Welcome to another episode of the exEXPERTS Divorce etc… Podcast where we give you all kinds of information and tips on everything divorce. Why? We’ve lived it, so we get it! We’re T.H. & Jessica.
Jessica: Welcome everyone to today’s episode of Divorce etc… podcast. We are very excited to have with us today, Ben and Nikki, who are the authors behind the book, Our Happy Divorce. Just a fun fact, I had read their book randomly about two and a half years ago and loved and totally related to the fact that they have a very amicable divorce and have been able to move on and raise their son in a very peaceful co-parenting way. Well, peaceful, we’ll find out I guess, but I really admire what they’ve done. I’m really excited to be able to meet them today. Welcome you guys.
Nikki: Thank you.
Ben: Thank you for having us. We’re excited.
Jessica: There are three sides to every story, as we all know, but to just give a little bit of background, Nikki, can you give us some insight into what your marriage looked like, and what led to the divorce?
Nikki: And look at that look he’s giving me.
T.H.: This is video recorded too. Everyone will see it.
Nikki: So everyone’s going to get to see that look you just gave me.
Ben: Oh, no, that was a look of anticipation. I can’t wait to hear it.
Nikki: Well, I was going to say we were two young pups that fell in love, or what we thought was love, and we followed the pattern of what’s supposed to come next. We were moving to Florida from California. Obviously, the next step was, well, I’m not going to move across the country for you unless I know that there’s something past that. Normally that would be the girl thing, but it was the boy thing that was like, you’re not taking me away from my family. But anyway, so we did. We got married. I think that we got the lines crossed of being in love and loving each other. We ended up quickly feeling we were almost like two ships passing in the night or just two friends living together.
Jessica: How quickly did you think?
Ben: Uh, the honeymoon? Whoa, that wasn’t appropriate.
T.H.: I see the divide between the two of you very clearly now.
Jessica: We’ll get to your side, Ben.
Nikki: I don’t know. I mean, I don’t exactly…I mean, I think that there was already–well, here’s one thing. On my wedding day, I got sick, like sick to my stomach where I went down to some room where our reception was, and literally took my dress off, and had to have someone go find a dress for me because I was sick to my stomach. I had to find some doctor that was going to give me something so I didn’t throw up all over the place.
T.H.: Oh, my gosh.
Jessica: Do you think now that was a sign?
T.H.: The universe?
Nikki: That might have been a sign. That might have been a sign.
Jessica: How long were you guys together before you got married?
Nikki: What, three or four years?
Ben: Four years.
Ben: Yeah, and it was at that age. I mean, we were in our twenties.
T.H.: This is what you do next.
Ben: This is what you do next.
Nikki: Believe me I would never take back anything. Because during those first few–I mean, that’s when we had Asher. I mean, I feel like we were meant to be married, and we were meant to have this child because he’s supposed to be here.
T.H.: Right. And be his parents.
T.H.: Yeah. That’s really awesome, really.
Jessica: So you just felt at the end of the day you’re just better off friends. It just fell off. Then who initiated the–
Nikki: Not liking each other to a point. Right before our divorce, we really just didn’t like each other. But I think it was more or less we didn’t like ourselves, and that in turn made us really hate each other.
Jessica: Okay. Ben, what was your perspective?
Ben: Yeah, I mean, my perspective is pretty similar. I think that both of us had an almost visceral reaction on our wedding day. I remember very clearly doing my hair at the wedding–
Nikki: Doing his hair [laughs].
Ben: Right, when I had hair. What that meant was just putting on a little gel and–
T.H.: But looking in the mirror.
Ben: Looking in the mirror and–
Nikki: And saying, oh shit?
Ben: Yeah, basically saying you shouldn’t do this. Looking back on it, my intellect took over and said, oh, you just have cold feet, and trying to work it through. But looking back on it, that was an authentic feeling. Looking back on it, in hindsight, the whole 20/20 thing, like Nikki said, we got the lines of loving each other and being in love, society pressures, that we were in our twenties, and I was moving across the country – we should be doing this.
Nikki: Yeah, like these were the steps we were supposed to take.
Ben: Then even though we were like roommates and two ships, there wasn’t a lot of awful fighting. It wasn’t that kind of party. It was just surviving. It wasn’t living. We weren’t living a blissful, happy marriage.
