Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Pryor, Eminem, and Larry King all did it. But if you think remarrying one’s own ex-spouse following divorce is merely the tabloid stuff of larger-than-life personalities, you might be surprised to find that plenty of regular folks living amongst us have been through it — and come out on the other side more powerful for the experience.
“A lot of people who haven’t been through infidelity, or a [serious] breakup, they’re kind of smug,” explains life coach and relationship expert Tray Kearney, who herself once considered reuniting with her ex-husband after divorce. But for people who have been through it, partners in relationships with more traditional-seeming arcs can “learn that this could happen to everybody. Never, ever say, ‘Not me.’ Sometimes we stand to lose the value of a thing from it always being there.” (Yes, all of us.)
Consider Chloe Volini (not her real name), who met her husband at a bar through mutual friends in 2006. By 2009, they were married, and by 2012 welcomed their first daughter. After moving to the suburbs, the couple spent the next three years in a haze of secondary infertility: four miscarriages and one failed IVF attempt — during which Chloe’s husband started an affair with a co-worker a decade his junior. That’s when the spouses found themselves pregnant the old-fashioned way.
"As soon as the pregnancy was confirmed, he freaks out and I find out about the affair,” Chloe recalls. “He denies it, but I’m 100 percent sure it’s going on, and I divorced his ass while pregnant because I deserve better. He feels so guilty he signs away a sh-t ton of money and custody of the kids. So that’s that, right?”
Chloe went to therapy to mourn her old life. They sold their big house. He moved back downtown to a bachelor pad. Chloe was eight months pregnant when she moved into her new, smaller house during a blizzard; he didn’t help. But he did drive her to the hospital for her scheduled c-section weeks later. That’s when a call on his car display provided confirmation to Chloe of his side relationship, though her husband still denied it was happening.
After their son was born, Chloe’s husband provided financial support, but rarely saw his children. Finally, he ended his other relationship. Chloe was dating other people. Then, on a holiday during which he was entitled to see his kids, Chloe and her husband slept together. He wanted her back.
At the time, Chloe was still dating other people, but she began seeing her ex-husband, too. “We had a lot of fun dating again — too much fun,” she explains. Soon, she got pregnant again. “We felt it was meant to be after that.” They remarried when she was seven months pregnant.
These days, Chloe and her husband are clear about the future of their relationship. “We know we really want to be together,” she says. “We aren't just staying together for the kids or just stuck wondering what could have been. We've seen what was out there, realized the grass isn't always greener, and respect and appreciate each other a lot more now.”
From the separation, Chloe learned about her own strength. “I learned I am a strong-ass woman and I can survive anything.” Following a childhood of adversity — being raised by her grandparents, a semi-absent mother, and fully absent father — Chloe admits she came into the relationship with her own baggage. “I had some major abandonment issues from my childhood," she says. "I didn't even realize it until I started going to therapy during the divorce."
For his part, Chloe’s husband went through therapy to improve the “crappy communication” she blames for the dissolution of their first marriage. “From therapy, he learned to speak up when something is bothering him. We are a lot more honest with each other now, in everything we do. I don't treat him like a baby. I hold him accountable. We hold each other accountable.”
These days, things feel good for Chloe, who’s happily re-married despite a tale that seriously diverges from storybooks. “I know I will be okay on my own should anything ever happen again,” she says. “I know I will never let my kids see me in a relationship that isn't healthy.”
For those in simpler-seeming relationships who might be dubious about Chloe’s marriage reconciliation, she says, “This sh-t can happen to anyone. I would have 100 percent told you that my husband would never cheat on me, that we would never get divorced.”
Violette de Ayala
Founder and C.E.O. of professional women’s membership organization FemCity
Violette de Ayala met her husband on a blind date when she was 20 and he was 21. “Meeting him left me speechless," she recalls. "I was quiet and in awe over him. It was love at first sight. He was so handsome, funny, quirky, and elegant with this rugged appearance.”
Months passed as distance and other relationships came between them. But eventually they each ended their respective relationships, and became a couple. “Off the bat, we discussed marriage, rings, honeymoons, and our life together,” Violette recalls. “It was such a natural process because the connection had been so strong.” They were married within months.
During the 20 years of their first marriage, there were many stressors: Violette was launching businesses, he was renovating a home and also had a day job. “Things never really had a solid ground from the start and through the years and the stresses of finances and disengagement, the fibers just started to come undone,” Violette says. “Though we loved each other, the relationship wasn’t in balance. We were both taking issues out on one another and it was no longer healthy for our kids or for us.”
They divorced and remained so for about a year and a half while still living together. “The kids were our top priority and having the house stable for them was the focus,” Violette explains. “We were friends, cordial and respectful, but rarely spent time together.” He had a new girlfriend.
“I really used the time to work on myself. I had a lot of healing to get through,” Violette says. “My love story was a mess, having lived with a mother that was an addict and mentally ill.” So she did a lot of bucket-list traveling, and other forms of self care.
Violette was traveling in Europe when she realized how much she missed her husband. She didn’t want to be the one to initiate the conversation, but he did, eventually. They came back together, and dated secretly at first. “We just wanted it to be us and only our vibes and energy. After six months, we realized that there was more love between us than ever before.” Now they are legal domestic partners and have discussed remarriage.
“The second time around was a fully informed, completely intentional choice with more wisdom and appreciation for each other and our union,” she explains. “The separation allowed us to own our issues and not blame one another. It gave us the freedom to grow up, heal, and find our own solid ground.”
Because of their split, Violette says, “I am more balanced, calm, and have more clarity. He is more focused on the family, on me and our marriage. The divorce was the biggest blessing even though it was absolutely horrible. But there is no way we would be where we are today had we not separated. It’s like we both grew up into complete humans and now flow in a healthy way together in total balance.”
Violette says, “When things break and you put them back together, you find a new sense of love and gratitude for each component. You look at each piece and discover its purpose and how it serves or doesn’t serve to repair the relationship. Building it back from the ground up gave it a strength that you only embrace while acknowledging the power of the foundation. It was starting anew but with profound layers that can only be developed through decades of love.”
To those who find reconciliation after divorce hard to imagine, Violette says, “People can change and evolve through going through dark moments of loss and heartbreak. You have the choice to move forward with love and forgiveness or to move forward in hate and anger. If we choose love, a beautiful new level of connectivity may just surprise you.”
People who have worked through profound pain from a relationship know that getting to a deeper, better place requires a lot of self reflection, professional help, and meditation or prayer. Most importantly, Kearney says, it requires the exercise of “looking at yourself and not pointing fingers.”
If infidelity is involved, Kearney emphasizes the importance of first truly accepting that the affair is over. “Whatever the thing that shattered your relationship — you have to be willing to give your partner a clean slate,” Kearney says, while acknowledging that not all divorces are meant to end in reconciliation: “If you can’t, you have to be selfless and let that person go.”
But if a relationship is meant to come back together after dissolution — because of cheating, or another reason — it can only be mended when both partners are willing to do the work of looking inward. And that’s a lesson every lover can learn from, whatever their unique challenges, whether or not they formally split from a relationship partner.
Kearney says, no matter what, a fundamental ingredient necessary for enduring love is: “We should always be doing self work — always, always, always."
Alesandra Dubin is a veteran news and lifestyle writer. Her work has appeared in Business Insider, TODAY, BuzzFeed, Cosmopolitan, Parents, Good Housekeeping, Best Life, Esquire, and more. Follow her on Twitter @AliceDubin.
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