When it became party fodder that my husband and I were separating, I began getting messages from friends I hadn’t heard from in a very long time. Life had taken us in different directions after our kids had grown and gone.
They’d ask to have dinner, or perhaps, drinks. I eagerly agreed to see them. My calendar wasn’t bursting at the seams since the split. I represented my social circle’s worst fear – and who wants to have burritos with their worst fear? I was excited to re-kindle old friendships.
We would chit-chat, talk about the kids, and then inevitably, somewhere between the first margarita and the second round of salsa, they would lean across the table, take a deep breath and whisper,
“Okay. Tell me how you did it? What’s it like?”
I was their case study in failed relationships. I suddenly became “The Divorce Whisperer.”
I didn’t mind. There’s nothing worse than being alone with the unknown. I’d sought out a safe space when my marriage was ending too. But, this was too important of a responsibility to sugar coat. I needed to be completely honest and let the alimony fall where it may. My divorce had left me raw, and I was still grieving for the kids and the change in our family. But I also had a sense of peace I hadn’t felt in a very long time. It was complicated, kind of like a sweet and sour sauce.
My heart broke for them, yet I couldn’t tell my friends what to do. But, I could talk to them about the realities of signing that thick stack of papers. I needed to give them things to think about as they waded through the emotional whack-a-mole.
Here’s what I said.
1. Joy doesn’t magically appear because you get a divorce. It just doesn’t. You won’t suddenly begin farting rainbows and hunky Match.com dates. You have to be certain that the happiness you think is yours to gain overshadows the pain of staying.
2. You don’t have to hate the person you’re divorcing. It can be really confusing when you still have a love or fondness for the person you don’t want to spend the rest of your life with.
“But, we’re both such nice people. What are we doing?”
Here’s the deal. It’s not about wanting to hire a hit man and bury somebody in the backyard. You may love your ex for the rest of your life. But, it doesn’t mean you were intended to spend unhappily ever after.
3. There’s a lot of good, even in the worst of marriages. Do you stay in a marriage for the good that is there, even if the marriage itself is irrevocably broken? Knowing that when you give up the bad that the good will ride shotgun is heart-wrenching.
4. Shit’s about to get real. It will hurt your kids. Holidays and birthdays are forever changed. Finances take on a life and anxiety of their own. You will lose friends, and this likely won’t give your ex’s family the warm fuzzies when they think of you. Think of divorce as a house fire. Prepare to lose everything and be relieved at whatever survives the flames.
5. You will feel like you’re losing your ever-loving mind. You thought Sybil had a lot of personalities? Just wait. You will feel pain, guilt, confusion, relief, ecstasy, anxiety and everything in between on any given day. It’s perfectly normal.
6. Talk to an attorney. Get an unbiased assessment of your situation. Seeing an attorney brings clarity at $450 an hour. (See #4, Shit’s about to get real.)
7. Your kids see everything. Consider the relationship you’re modeling and the definition of love you’re giving your children. Their future relationships may mirror the good or reflect the bad. What story does your marriage tell your kids?
8. You’ll get jealous. Your ex is going to date and maybe even marry again. And it will hurt. A lot. This is when thoughts of hiring a hitman come in. (Kidding, a little.) Be prepared to go to sleep with that at night. Alone.
9. Figure out if your needs are being met. I’m not talking about food and water. I’m talking about being held. Being taken care of when you’re sick. Are your interests supported? Your basic needs and wants should be respected – maybe not every day, but most days. You shouldn’t continually feel empty and disappointed.
10.If abuse is a factor…This one seems kind of obvious, but it can take some people a really long time to get there. Whether it’s physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse or financial abuse – none of that is okay. And it may take you a decade or two to wrap your head around the fact that it IS abuse, or that you stayed as long as you did. Don’t count the years. It doesn’t matter what you’ve invested. Leave, please, just leave.
11. You have to respect your partner. This should be a foundation of every partnership. Once that’s gone, for whatever reason, nothing else really matters.
12. Supporting yourself can be scary. This is a valid fear, but not a reason to stay. Take a long, hard look at your finances, talk to an attorney, make a budget and get a realistic view of what your life would be like with a single income. Do you owe alimony or will your partner be paying you? You need to steel yourself with facts.
13. People will have strong opinions. This is a difficult emotional hurdle. Depending on your family, religion or culture, there can be tremendous pressure to stay married. But, the people that truly love you should support you. It doesn’t mean they will. And that’s a whole different conversation.
14. Establish priorities. Are you willing to sacrifice your personal fulfillment to keep your family intact? Is keeping your social status with your friends more important than an authentic relationship with your partner? Authenticity was a priority of mine, but it doesn’t mean it has to be yours. Make a list. Figure out what’ s essential to your well-being, and then do it.
15. Sometimes the marriage is salvageable. It can be difficult to know if you’re just going through a bit of a rough patch or facing an eternity of wiping your ass with sandpaper. Take your time. If things ended today, would you be able to sleep at night knowing you did everything you could to save this relationship?
A lot of us don’t have a choice when our marriages end. But, if we do, it’s easy to fantasize about a different life when we aren’t happy. But that fantasy comes with a steep price. Take some time to sit with it all until you’re certain.
Regret is a super shitty soulmate to be married to for life.