Nikki: But also, part of me didn’t know if it was the fact that he did move across the country for me, leaving his whole family. I didn’t know if part of him was a little bit of that.
Ben: And it was. That’s the thing of where the resentment started to build up. I blamed Nikki for moving me to Tampa like she handcuffed me.
Nikki: Like, I dragged him. Like, I dragged him across the country.
Ben: Handcuffed me and put me in the back of a Coupé de Ville and drove me across the country. Then these resentments just started building up. We started having problems. Nikki was wanting me to be a different person. I was wanting her to be a different person. We were always sort of in love with the person that we wanted the other person to be, or what the person said they were going to be.
Jessica: I was going to say, when did you initiate the idea of getting divorced? Who brought it up first? Was it a conversation that was totally mutual? Did you guys have to think about it?
Ben: Yeah, well, with us, I mean, and I don’t know if it’s like this for most marriages, but I would assume, our divorce decision wasn’t made because we had a fight one night at a restaurant. It was a little of a tango, right, of a dance of–
Nikki: Let’s fix it. Let’s break up. Let’s get back together.
Ben: I’ll move out. Then we’ll come back, and I’ll move in, that kind of dance for a while. Then it was Nikki’s favorite story–
Nikki: Very dramatic!
Ben: Right. This is not my finest moment. But if we’re being honest here, we’re honest with our story.
T.H.: Let’s do it.
Nikki: I was out of town, and I came home.
Ben: Wait, hold on.
Ben: Hold on. You can tell the story, but we had decided that we were going to work on the marriage. Nikki had started a jewelry company, but she was spending a lot of time traveling. She’d committed to staying more in town and working on this marriage. I was staying in a hotel, and I’d come home. Nikki’s very famous for her calendar. She’s like the Calendar Queen.
Nikki: Paper calendars. I like to actually write in them still.
T.H.: Oh, I am your girl. I buy the extra-large ones–
T.H.: –so I can write a lot of things in one box.
Nikki: I love it.
Ben: I’d look on the fridge and there was a calendar of the next month. She was gone so many days a month, and it just hit me right there that this–
Nikki: He’s exaggerating.
Ben: Well, that’s the great paradox of the world that both things can be true. But I looked at it and just hit me right then that nothing was going to change. That was the turning point for me. And then–
Nikki: But I feel was the turning point–was I gone?
Ben: Yeah, you were gone.
Nikki: I was gone. Then when I came home, I came home to in my bathroom, a ripped up photo of the three of us and his ring on my bathroom sink. I mean, right now I can laugh about it, but then, I did not laugh at it. But now I can.
Jessica: No, I would imagine that would be a little jarring.
Nikki: It was the most dramatic thing to find in my bathroom.
T.H.: Well, that was a clear signal.
Ben: Yeah, well, it was a little–
Nikki: So that was–
Ben: It was probably done. But that’s what it was. I mean, when I saw the calendar, it wasn’t like all sudden I was like, oh, we’re going to go, we’re going to get divorced, and we’re going to have this–
Nikki: Yeah, you were trying to be a meanie.
Ben: Right. We were going to write a book 12 years later, 14 years later. No, I was angry. I was bitter. I was pointing the finger at Nikki, and I wanted to do things at that point to hurt her. The most dramatic way I could hurt her was to rip up a picture of the three of us and put my wedding ring smack dab in the middle of it.
Jessica: Nikki, so were you like, I’m out of here?
Nikki: No, I mean, I was like, oh shit. I think the first thing I did, I think I called my sister and I was like, I think I have a problem. She’s like, what seems to be the problem?
Ben: Well, did your sister say you’ve had a problem for seven years?
Nikki: Yeah [laughs].
T.H.: That’s a long time. That’s a long time for you guys, for anyone, to go back and forth. It just sounds like your heart was really in it. You really wanted it to be what you hoped it was going to be. But you can’t make something out of, I want to say the word nothing, but–
Jessica: No, but you can’t lie to yourself.
T.H.: The right stuff wasn’t there to be what you envisioned. Really, a lot of people think about this fairy tale and dream up this dream, especially after you divorce, that I’m going to meet Prince Charming or whatever.
Nikki: You forget that that dream is hard work.
T.H.: You’ve got to face the facts about you and yourself and your situation. It’s going to be awesome and a fairy tale, but it’s not going to look like what you thought it was going to look.
