koren Shadmi ing this special kind of therapist with my soon-to-be ex-husband. He was more than familiar with my childhood divorce stories and was immediately open to the idea. When we scheduled an introductory session with Paul Dasher, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist, it was the first thing we'd agreed on in months.

At our first appointment. Cason took a scat in a narrow wingback, his long legs and body cramped as he squeezed into it. I sat on the wide blue couch across from him, not knowing what to do with the space. Dasher took his place in abro-ken-in office chair, a yellow notepad in hand. He was a soft-spoken man, calm, different from the couples' counselors we'd seen before: He was nothing like our old long-haired therapist, whose mouth had peered off to the side as if it wanted to be anywhere except speaking to us. Nor was he like the red-haired

one who was impressed by Cason's knowledge of religion and who said I needed to stop telling him what to do. Dasher, with his sandy-blond hair, had a somber demeanor, like a funeral director ushering us in to pick a casket. We were here for one reason only: The marriage was dead.

"Be open," Dasher said. "This is a safe place to say how you feel." We launched into the deterioration of the relationship, assaulting each otherwith bows and arrows, whatever we could find to perpetuate the hurt. My anger was explosive; I screamed at my ex with no control, forcing Dasher to close his office windows.

"Wait a second, is this couples counseling?" Cason asked."Bccausc this really feels like couples counseling. Wc did that, and it didn't work."

"It's like couples counseling, but it's not," Dasher said. "To be effective parents, you have to get a long when it comes to your child. And to get along, you have to productively work together."

Essentially, he wanted us to make up. But if all of our sessions were going to be like this one, the odds of us finding common ground seemed impossibly long. I called my mother as soon as I got in the car.

hood and wouldn't do it to Jake. Despite my doubts, I—we—had to go back.

The second session started much like the first. There is nothing comfortable about sitting in the same room with someone you are about to not spend the rest of your life with, so I attempted to hypnotize myself with the beige swirls on the carpct. Cason went first: "What if she remarries and her new husband becomes closer to Jake than me?"

"You are Jake's father," Dasher said.

"That will never change." I looked across the room at my ex; I had been avoiding between-sessions reading, and he sent me one as a kind gesture. "I didn't really understand what it was talking about," he wrote. "But I bought one for myself, and I thought I'd buyone foryou." Well, here we were: being forced to share something, even if it was only the obligation to read confusing books about child rearing. But it was more than that: This was his way of apologizing for the earlier meeting—and I accepted the offer.

Things went well in the next couple of sessions. We were able to talk instead of just yell, especially about one of the last sticking points in the settlement: custody and visitation. Our son was rounding 2 years old, and I Was against joint custody. "Jake needs a home of his own and to not feel like he's shuffling back and forth between us," I said. I told a story of a friend who'd spent a week with her father and then a week with her mother. She'd felt nomadic, lonely, and related to neither place, Cason was fairly reasonable, and he understood my point. Still, he wanted me to be more lenient about random visits. He said I w'asn't givinghim enough time to develop a real relationship with Jake.

"Can't I come over for an hour

A divorced relationship is similar to any other relationship. It takes work. The payoff? A healthy child.

"I don't like that you have to work out these things with him," she said. "You finally got to abetter placc. and now it's makingyou upset again,"

"I want to get along with him...for Jake," I said.

"But for you to be crying like this? It doesn't seem right."

It's true, I was sitting in my car hysterical, nose running and tears streaming over my steering wheel. But what was the other option? Argue in front of our son? Belittle each other? I had been through that already in my own child-

his eyes for months. I thought about his fear of losing Jake to another man, and as much as I had wished Cason would walk away from our lives, or at the very least, fall off a cliff, I knew another man would never replace him as Jake's dad. So I tried to convince him, too.

"I don't believe you," he said. "I don't believe anything you say." Once the session was over, we walked out separately and didn't speak in the parking lot. Wc had another appointment in two weeks.

Cason had asked Dasher to suggest a few child-psychology books as and play in the backyard?" he asked, i cringed. I didn't want him looking in my window. I didn't want him stopping in for coffee.

"I'm not ready for short-notice visits or drop-bys just yet," I said. He then accused me of taking over our child's schedule. But Dasher reminded him that as time went on, we'd be able to soften the custody agreement. "For now, though, stick to the boundaries," he said. That w'ould keep us from unnecessary arguments. He also gave us a few more suggestions: Wait until the sessions to

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