When we watched Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story our team identified with the film in different ways. At Phillips & Peters, we represent clients in some of the worst times of their lives. We’ve seen the pain and heartache that can come with a family transition. We also know there is hope on the other side. Two of our team members, Attorney Jennifer Worden and Paralegal Ashley Keil, have been through the struggles of divorce themselves. As they have both moved forward from that time they can now look back on their situations with different perspectives. Today Ashley has chosen to open up about her divorce experience and share her “Marriage Story”.
Q: How long were you married and with how many children?
A: We were married for 6.5 years and had one daughter, who was 3 at the time.
Q: Did you think it was “happily ever after”?
A: At the beginning with the rose-colored glasses on, I definitely did. By the end, we had been together for almost 10 years. That’s long enough to truly get to know someone and see the good, the bad and the ugly. I certainly didn’t think we were always perfect, but I also didn’t get married to get a divorce. Nobody ever does.
Q: When did you know it wasn’t going to be what you had hoped for?
A: I knew it wasn’t when I was informed it wasn’t. I had felt something was coming between us and wanted to discuss it, but before I was able to there was a discussion about the state of things and that was that. There were lots of fights following that discussion, mostly about my desire to try to work things out. I somehow hadn’t realized up to that point that it takes two people to make a marriage work. One is not enough. My breaking point came when I begged that we wait to talk about things until after our daughter went to bed. Those talks always turned into fights. I never wanted her to witness us being ugly with one another. That didn’t happen. When our sweet baby stood on a couch with her tiny arms out trying to break up our screaming match, saying “whoa, whoa, whoa, guys”, I knew this wasn’t the life I wanted for her or me. I was done trying to fix it.
Q: What did you do when you came to the difficult realization that your marriage was not going to survive?
A: I honestly did a lot of crying. I felt like I was pretty strong out in public, at work, even at home in the common areas we shared as we prepared to split our home into two. But like Scarlett Johansson’s character when she went into the bedroom and laid on the bed and cried and cried, that was brutally true to how I handled things. Behind the closed door of a bedroom or bathroom was when I was crying it out.
I also talked with a therapist to help me work through my complicated emotions during the divorce. I had never realized how much that could help until then. Now I will freely tell people how important I think a therapist can be when you need one.
Though my ex and I planned to be amicable and keep things uncontested, given my job I also knew how important it was to get a Separation Agreement drafted by a professional. I immediately retained someone I knew could help with that.
Q: What do you wish you had done differently?
A: I wish I’d been able to keep our fights between the two of us and not let our daughter have heard them. I also don’t know that there was a different way to do things when you have a child involved, but I will always wish there had been some easier way for my daughter to deal with the shock of two new homes. Though we had explained our separation in the best way we could to a three-year-old, it took her a little while to get adjusted to everything. I don’t regret our divorce though. I realized a lot of things during our separation while we waited out the clock so we could get our Final Order entered. We are just better parents to our daughter in separate homes. We are happier people apart. I am stronger than I thought I could be. My daughter is thriving.
Q: What advice do you have for those out there thinking about divorce or those who are already in the middle of one?
A: I would tell them to stay strong. A divorce is one of the hardest things you will go through in your life. I felt so very sad during my separation. The words flung during a fight might not seem like much at the time, but they stick with you when you’re in the thick of divorce. The fight Nicole and Charlie had in Marriage Story where he told her he wished she would die – I knew that was one of those fights. They pushed one another and pushed one another until they both said things they probably would regret. It’s always OK to admit when you need to talk to a professional about the way you feel as you work through all the complicated emotions you face as you navigate uncharted waters on your own.
Also, if you have kids, keep them at the forefront of your mind. Co-parenting is not for the faint of heart but like the people in Marriage Story, you have to come together eventually for your child(ren). In the end, when they all did Halloween together, I was so glad they were finally able to move past the bitterness that the divorce caused. My ex and I have always done joint Halloweens and birthday parties for our daughter. As much as our jobs allow, we both attend her school parties and programs and we all sit together. That’s not always fun for the parent. I told my daughter that we are still a family, we just look a little different than families that live together. I want her to know I mean that. I encourage people going through a divorce to work hard to co-parent with their exes. It’s not worth the fight or being ugly over every tiny detail just so you can stick it to their other parent. The children feel all of that and putting them in the middle is so unfair to them.
If you’re in the middle of your “Marriage Story” and need help navigating your way to a peaceful ending then consider calling Phillips & Peters to find your next step forward.