Nikki: No, and I think for me too, I’m like very much a fixer. Obviously, I tried to fix it first. But I think that we tried to fix it. We tried to go to therapy together. But I mean, the more we looked at it, it was like, okay, who are we fixing this for? It’s not going to be good for him, for us to fix it for our son, because it’s not going to teach him what love is supposed to look like.
T.H.: Yeah, and I mean, Nikki has said it, so I think it’s fair, even with that wedding ring and me being done and everything, she still wanted to find a way, or she would have found a way for us to stay together, right?
Jessica: Well, it would have been like a band-aid for another little period of time.
Nikki: Yes, for sure.
Ben: But she would have done it because of our son. Because at that point, she probably thought, or we both thought that it would be better for us to be together, despite how unhappy we were. She wanted to work on the marriage or at least stay married because she’s a fixer.
Nikki: Yeah. I didn’t come from a broken family. My parents are still married–
T.H.: Us too.
Nikki: –50-something years later. So for me, that was like, oh, God. Nobody in my family was divorced.
Nikki: So it was like, hi, hi, hi! Hi, semi-religious parents, your youngest daughter’s getting a divorce.
Jessica: When you decided, okay, you know what, that’s what’s going to be the best decision for us. We really are going to move forward with a divorce. Where in that was the conscious decision to make it amicable? Or was it not that amicable during the initial part and became amicable later? Talk us through the process.
Nikki: I think it always was more amicable for me, maybe in part because my parents are still together, and because I never went through that. I would hear horror stories about families going through that, friends growing up, and seeing people whose kids were just constantly hurting from that. So for me, I always tried to start amicable.
This one, not so much.
Ben: Yes, so giving it to the bad guy. No, when I left and made that decision, I was angry, bitter, and hurt. The two big FU buttons in my life are romance and finance. At the end of the marriage, they were being pushed very fast and very quickly. The way that I deal with trying to protect those underlining emotions was through anger and through a little bit of bitterness, and a lot of bitterness and some spitefulness. And so I immediately called, and if you’re listening and you’re thinking about getting divorced, or you’re getting divorced, do not do this. My first call after some research was to the best divorce attorney in Tampa.
Jessica: Meaning like a shark?
Ben: Meaning like a shark.
T.H.: I did that too. It’s a knee-jerk reaction.
Ben: The crazy thing about it, or not the crazy thing, but it just shows you the power of these emotions and everything with divorces. Nikki’s experience with her parents, I was the polar opposite. I came from a very high conflict divorce. I grew up in it, and it was awful. And yet, I was still consciously, I guess, maybe going to go down that same path with my son. But I called this lawyer, we sat down, and I told him what I wanted. He said we can get this. The other thing is if you sit down with a lawyer, and they say yes they can get you everything that you want, run!
T.H.: They’ll charge you all that they can to pretend they’re going to get you everything that you want.
Nikki: And it’s the same thing they give everybody, but they just change the names on it.
Ben: We sat down and he said he was going to prepare something. He wrote this 35 page–
Nikki: In five minutes, he pushed print.
Ben: Right, pressed print, and it was this 35-page memo on the attack plan because I wanted to destroy Nikki. This was his plan to destroy Nikki. I carried it around in my backpack, and I didn’t pick it up for a little bit. I was on a red-eye back from LA to Tampa. I don’t know what it was at that moment, and I don’t know if it was everybody sleeping and just the reading lights, I started reading it.
Nikki: Maybe you were just tired from sowing your single oats in California.
Ben: Maybe. Possibly. No, so I started reading it and I got two pages into it. It was the first time in a long time in my life where I couldn’t continue to buy my own bullshit, right? I put it down because I knew where that path ended. I was able to tap into my experience with my parents. I was able to tap into the reality that there’s no way–there are some exceptions that are outside our pay grade, but at the end of the marriage, it could be one person’s fault. It took two to ruin that relationship, and I needed to do some work on myself. I put it away. I called him on Monday and said thank you, but no thank you. I made a call to the person that should have been my first call. That was to a therapist.
Jessica: Love it.
Ben: I called Nikki and I said, look, I need some time. I’m also in recovery, and I needed to do some work on that. And so I just did some work on myself and tried as hard as it was to not deal with what Nikki’s problems were. Yeah, she had them. She has them.
Nikki: I mean, has, that means presently.
Ben: Well, yeah. I mean, yeah, you got issues. We all do. But the thing about the divorce is the emotional side of it, and then the apathetic business side of it.
