This article is the first in a series, a close-up look inside one couple's breakup: the unique deals they make, the fights they have, and, in some cases, the victories they share as they figure out how to break apart without breaking all to pieces.
Did you or someone you know have a highly personal divorce? Maybe they still live in the same house? Pay pet support? Didn't speak for two years straight? More? Please email your story to firstname.lastname@example.org
The so-close-you-can't-believe-it divorce
Samantha (Sam) Rogovich, 39, and her ex-husband, Brian Hourihan, 44, don't have your typical divorce. For one thing, Brian was the best man at Sam's wedding to her high-school boyfriend, Chris, just four months after their divorce was final. And if you think that's weird? They don't want to hear it.
Married 13 years
Separated 18 months; divorced almost 2 years
Two daughters, Riley, 9 and Drew, 7
Samantha remarried this April to Chris Rogovich, her high-school boyfriend
Sam: "I stayed home before the divorce and we personalized our financial settlement so that was still our reality--definitely not the advice of the lawyers. We live less than a mile from each other in the same town. We go on family vacations together. I recently got remarried and Brian and Chris are great friends, sharing business dealings, as well as personal time like softball and golf outings."
On doing divorce:
Sam: "There are times when our arrangement is quite painful for both or one of us, but we have learned we can work through most anything. We do a lot of it for the girls, but we also do a lot of it because of our relationship with each other. We love each other and have spent most of our adult lives together. We just weren't in love anymore and weren't happy or working as a married couple anymore. But we will always be a family and we treat each other with caring and respect."
Sam and Brian tell us how they did it:
So, who ended the marriage?
Sam: Someone has to say it, and I guess the distinction goes to me. Both of us were reeling from the shock of it, but it was a relief, too. I mean, you have to be a moron not to know that something is not going on in your marriage anymore.
Brian: Now I think she was very courageous to come and actually say it: that she wasn't happy and was trying to do something different. We had both made mistakes in our marriage, and now we were at this point where we were moving on. But there's a core in me that will always love her. She doesn't really have family, and I have a big family, and so I thought I could be a "friend"--though friend's not the right word.
Sam: We're "family."
Brian: Right, we're family. She was always going to be my family member. But it was hard in the beginning. It's like my world crashed. First and foremost what was hitting me in the face is, my kids' happiness is over. It overwhelmed me. It was a lonely place, it was a lonely place for me. Because my family who all loved me, they were all angry for me, and angry at Sam. And that's their right. But that was hard.
How did the separation work?
Brian: Sam and I did a lot of reading and met with a custodial mediator, a kind of family therapist. So we had put a plan together.
Sam: We committed for the girls stay in the house for a year...
Brian: So that we were the ones who were moving.
Sam: We didn't even know it had a name. It's called "nesting."
Brian: We rented Sam a house here in town. And I went and lived at my mom's--which was right around the corner, thank god. It was very comforting to go to my mother's, it's like going back to the womb--but it's also, you know, sad. There's an emptiness; you're like, Why am I here?
Sam: The therapist said we should switch every other night, but that was too much packing, so we agreed on nights on, two nights off.
Brian: And, you know, Sam's in a new relationship, she's at that point where she wants to spend so much time with him, and so....
Wasn't that heartbreaking for you?
Brian: No, my mind was just so focused on my fear about my kids' happiness. The whole divorce was like gates for me, it was like breaking through a gate, and each gate that I got through, I would feel better. The first gate was telling the kids. That was miserable, the worst day of my life. The next gate was where is Sam going to live? Sam wants to get to this next phase of her life, and move on. So moving out of the town we live in and where all my family is was a big issue, and created an immense amount of stress. We were seeing a family therapist to try to work these plans out together. Because at that point we're starting to talk to lawyers, and all the crap's starting to come into it ....
Sam: Ugh! I don't know how they sleep at night.
Brian: They want you to do certain things, but you have to be a good parent.
Sam: If you just lawyer up and back away from each other, it's no wonder you get so angry.
Brian: So I've been the breadwinner, and all of a sudden that's ripped away from her, and she's digging in her heels on that part and then I get all pissed off. I'm stressing over providing, and the kids, and about her moving.
Sam: You realize that the relationship is over, but you are still attached to this person financially. It's really scary. And we didn't fit into any formula to help us figure it out. I was like, "You have to be kidding me. I can't get remarried because I have to take your money to support the girls, and the girls are worth so little?" [Ed note: Spousal support usually expires upon remarriage and is often more significant than child support.] It just makes no sense, and there's a lot of pressure. Brian would say, "What do you want?" And what are you supposed to say? So I said, "You're a salesman, you come up with deals all the time, tell me what you think is right." As the breadwinner, he didn't have resentment toward me. He didn't feel like I was taking his money. But his lawyer specifically was like "Are you sure, Brian? You don't have to do this."
Brian: I knew she was getting remarried. I could have dug in my heels and said "Screw it." But I was providing for my kids. And I didn't want to fight, didn't want to have the stress over it and go to battle in court over it.
Sam: And he knew I wasn't married to him for a free ride. I was married to you because I loved you. I took his personality into account and thought, "If he decides what the plan is, he will be comfortable with it." Of course, I could have not agreed with it, but I also know he's a very fair person. I knew he would do the right thing.
Brian: And so, then Sam decided to do the right thing, too, what was right for the girls. Sam eventually decided to stay in town. And that was the greatest day of my life. So much relief.
Did you feel relief, too, Sam?
Sam: Definitely relief. It wasn't a pretty emotional ride; it wasn't a pretty conversation between us. I was like, "I'm going! That's my right!" But then it hits you that staying is the only choice that makes sense. Then there's a calm. You get there. The moment when you trust each other the least you need to switch gears and trust each other the most, but in a different kind of relationship.
