After 22 years, the divorce didn’t work out for Sagan Lewis and Tom Fontana.
They tried to maintain a severed union. And for more than two decades, they were successful. Lewis, a former actress, lived in the verdant tangle of Hawaii and then Arizona; he lived in New York.
She had a child on her own; he wrote and produced television shows. They saw each other on occasion and still loved each other, but were not, emphatically, a couple.
And yet, something kept bringing them together again. Finally, last year, the woman who found comfort in the red rocks of Sedona, Ariz., and the man who lives in a 10,000-square-foot building in Manhattan, remarried.
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“I realized I loved Sagan more than having all this space to myself,” said Fontana, 64, the award-winning writer, producer and creator of such TV shows as “Homicide” and “OZ.”
They are not alone in their cycle of marriage, divorce and — to each other. Musician Phil Collins, the chronicler of failed relationships, recently reconciled with his third ex-wife, Orianne Cevey, after an eight-year separation.
“Well, you know, we realized we made a mistake,” Collins told “CBS This Morning” in a recent interview. He recalled that his son Matthew from that marriage told him: “He just wished that it would happen. I was very moved.”
“Very, very few try to start over again,” said Nancy Kalish, a former psychology professor at California State University, Sacramento, who has been studying divorced couples for decades.
Most divorced people “don’t ever want to speak to each other again, and some struggle to do so for the good of their children,” she said. Of the ones who do reconcile, she said, those who have been most successful in rebuilding their former marriages were much younger when they parted and had been separated a long time.
“Many people don’t ever account for the fact that after the intensity of the separation and divorce dies down, there will come a time when they’ll actually miss their spouse,” said Michele Weiner-Davis, a marriage therapist and director of the Divorce Busting Center in Boulder, Colo. “And they think, what could I have done differently? That’s when they begin to wonder whether they made a mistake.”
That’s what happened with April and Mike Davidson, of Grand Ledge, Mich. They met when she was 18 and he was 25; by the time she was 30, she was the mother of five.
“It sounds so cliche, but I completely lost who I was,” said April Davidson, now 38. “I became ‘Mike’s wife,’ and ‘so-and-so’s mom.’ We’d put the kids to bed and then argue.”
She went back to school, made friends of her own and took a job. She was happier, she said, but her newfound independence threatened her husband.
They tried couples therapy to no avail; in 2009, they divorced, amicably, and co-parented.
But one day she caught a Facebook photograph of her ex-husband’s new girlfriend, a woman similar to the person she had become. “She was my age, a businesswoman, superconfident, and I was like, ‘What?’” Davidson said. “He had found someone like me. I felt like we failed, both of us.
She was flooded with rage, she said, and called her ex and vented. But instead of lobbing daggers back at her, he invited her out for coffee. She went.
“There was this spark that scared the hell out of me,” she said. “I hadn’t looked a him without bitterness in years.” He walked her back to her car, and as if propelled by some supernatural force, she leaned over and kissed him.
In June 2012, three years after their divorce was final, he moved back with Davidson.
“People really can change through loss,” said Wendy Paris, author of “Splitopia: Dispatches From Today’s Good Divorce and How to Part Well.” “They don’t change through criticism in a contentious marriage.”
Logistics and practicalities play a role; so does sheer exhaustion. Exploring the scintillating world of Tinder may seem appealing to someone who’s been in a committed relationship for eons. But after a while, they may conclude that the devil they know just may be better than the devil they don’t know.
Then there are financial considerations, especially when children are involved. Tiffany Beverlin, the founder and chief executive of Dreams Recycled, a marketplace and community for those who are divorced, regularly talks to couples who have reunited.
“It’s hard to be a single parent, responsible for child care and house and mortgage,” she said. “Trying to blend two families and two schedules is such a challenge.”
And then there’s the fact that people grow in different ways, and their needs and wants don’t always align — until, miraculously, they do.
This was the case with Fontana and Lewis, who met in 1978, when she auditioned for a theater role in Williamstown, Mass., where he worked.
They lived together in New York, and then moved to Los Angeles when Fontana got a writing job there. They soon married. The couple continued for a few years, each growing dissatisfied. Not with each other, but with their circumstances. Fontana was unhappy with Los Angeles. “I found it empty,” he said.
Lewis said she found herself less career focused and more spiritually depleted. But New York wasn’t her dream; she was inspired by hiking the Santa Monica Mountains and staring at the Pacific Ocean.
They decided in 1993 to divorce.
But they stayed in touch. About three years after she and Fontana divorced, Lewis discovered she was pregnant, and Fontana wanted to be in her son Jade Scott Lewis’ life. The three spent some holidays together and it was always comfortable. And then a few years ago, after they visited in New York, Fontana found himself missing her more than usual.
“I thought, ‘Why weren’t we a family?’”
At Christmas 2014, he proposed. She accepted, and they were remarried in July 2015.
Davidson said that divorcing was the best thing she and her husband could have done (they got re-engaged in the spring of 2013; while they refer to each other as “husband” and “wife,” they have not yet legalized the titles).
“We just raced through life from 21 to 31,” she said. “We lived such an epically fast rate that there was no time for growth. We were both teaching our kids this is what marriage looks like: two people who are unhappy. I don’t want them to feel that way.”
Davidson said: “Our relationship started with a power imbalance, which continued during our marriage, even through ample evidence that it was unhealthy. Equality is the foundation of our new relationship.”
“Anything that happened that reminded me of the past brought up angry feelings, and we had to experience all that again,” Davidson said. “But instead of glossing over it, we had to hash it out. It was messy, but good messy. Sometimes you have to wade in the messy a little bit to come out the other side.”