Jessica: Honestly, the things that you’re saying are things that we have been preaching ever since we started exEXPERTS, where it’s like, don’t follow your knee-jerk reaction and just call the lawyer first. Make sure that you do the work on yourself. Separate out as best you can, the emotional side of it and the practical business side of it, because that’s where everybody gets caught up. It’s exactly what you’re saying is really what we want people to understand. I love the fact that in retrospect now, you’re looking back realizing that those are the things that people need to do.
T.H.: And if you don’t take care of you, I mean, then the lawyers gone, right? The divorce is over, and then you’re like, holy shit, now what? Where’s my team? What am I going to do with myself? You don’t want to first start that at the end of your divorce. My divorce took four years. And so that whole let’s start focusing on how you’re never going to let a person like that in your life again, that was my first work, and also how to manage a divorce with a narcissist. I was being pulled by my legs, neck, whatever. I didn’t have a choice through this process. But I have to look at me like, how did I even marry a guy like this? How did I even let somebody treat me like this? This isn’t me. And then becoming yourself. So really, it’s kudos to you, Ben, and especially Ben, only because men, in general, do not do that kind of thing. They do not. It’s more difficult to share. Women, we’re born to share and talk and girl gang and community and everything. Guys are like macho and just whatever, fuck her, or whatever.
Jessica: We love that you got in touch with your feminine side.
T.H.: So that you can have a great life, be a great dad, be you know…
Ben: When I get enough pain. Pain is a great motivator for me.
T.H.: Okay, whatever works.
Ben: That’s when I usually get through it. It’s funny, I went to my therapist, and she came in and I said, “Barbara, I think I got it.” I said, “I think I’m a narcissist.” She started laughing. I said, “Barbara, I thought we had a breakthrough. I read about it, and I think I check all the boxes.” She goes, “No, you’re not a narcissist.” She goes, “First of all, no narcissist would come in my office and diagnose themselves as a narcissist. And second, no, you’re just an asshole.”
Ben: Right? You’re just hurt. What she meant was a hurt and wounded man like me smells, feels, and tastes like narcissism. But it’s just I was hurt and angry.
Nikki: You were just being a jerk.
Ben: Yeah. The work, and I can’t emphasize this enough, I don’t know, you guys are the experts, there’s no award for getting divorced the quickest, right, except for a lot of pain and suffering and spending a lot of money. The other fallacy is after all that, your four years, it didn’t all of a sudden get great. I mean, you just get a lifetime of pain and suffering. The work that I did, and then Nikki did too, I mean, I’m not the only one to tout this levity, the spiritual greatness, she went to therapy too. We put the business side and took our time and worked through it, and worked through what our part in the ending of the marriage was. That was the turning point.
Nikki: I mean, I think the biggest turning point too was realizing that we wouldn’t want to be married to ourselves either. At that point, that helped us go, okay, well, wait a minute. I wouldn’t want to be married to me. I’m not this person that I thought I was. I’m this other person. So who the hell would want to be married to me now anyway?
Jessica: I was going to ask Nikki, did you think when you were first starting off that it was going to be able to be amicable? Or were you thinking it’s going to be a fight?
Nikki: No, I did not. I thought it was going to be horrible. But I just kept trying. I didn’t really fight, which is rare for me, because I’m a fighter.
Ben: She would have. I mean, there’s no question.
Nikki: If I knew that that’s where we were going, I would not have sat down and just went quietly. But I tried not to, just because in the back of my mind, I’m like, I don’t want to screw this kid up. I don’t want to screw this kid up.
Ben: And she gave me grace.
Nikki: I did, which is also hard for me to do.
Ben: Right. When I called her and said I needed some time, nothing’s changed, but I just need some time, she said take as much time as you need. She knew that about my recovery. She said, do what you need to do. Then we can convene.
Nikki: Please don’t drink and blame it on me.
Ben: Well, I could have drunk actually really easily.
Nikki: Yeah, I know.
Ben: But the next time I called her, the next meeting we had was part of this process of looking at myself and cleaning up my side of the street and coming to the sobering (no pun intended) realization that I wouldn’t want to be married to me either. At that point, it was to make amends. And so I called her–
Nikki: I mean you called me out of the blue.
Ben: And this is where the book was really a great experience to be able to see her experience on the same thing, is that I called her and I asked her to coffee.