Brian: So at that time, Sam and I weren't communicating like friends; it was more the logistics and the schedule and the kids.
So, Brian, how were you able to make your peace with Chris?
Brian: It's funny, I could look at Chris as a good friend. I've gone with Chris to a bar and we've talked and hung out. I could tell him anything.
Sam: The therapist suggested that the girls not meet Chris for a year. I think he met them after 10 months, because Chris and I just felt we were so far along...
Brian: The number-one thing that I told Chris, the first day that I met him-which, you know, was not an easy meeting, because my kids were meeting him the next day, and I was meeting him the day before they did--"You do one thing, you keep my kids safe. You cannot take safety back."
Sam: And if Chris were a cub scout he'd have a kid safety patch.
Brian: He's great with that. I've seen him in action. And what's better for my girls than more people loving them? As long as there's no confusion: I'm Daddy. And so it was very important to my kids to accept him, because I knew where Sam was going with it, that she wanted to get married.
Was watching them meet him hard for you?
Brian: It was hard. It was hard. But I didn't want my kids to feel so awkward and uncomfortable, you know, "Who the heck is that guy?" The toughest thing for a dad, you can ask any therapist, is giving away your time with your kids to somebody else. It's the number one thing. I mean, Holy shit! Who is this guy that's coming into their life? But I know Sam, I know her better than anybody, and I didn't believe Sam would bring some jerk into the equation.
Sam: But I wasn't rushing to present them to anyone. Chris had to earn it. And thank god that I known Chris for so long. I had blunt conversations with him, and I think that someone else would have walked out the door. You know, I said, "You need to understand that I love Brian. He is the father of my children. He is my best friend. He is going to come into our house. He is going to be coming to dinner." I can't imagine anyone else being like Chris, it's amazing.
Brian: But not everyone gets it. I constantly tell Sam, I say, just because we're getting along really well and the modeling we're doing for our kids is great, and our kids are doing great, and we have this different family now, other people--family, friends, you know, people in town--don't have to accept it, And they're not accepting it. It's taking them a long time to do that.
Now that the nesting period is over, how do you divide your time with the kids?
Brian: It's 50-50.
Sam: Brian works from home. The girls asked for two things in the divorce: for daddy to take them to school and pick them up every day, and they asked to still have family vacations. Which is another big thing. If you can give that to your kids, it's amazing. I'm not saying a lot of people can do it, a lot of people think that's weird, but that's a big thing.
Brian: We went to Martha's Vineyard with all of them, and we all stayed in one house. I pretty much see them every day, unless I'm traveling for business. I have to be conscious of Chris's time with them. I mean, I worry about it. They're a couple, you know, I don't want to step on it!
Sam: People say how are your girls? And I can say "They're great." I'm not lightly telling you they're great, because they are great, you should be doing cartwheels for me that they are doing so well. It's weird for people to think you're nuts, when know that you're doing the right thing. Just for the children alone, just the children alone! And yes, for us, too.
So some people don't know what to do with you.
Sam: We have weird things happen, like for our niece and nephew's communion, where people are like "Well, they're divorced, so we don't have to invite her." So that's been a little interesting. You know, we're united, we're a family unit, we come together. And it would be nice if you could invite Chris, too--he's just one guy, but if you can't, then the four of us will come, and Chris accepts that. He'll just stay home. He promotes the five of us as a family and the four of us as a family equally, and he's not threatened.
Brian: And I always get, "I don't know how the hell you do it. You're a better man than me." Do you know how many times I've heard that? But I always say, "It was the only way." It was the only way.
Early on [in the divorce], there was that doubt: Can I trust her? Can she trust me? You know, eventually we got to the point that yes, I could trust. She's a wonderful mom, she's not going to do anything that's not right by them, so I trusted that.
Sam: Plus, it's not like you hung out for 15 years with a crazy person!
Brian: There are so many divorces where people are trying to wipe out all those years together. We're not trying to do that. You want to take the good with you. And learn what you can from the bad.
So then....what was it like when she got married?
Brian: She didn't want to have Chris move in until she was married to him. So she was very focused on that. And then I won an award for work, for making top sales, and my company offered to send me and my significant other to Hawaii. Well, I didn't have one, and so I said, "Why don't you come out there, and get married out there"
So Sam and Chris got married on that trip? You are kidding me.
Brian: I swear to god. I said "Get married out there!" Because then the girls will see the wedding, and we'll have a great time.
Sam: I had a very strong interest in being married again and absolutely no interest in having a wedding. None. NONE! There was like, no way.
Brian: But it was great! They got married on the beach. I was the best man and the maid of honor.
Brian: The funniest story about it, though... The wedding wasn't official, because we were waiting for Chris's divorce [to come through]. So when we came back, we go to town hall so we can make it official. The lady at the front desk, well, she was being a total... she was in a bad mood.
Sam: "You didn't make an appointment!"
Brian: So the lady's doing the paperwork and she goes, "Who's your ex?" I say, Brian Steven Hourihan. "And Chris, your ex?" We answer. And she says, "Who's your witness?" Brian Steven Hourihan. And it doesn't connect right away. She goes out to make copies, and she comes back in and she goes, "Let me get this straight. You're the ex-husband and the witness?" I nodded. And she goes, "That's a first." It was really funny.
Sam: It was funny.
And your family thinks you're insane.
Brian: [Laughs] Less and less.
Stacy Morrison is the author of Falling Apart In One Piece: One Optimist's Journey Through The Hell Of Divorce (Simon & Schuster).