June 13th, 2014 is a day I will never forget. It was the day I asked my husband of 16 years to leave. I remember the surreal moment, thinking to myself, “this is the day I will consider as my marriage being ‘officially’ over.”
I am a planner by nature. Graduate school, check. Grocery shopping, check. Drop off kids, check. The night I asked my ex to leave, I didn’t have a plan. As a matter of fact, the past four months can be summed up by minimal planning and maximum taking things day-by-day. This causes me great anxiety, yet I realize this is the only way to handle the overwhelming process called divorce.
These are some things I have learned so far about divorce:
1. You can’t rush the process of changed, new and ending of relationships. You didn’t build these relationships overnight, and they won’t change overnight. Even though there has been a decision to divorce, it really doesn’t just end…no matter how much you want it to (see this great chart and article about the process.) Relationships are complex. When children are involved, they are even more complex. For example, I have relationships with each child, my ex, and both of the children together. Plus the kids now have to establish new relationships with each parent and each other. It is complicated because the relationships we thought we had are not what we thought they were (or will be). We simply can’t rely on the relationships that we once had because of this whole “divorce thing.” When it comes to relationships outside of the immediate family, well, those are extremely difficult to navigate during a divorce as well. Because these relationships are in the midst of trauma, they often are exhausting to work through. The process of establishing new relationships with both your ex, your shared friends, your children all become challenging and exhausting. Let time work them out and remind yourself to be patient. Trust that you will know who the “right” people are for your life right now. They may be different people than you expected, and that’s oaky.
2. Getting married is a birth; divorce is a death. When a couple gets married, it is a shared birth. They are creating a new life together along with dreams and aspirations for their future. When a couple gets divorced, it is an isolated death. Marriage equals the birth of a new life, new dreams and new ideas, and in many cases a marriage often brings about the birth of children. While children are a joy to marriage, they are a source of great worry in divorce. The death of your marriage is especially difficult because you can’t turn to the person you relied on to support you through times of struggle. Death takes time to heal so does the process of divorce. Let yourself feel the loss, pain, anger and emotions that come with it. You gave yourself time to develop your marriage, you owe yourself the same time to process through your divorce.
3. Every divorce is different, but having others to support you is one way to start healing. Sometimes you just want to cry. Sometimes you just want someone who will listen. Sometimes you want to talk to someone else who understands because they have been or are going through it. Your old friends may not be available for you emotionally. Your old friends may now be your ex’s friends. You might not want to put your old friends or worse — your shared friends — in the middle of your divorce. Other people want to support you if you let them, but it takes time to figure out who the “right” people are. You may find that you will receive the most support from the people you least expect. You may find that new friends become the best friends. And if you have a family like mine, you will realize that your parents and siblings will do anything for you. Anything. You also should highly consider a therapist. Going through this process with the little amount of sanity I currently have would not be possible if it were not for my therapist who listens, asks thoughtful questions, and doesn’t judge. Allowing others the help you through divorce is not weakness, it is taking steps toward healing. You owe it to yourself to allow people to support you.
4. Others want to help you; you should let them. When I was married, I didn’t share the difficulties and struggles I was facing in my marriage. I felt like my problems were mine (ours) and the solutions were mine (ours). I thought my kids struggles were mine (ours) to solve and my kids were mine alone to protect. I have realized that I can’t be the only one. That I have to rely on others to help me. That I have to ask others for help because they can’t read my mind. Divorce is too big and too hard for me to get through it by myself. Raising my children with the help of those who love me and love my kids is good for all of us. I need my parents right now. Thank God they are strong, stable and willing to do just about anything to help me. I am too fragile. I am too unstable. I am too confused. While I have always considered myself a strong, independent person, divorce has made me realize that I am only as strong as my ability to ask for help when I need it. I also have to allow others to help me even when I think I don’t need it. It is humbling, but it is the right thing to do. Let others help you, and you will find that the world will open up healing you didn’t think possible for you.
5. You will feel alone. When you get married, you are filled with people who want to celebrate your happiness with you. They throw you showers, buy you gifts, and dance all night long at your wedding. When you get divorced, you feel isolated. People don’t call, don’t talk about it, and don’t know what to say. A few week’s ago, I drove to the mediator’s office crying. I passed by all of the places where my ex and I shared our life: the first home, the hospital where our first child was born, the favorite restaurants we frequented. During that car ride, I felt like I was going to this “alter” all by myself. There was no one coming to support me in that moment as I traveled down that “aisle” to take the long walk into the mediator’s office. There was no one that could do this for me. Sometimes, it is really lonely feeling alone.
For me, in order to work through divorce and begin the healing is to help others by opening up and sharing some of the learning I am going through. I am currently working through this process, and for now, this is the best I can do.