Nikki: And I was like, well, we’re going to coffee. It’s in a public place. He’s not going to try to kill me. But I had to call people and be like, do I go? Am I supposed to? How do I feel? I was scared to death. I’m like, but he’s not going to yell at me because we’re in public.
Ben: I’m not going to kill you.
Nikki: Or you’re not going to kill me because we’re in public. But I was scared to death because we hadn’t spoken.
T.H.: And it’s the unknown. It’s the unknown. You didn’t know where his mind was going.
Nikki: No, I remember calling my family and being like, uh…
Ben: Looking back on it and hearing that, how hard it was, and that it was sort of a dick move of not telling her. This is the difference. It wasn’t done premeditated.
Nikki: No, you weren’t like I’m going to make her squirm.
Ben: Righ. I’m going to make her sweat. But so anyway, we went to coffee. I sat her down, and I–
Nikki: But you did get me coffee. I mean, obviously, he knows what kind of coffee I drink and how I drink it. And so it was sitting there–
Ben: A little disarming.
Nikki: I was like, oh, maybe this isn’t going to be as bad as I thought it was going to be.
T.H.: Alright, so you didn’t think he put something in your coffee. So that’s good.
Nikki: No, but I’m surprised that I didn’t think that.
Ben: I’m surprised I didn’t think about that either.
Nikki: I should have been like, here, have a drink.
Ben: Right. Take a drink first.
T.H.: You sip it first.
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Ben: So part of the process was making–saying I was sorry. It wasn’t done for any other reason than just, look, my side of the street was dirty. I apologize. I love you. And then she in turn apologized to me. We say it, and it’s sort of not joking, but it’s really the only time in the 25 years or so that we’ve known each other, that we’ve apologized to each other.
Jessica: But that was a turning point for you guys to be able to then figure out how to do it in a way that worked for you guys and for Asher?
T.H.: And it sounds like there was underlying, and now very visible, mutual respect, which I definitely lacked in my marriage. That’s what I get from what you guys have said, is just respecting one another is so important. Then you can take baby steps to communicate and get on the same page. But you waved the flag Ben, and it worked. Let’s start on now. You guys are on a more even playing field now in terms of your emotions and what you want to do. You’ve had time to think through things. So what happens next?
Nikki: I think for us, once we got all the financial stuff and things like that out of the way, I think that we really had our mindset on, hey, you know what? Let’s just be able to amicably sit next to each other, sit next to each other at an event. If it’s Asher’s birthday, you know what? Go to the birthday party, not necessarily together, but both be there. Or if it’s his baseball game or a football game, let’s just sit down with each other, so he doesn’t have to choose. Oh, I’m going to go over to mom first. I’m going to go over to dad first.
Ben: Or try to remember who do I have to go to, because that’s what I had to deal with, right?
Nikki: At least he could just come to both of us together.
T.H.: And not hurt feelings.
Nikki: No. We tried to just be able to be in the same room together. I mean, never in a million years did we imagine being where we are today with our relationship and our families, and our two families together. But I mean we just wanted to be together.
Ben: Yeah, and I think the other major turning point was after we apologized to each other. I didn’t have any other motivation behind that, but just because her authenticity with her apology, I felt that it was the right time. I said, well, do you have any problem with joint custody 50/50 with Asher? She said, absolutely not, of course. And I said you know what, all the other shit can be worked out.
Nikki: Right. Right.
Ben: It didn’t become Our Happy Divorce after that. It didn’t become this land of rainbows, waterfalls, and unicorns after that meeting, but there was just some space to breathe. It’s also you have that pressure on your chest or anxiety, and all of a sudden, the elephant gets removed. It’s easier to take a breath. At that moment, that was the feeling.
Nikki: We took little baby steps.
Ben: We took baby steps. But as far as the business side of it afterward, we had our lawyers. We had everything. But we sat in the same coffee shop and went through our divorce agreement and just said let’s see if we can figure this out.
Nikki: We didn’t fight over coffee pots. We didn’t fight over the silly stuff.
Ben: Right. We actually ended up after five or six meetings at that coffee shop figuring out the divorce, and then handing it to the lawyers and saying–
Nikki: And letting them turn around looking at us and saying, are you sure this is what you want? Are you sure? And we’re like, yeah, let’s just get it over with.
