Health as a Changing Family

Written by Christopher Lee

Is there a healthy way to divorce?

A few months ago, my father and another friend sent me the same article from the New York Times column, Modern Love. The article by Lara Bazelon, ‘From Divorce, a Fractured Beauty’, begins with a riff on Tolstoy: “Happy families are not all alike.”

The author goes on to describe a family vacation, but not your typical vacation. The parents, eighteen months divorced, and their two young children have what would have been previously unthinkable to them: a happy time together.

The piece struck a chord because I am in the process of separating from my partner of eleven years. Like the family referred to in the piece, we share a bigger bond in the form of a young daughter.

It’s been about half a year since we began down this path. There have been stumbles — I don’t think there is any elegant or particularly graceful way this can be accomplished — and many moments of pain, anger, jealousy, and all of the other emotions one might associate with the dissolution of an intimate relationship.

Despite the lows, there have been moments of ‘fractured beauty’, or at least the promise of it.

Despite the lows, there have been moments of ‘fractured beauty’, or at least the promise of it. My ex-partner/co-parent (I’m still confused about what is an adequate label for our relationship at this point) and I have had many discussions about what our new, and unexpected, shared future might look like. There are technical details — things like housing, schedules and money — we are beginning to broach in earnest. These conversations are often the most stress-inducing. They bring to the forefront how real this is, and how our life together — as partners, friends, lovers, parents, a family — is fundamentally changing.

They bring to the forefront how real this is, and how our life together — as partners, friends, lovers, parents, a family — is fundamentally changing.

But we also talk about the values we share which we hope will carry us through: mutual respect, open conversation, loving and supporting our daughter, and even the possibility of extending love and support to each other. We hope to prove to ourselves and to our families and friends that we we don’t have to be antagonistic and embroiled in conflict; that we can be caring and generous with each other.

Fumbling towards this blurry vision gets excruciatingly confusing at times. Our relationships with acquaintances, friends and family bring this to the fore, catapulting us into a cascade of awkward, painful, and embarrassing interactions. The questions strike a blow to my heart: ….Who am I now… who are we… within these shifting constellations of dear ones who have held us and nourished us over the years?

While the two of us say we want to be present and kind with each other, we recognize there are times when it simply becomes too much to be in each other’s presence. Those ‘ugly’ emotions rear their heads once in awhile. What do we do with them? How are we ‘to be’ with each other, with ourselves, with our daughter?

A line from Bazelon’s article buoys my hopes and gives me faith my family and I will make it through this painful period:

“The decision to end a marriage is not about quitting; it is about letting go of one relationship in exchange for another. The equation isn’t love/not love. Divorce, at its best, is a love reborn — birthed from heartache and rage and despair and ultimately, forgiveness — that creates a different kind of family.

What does all this have to do with health?

Well, I think (and desperately hope) it is possible to have a healthy breakup. But it doesn’t mean that it comes without the messiness of life. To paraphrase Parker Palmer, it comes with “weakness and strength, liability and giftedness, darkness and light.” Embracing all of it, with a good dose of loving kindness, seems to me to be one way my family and I might be whole and healthy again.


Health is the Chairs and Tables theme for 2015. We pick a theme for at least four seasons and s-l-o-w-l-y release a report on it. For a full list of writers, the editorial team, and more on the subject and themes for previous years, hit open sesame.