This is a hard memory to write about. I fought with my decision to write about it, but after all, if I’m writing about the most influential memories of my life, how can I ignore a major event such as this? It was life-changing to say the least. I want to write this one in a way that not only recaps the memory but also that it might help others in some small way.
Divorce is one of the most challenging of life’s “worst and unexpected” experiences. It was an unforeseen concept that I was not ready to face. However, I was willing to accept the consequences and address them honestly and to the best of my ability so to pursue my dreams and be happy and at ease in my personal life. While I have lived life to the fullest while starting over, there is also the very real fact that my choices have made others unhappy. This is a tough one and why I think so many people simply choose to stay married. It’s the path of least resistance.
1.) You will mourn even if you don’t want to. It is a huge loss even if you wanted the divorce. You have lost your status, identity, image, comfort zone, routines, relationships with in-laws, shared friends, financial stability and often, your home and it’s comforts. The future you envisioned and strived for has ended. It is normal and even healthy to go through the stages of divorce as you would with any other loss. It is indeed, a death…a death of everything that you have lived and have known for a very long time.
2.) When you have children, your ex may still be a part of your life, and you will need to learn to co-parent in a healthy way. You have a responsibility to raise your children keeping their best interests at heart. Children of divorce can still be happy and grounded if things can stay amicable between parents and they are kept out of the line of fire. The same holds true for adult children. There will be graduations, weddings, the birth of grandchildren; many events that both of you will need and want to be involved in. No one should have to feel uncomfortable attending such events. You created these children together and you should both be able to continue to enjoy and partake in all their accomplishments. Remember, your children looked up to and respected you and were accustomed to your constant presence in their lives and being at their beck and call. It will take time for them to come around; in some cases, a very long time, and in very unfortunate cases, maybe never. Until then, understand that your relationship will be one-sided. They may not acknowledge things that you are excited about, they may not call just because they are thinking about you; they may not even respond when you contact them. Don’t push. Be patient, loving and willing to live in a one-sided world for a while. You will feel as if this is your punishment; and maybe it is, but there is nothing more comforting than the unconditional love and acceptance of a parent and they will appreciate that you didn’t give up on them.
3.) Your social life will change. Mutual friends that you shared; even acquaintances, will shift. You will learn who your true friends are and it will surprise you. Some will pick sides while others will choose to stay friends with both of you. You will receive less Christmas cards or invitations to social events. It hurts like hell; I’m not going to lie. This shift in friendships can quickly change your priorities from being the perfect hostess and going to endless social gatherings, to having a low-key social life with those whom you have genuine connections and who stuck by you with a listening ear and an open heart and mind. You will quickly find comfort in this and your friendships will mean so much more. Trust me on this one.
4.) Anger will raise its ugly head in both of you. No matter what the circumstances, there will be some anger, resentments and blame. In the aftermath of divorce, despite how far you’ve each moved on, there will be thoughts and even words about loyalty, wasted time, how good the other person thought they were/are, and my favorite, “you’ve changed, you’re not the person I married”. Of course, you’re not. And you shouldn’t be. Changing means that you’ve grown and there’s nothing wrong with that. Again, divorce is a loss. It doesn’t matter if you’re happy or relieved about that loss. Loss is loss. And part of loss and mourning, is feeling anger. For your own well-being, you must deal with all the stages, and move from anger into acceptance. It may or may not happen overnight but at some point, you will be able to let it go and move on.
5.) People will talk. They will take sides. Nobody knows what goes on in a marriage except the couple themselves and that is that, no one else need get involved and no one else’s opinions matter. A friend once said “there are three sides to every story…his [hers], mine and ours”. How true that is and people need to respect that. Gossip can take a toll on you and it takes a strong self-awareness and confidence to ignore the accusations and judgements and to accept the reality that only you know. You were two people who did the best you could; that’s what you can say and leave it at that. Where other people are concerned, let the chatter be background noise; because that’s all it is.
6.) Your memories will be with your forever. Whether you were married for three years or 30, you spent a significant amount of time together and made a lot of memories with your ex, your children, your families, and your friends. Choose to look at those memories as priceless experiences. I see my years with my ex as a time of learning, family celebrations, milestones, and changes. They are a part of who I am. I am not the same woman I once was; but in a good way. I am the same mother, nurse, and friend, but where I am different is within myself; the way that I think about life, people and situations. I have changed in ways that have contributed to my growth, not my demise. I still have a long way to go, but I am improving who I am every day. Everything that I experienced in my marriage, both good and bad, are what made me who I am today; both in what I have changed and what has remained the same. It is a part of my life that I live without regrets because of the four beautiful children that came from it. Having and raising my kids was my biggest accomplishment during that time and I would not change that for anything.
7.) Family may or may not understand or be supportive. They may judge, blame, point fingers, talk badly about you to your children, other family members, or their circle of friends. It will be humiliating at best, but try to understand that they too are mourning the loss of their family unit as they have known it. Hopefully with time, listening and understanding, they will come to understand and respect your decisions. They may even be unaccepting or intolerant of your new relationship. This will be the toughest part. Be patient and ready to forgive them. Eventually they will miss your company and any family bond you once had. Unfortunately, this can take years; in my case, it is taking many years. I remain hopeful and focus on my life and living it to the fullest. People can be powerful, so do not let them cause you to feel regret or remorse. You are only responsible for your own feelings and reactions; not theirs. I cannot tell you how many people have said this to me over the years…friends with similar experiences, therapists, and even strangers. Holidays and monumental family events are the hardest. You must make new traditions; whether that be with your new spouse, friends or neighbors. I remain hopeful that one day hearts will soften and acceptance will happen.
“There is a big difference between giving up and letting go. Giving up means selling yourself short. It means allowing fear and struggle to limit your opportunities and keep you stuck. Letting go means freeing yourself from something that is no longer serving you. It means removing toxic people and belief systems from your life so that you can make room for relationships and ideas that are conducive to your well-being and happiness. Giving up reduces your life. Letting go expands it. Giving up is imprisoning. Letting go is liberation. Giving up is self-defeat. Letting go is self-care.
So the next time you make the decision to release something or someone that is stifling your happiness and growth, and a person has the audacity to accuse you of giving up or being weak, remind yourself of the difference. Remind yourself that you don’t need anyone’s permission or approval to live your life in the way that feels right. No one has the authority to tell you who to be or how to live. No one gets to decide what your life should look like or who should be a part of it. No one, but you.”
— Daniell Koepke