Jessica: I had a very similar experience. I’ve been divorced twice. Well, actually, both of them were somewhat similar to that, because it was like we really just worked it out. I mean, and then gave it to the lawyers. We were like can you just put this into the document the way that it needs to be? It worked out. So I applaud you guys.
Ben: Yeah, and that’s not legal advice. I just want people to know.
Ben: I don’t recommend–it just wouldn’t–
Jessica: We had lawyers.
Nikki: Yeah, somebody has to look at it.
Ben: Right, but that’s the business side of it. I think at the end of the day, nothing against lawyers that much, but the business people should make the business deals. The lawyers didn’t go to business school. And so we came up with the terms and then handed it to the lawyers to put their ‘run-ons’ and everything else and the ‘whereases’. But after that moment, we didn’t know what to do. We didn’t have a handbook. We didn’t have Facebook or Instagram really to find all the great stuff out there today.
Nikki: No, not really, we really didn’t.
Ben: No. What we did, and here’s our big secret, is we faked it until we made it.
Nikki: All of a sudden, one day, it was almost like, oh, okay, it’s not so bad. Okay, I don’t really mind being around him.
Ben: And let me–I’d be dismissing if I didn’t–it was awkward, right? But we faked it–
Jessica: You have to work through the awkwardness to get to the comfort level.
Ben: Because it’s not about you. It wasn’t about us. It was about our son. And so sitting next to Nikki at a sporting event, or sitting next to Nikki at a school event, whether it was two people or 2000, she was the last person that I wanted to sit next to.
Jessica: Right, but now you’ll save each other a seat. So it’ll make it easier for everybody.
Nikki: Now we go on vacations together.
Ben: And at some point, and we can’t pinpoint when it happened, we made it. It became natural and authentic. We came full circle, of where we were, of this friendship, of this loving each other in the beginning of our relationship, to not really liking each other, to hating each other, back into tolerating each other, and to loving each other again.
T.H.: In a much better way. That’s such a healthy way.
Jessica: When did you decide we need to write a book, and why?
Nikki: That was him.
Ben: Yeah, that was my–
Nikki: I think because people kept–since then we’ve had Instagram.
Jessica: People don’t believe the story, right?
Jessica: They’re like, what?
Ben: They’re like, what’s going on over there?
Nikki: No. People would write to us and see photos that we would post. I had people that I grew up with, who were divorced, write to me and would be like, I don’t understand this. Oh, you guys should write a book. I’m like, haha, yeah. I don’t know how to write a book.
Ben: And so somewhere in the process, I was like–I’m also, like I said, in recovery. I truly believe in the relatedness of the human experience. That’s where I’ve gotten the most change in my life is writing to somebody who’s been to hell, right? You know what it’s like to be in hell. You two have been divorced. We can relate to each other more than doctors, lawyers, or whatever in my life. So I had this idea, Nikki’s a little more reserved than I am when it comes to–
Nikki: Just about certain things.
Ben: Yeah. Yeah, you like your character defects and all your stuff. I have no problem. I’m a flawed human being. But anyway, I talked to her about it. She’s like, hell no, I’m not writing a book. And then it was shelved. But I just really thought it’d be a good thing to get out there. But there was no way I was going to do it without Nikki. That’s also the secret is it took two of us to ruin the marriage, but it also took two of us to make our life Our Happy Divorce and the life we have today. There’s no way that I could do this book without Nikki. And so eventually, she agreed to do it. Now, the funny part, we don’t live in this Our Happy Divorce all the time, right? We have fights. We scream at each other. We ‘F’ each other and all that stuff. Every time we got in a fight, she would say to me, I’m not doing your freaking book. Then she’d get mad for a couple of weeks and then revisit it.
Nikki: I was like, okay.
Ben: But she would throw that in my face probably 27 times.
Nikki: Probably. Easily.
Jessica: But then she did it. Were you hoping to, obviously, tell your story, but I mean, was it to inspire other people and let people know it’s possible? I mean, were you thinking bigger things down the road with it
Nikki: No, it was actually just we sat there and said, you know what, if we could help one couple to understand it. We’re not doctors or lawyers. We just kind of winged it and figured it out, and that if we could do it, anybody can.
Ben: That’s the idea. Two Class A personality types who when they fight it’s like rams butting heads. But the idea behind it was just to give people some hope in a very hopeless situation of going through a divorce. It’s almost like, again, I’m going to use my recovery, but when I was sitting in my first meeting, somebody would say they had 30 days of sobriety or a year, or three years, or five years. I used to say to myself, they’re so full of shit. There’s no way. They’re lying because it was so far past my realm of reality at that moment. But hearing the stories, and other people helping and giving that hope, was the same premise behind the book. Now, it might not look like ours. It might not be as absurd as ours to some people, but like Nikki said, in that coffee shop, or when I left the house if you told me that we were going to write a book called Our Happy Divorce, and we were going to travel together, and we’re going to live five houses down from each other and all this stuff, I would have looked at you and said you’re crazy.
Jessica: But it is so great for people to hear the story and know it may be completely different than what theirs looks like, but just the idea that there are all of these different stories, and they’re all different ways for it to come about. Here’s one. People may not be able to replicate what you guys have been able to do, but they might be able to take nuggets of what you guys have done and apply it to their own situations. We always talk about sharing other people’s stories. Because hearing other people’s stories a) makes you realize I can do it if they were able to do it. We’re all just regular people, right? There’s nothing different.
T.H.: Figuring it out.
Jessica: Right. But hearing how other people navigate it is like, oh, you know what? I never thought of that. That’s actually a great idea. I might want to try that. So what did you learn? Now looking back after writing the book, what do you think that you learned about marriage and divorce?
T.H.: And what have you learned since writing the book? I mean, I’m sure that there are so many new aha moments that you’ve come to, and you’re like, is this really happening right now? We’re on vacation together?
Jessica: Or even in your current relationship?
Nikki: I definitely learned how to fight better.
Ben: To fight better?
Jessica: With each other?
Nikki: No, I fight smarter. Like, if Chad and I get into an argument–
Ben: Oh, you’re talking about with Chad.
T.H.: Oh, so you took your lessons with Ben and applied it?
Nikki: I took some of my lessons. No, I just yell still.
Ben: She hasn’t learned how to fight better with me, or nicer.
Nikki: No [laughs].
Jessica: But it’s interesting if you really are saying you actually took things from your marriage with Ben and apply it now in your marriage, and that that’s a recipe for success for you?
Nikki: It does, because a lot of the way I would argue before shuts people down.
Ben: Yeah, you’re a bully.
Nikki: Oh, you’re going to say probably just I’m a bully [laughs].
T.H.: She just got taller than you again Ben. I feel like you need to sit up again.
Ben: No, that’s okay.
Nikki: I’m a bully [laughs].
Jessica: Alright, Nikki, so you learned how to fight better, which I think literally being able to fight productively is a huge skill.
Nikki: Yeah. Not being such a bully, apparently [laughs].
T.H.: No, but it’s a waste of energy.
Ben: It’s better than the other ‘B-word’.
T.H.: It’s exhausting. Yeah, it’s exhausting.
Jessica: What else have you guys learned?
Ben: I think, first of all, writing the book was a very therapeutic experience because one thing we did is we respected each other’s experience, right? I didn’t read Nikki’s parts. I didn’t micromanage like, “this didn’t happen this way”.
Nikki: And vice versa.
Ben: And vice versa. We put it, we wrote it, and it was our experience. There were some things that I learned in that book, whatever, 10, 12 years later after we got divorced, that I didn’t know about. Doing the book, and even two years and a half years later, sitting here talking about it makes me really grateful.
Nikki: That you still like me?
Ben: Yeah, I mean, if I can get to a marriage with her and a divorce with her–
T.H.: You can do anything now.
Ben: Anything’s possible, believe me. I mean, yeah, I like her. And I love her. She’s a great mother. She’s a great friend. She’s my best friend. If I had gone down that road–
Nikki: Now this is being recorded…
T.H.: Nikki, are you thinking of what you’re going to say nice to Ben right now?
Ben: No, she can’t.
Ben: I wonder if I’m in this.
Ben: Let me just see it. People I Want To Punch In The Face, I wonder if I’m number–that’s her notebook by the way.
Nikki: That’s my notebook. I’m working on graduation.
Ben: But that’s the thing is being able to have–it’s so much easier. And like I said, I grew up in a high-conflict divorce. The only people that got hurt, and we haven’t really talked about Asher, our son, but he was the driving force behind all this. He was the reason–people talk a lot about what’s best for the kids. Now, the emotional side, when you haven’t dealt with the emotional side, you can skew that a little bit and rationalize what’s best for the kids. But is it really best for the kids? Or is it what’s best for you, because you’re making decisions off of emotions? But we were able to have him avoid a terrible situation. Divorce sucks. There’s no way around it. But to come out of a terrible situation, I think with the best possible outcome, that’s what Our Happy Divorce means for us. It might not have the craziness of our lives, but if you can avoid having the kids pay the emotional bill for your adult decisions, I think we classify that as a happy divorce.
Nikki: And I think we are lucky to have the relationship that the two of us have together. I mean, we genuinely really are friends.
T.H.: Well, even though you had to do your own separate work, you are on this journey together. You stayed on the journey together parallel and then came back together again. Just coming from a place of not a happy divorce or amicable divorce in any way, even you guys just talking about sitting next to each other makes my gut turn. But if you think about it, it’s the simplest act. It’s just so little. It only feels so big, but it’s really so little. That’s what I honestly took from this. Because I was saying to Jessica, I hate it when people say, oh, we have the best divorce and we all travel together, and everybody loves each other, and our boyfriends and girlfriends and whatever.
Jessica: Which is like my story too.
T.H.: I was kind of like, eff you. You know what? Now you’re making me feel bad that I’m not doing that. But the truth of the matter is we can all take something from each other. I know I’m doing the best that I can. I’m not questioning myself, but I’m just saying when I hear stories of perfect divorce, I’m like, they’re so full of crap. There is no way they don’t fight, and they’re not angry. I appreciate you guys being real about it. It’s not Kumbaya every minute, and being really raw and honest. Because your story will resonate now with so many more people, instead of pretending what it is.
Ben: Right. There are so many landmines along the process, as you guys know. I mean, we stepped in them. It’s such a slippery slope, and the line was very thin for us.
Nikki: It’s how you navigate them.
Ben: Right. We continue to just trudge this road to happy destiny. We just continue to put our son first. I love what you said about the small gesture, but it seems so big, right?
Ben: It feels so big. There’s one moment where Nikki had told me–so after all this making amends and this Kumbaya, we’re levitating because we were such spiritual giants. Nikki, about a year into it or whatever, calls me and says she started dating Chad. Now Chad was somebody that we knew while we were married. And so all of a sudden, I get this test, right? Nikki’s first boyfriend is somebody we knew in our marriage. She had told me that he was going to come to a baseball game of Asher’s, and I was coaching. The whole game, I have one eye over knowing that this is going to go down. This is going to be the crash and burn moment of our divorce, right? I’m either going to make a big scene, be a dick, or I’m going to shine. And so the game ended and the kids ran over, and dad gets stuck cleaning out the dugout. I was walking over. I was literally just saying, what’s best for Asher? What’s best for Asher? I walk over, and I don’t know if I hug Nikki first, but I went over and I gave Chad a hug. It was probably a real awkward man-hug or whatever, but I just wanted to disarm the situation for Asher and just let him know this is okay. I didn’t want to do it. To talk about it, it felt so big. It really wasn’t that big of a deal. But it was. And it was a big deal I think for Asher and for Nikki and for Chad to just to know this is okay. Even though I feel like it was okay.
Jessica: Taking the high road is not always easy. It’s definitely a conscious effort. I’ve been there also, but in different circumstances. My husband had an affair, and I still was the person who did that with her because I didn’t want my kids to feel the awkwardness. I wanted everybody to be able to be relaxed together and have them not feel they’re being disloyal to one or the other by loving their parents as hard as they should be allowed to. I really admire all of that. We have so much more. I feel like we barely scratched the surface. We would love to have you guys back and talk more into this because I really feel you have life lessons for a lot of people out there. And so for everyone who hasn’t read your book, anyone listening, definitely, it’s worth picking up. But I want to have you guys back so we can talk more about it because everyone can benefit from hearing what you guys know.
Ben: I would love to.
T.H.: Yeah, about blending families, bringing new people in, all of that. We’d love to do a part two.
Ben: Another landmine.
Jessica: [Laughs] that’s right. That’s right. Well, thank you guys so incredibly much for your time. We really appreciate it. You’re great. For everyone listening, definitely pick up their book. We’ll have it in the exRATED section on our website. You will be able to find this episode and their expert pages on the site as well. So go check them out. Thank you guys again so much for joining
Nikki: Thank you so much.
Ben: Thank you for having us.
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