Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

Lessons From Divorce

No one gets married planning to get divorced one day, but it happens — to lots of us — and it’s good to know that, as horrible as divorce can be, there’s life and happiness on the other side. Below, nine women share some lessons they learned from their divorces and advice they have for those going through one.

It’s Okay to Divorce a Good Person

“I was divorced in September after a 14-year marriage and 18-year relationship. I learned that it’s not admirable to stay with someone in an unhappy marriage simply because your spouse is a good person. It’s okay to get divorced even if your spouse isn’t abusive or bad. I learned that going through a divorce shows you who your true friends are – the ones who will tell you their own divorce stories and/or offer support. Others will come out of the woodwork like rubberneckers at the scene of a car accident just to hear the gory details.

The pain and overall sense of failure can be get-wrenching at times. There were days I didn’t think I could get out of bed. I am still bitter and hurt, but every day I learn to let go of the past and look forward to the future a little bit more.” — Samantha W.

Focus on the Possibility of Better

“The ‘pre’ side of divorce is incredibly scary because you’re jumping into a black hole of unknown outcomes. It’s like you shake the Magic 8 ball and you get “Better not tell you now.” And truly, it’s better not to dwell on the hardship and loss that will be experienced during the divorce. What you should focus on, however, is the possibility of better. It won’t happen right away, it won’t happen within a few months, but at some point when you feel like you can experience joy and happiness again you’ll be able to say, “It’s going to be OK. I’M OKAY!?”

For that ‘during’ period, find yourself a good therapist, and if you need to see them twice a week to function, so be it. Have an accountability partner or friend to get you out of the house, eating, etc. I ended up living with a good friend of mine for a few months until I could be on my own.

I still have flashback moments, but instead of being debilitating, they’re such an obvious reminder that it was the right decision. If I hadn’t gone through the divorce and taken the steps to get better (therapy, learning to love and live with myself, forgiving myself, not putting so much weight into what ‘everyone will think’), I wouldn’t have the sense of satisfaction and peace I have now. I’m able to love fully, truly and experience a life better than what I imagined.” — MaterialsGirl

Protect Yourself

“No matter how much the person claims to love and adore you, when facing a divorce their true colors come out and even the nicest person can turn into a horribly mean and vindictive person. Lesson I learned? Protect yourself from day one of your decision to divorce, even if your spouse doesn’t know it yet. Leave paper trails; don’t trust your spouse’s word. Don’t assume they won’t do something to hurt you, because they very well could, and if your guard is down, that’s when they will strike.” — The Doting Wife

Lose Yourself In Books

“Even if it was amicable and you were young and had no kids, you’re going to feel all kinds of swirling emotions and probably feel unmoored. One thing that helped me was getting into a series of fictional books – Clan of The Cave Bear and the sequels – and just immersing myself in them while commuting, before bed, and during any downtime, to keep my mind occupied. This was before smartphones, but I think even in this age of smartphones it would be a lot better and healthier to lose yourself in books than in your phone if that makes sense. I also spent a lot of time with family and with friends so that I didn’t feel too lonely and isolated.” — Kate

Don’t Let Your Spouse’s Addiction Ruin You

“If your spouse has a serious problem with drugs or alcohol that you see relatively early in the marriage, don’t spend much time trying to fix it. Get out. Sure, try to get them to get help, but if it comes to job loss and other damage and they’re not doing anything but making empty promises, just leave. You’re not a bad person because you couldn’t cure their disease. Move on before it ruins you too.” — Jen

The Worst Thing Has Happened

“A year after we got married (five years together total), my husband left me one day while I was at work — literally packed up his stuff and then called me when I was on my way home to say he was leaving me, and I never saw him again. (We essentially divorced through the mail after he relocated to another state.) We’d never discussed separating, and, though things weren’t perfect, we definitely were not in a bad place.

I ran into a mutual friend a few months after my ex-husband left (when I was still in the burst-into-tears phase, which I did to this man while in the produce section), and the friend said something that at the time hurt my feelings but ended up being the best thing I heard from anyone. He said: ‘Well, the worst thing has happened.’

There are many terrible things to go through in life – death of loved ones, illness, trauma — but what I learned about divorce is that I can survive almost anything. Going through the pain of divorce makes you so much braver face the unknown.” — Elizabeth A.

Revise The Narrative of Your Life

“Just because you get divorced does’t necessarily mean you “failed at marriage” or “picked the wrong person.” Sometimes it’s because the relationship ran its course and wasn’t meant to be a forever partnership. Or it just ran out of gas. Or you changed too much as people and couldn’t relate to the new versions of each other (e.g. my uncle and his ex-wife, when she became a born-again Christian who insisted they both practice HER religion while he wanted to stay a semi-observant Jew).

There is a lot of shame from society and pressure to live up to the “til death do us part,” which is unrealistic. – People are human and they change, they make mistakes, or circumstances get in the way. No one is thinking about divorce when they get married – they WANT it to work. But sometimes shit happens and you just have to take it in stride and revise the narrative of your life.” — TheOtherOtherMe

Titles May Change, But Connections Are For Life

“I was very fortunate to have a super amicable divorce. Throughout the entire process the only thing we actually ended up at odds about was who was going to end up with our beloved Pampered Chef pizza stone. And that wasn’t even a fight. It was more of a: No you have it. No really, YOU take it. No no no no no, you bake the most, I insist. It got to the point of our actually considering a joint custody situation, which, once we realized, WAIT, ARE WE ARE TALKING ABOUT VISITATION RIGHTS WITH A PIZZA STONE?? we couldn’t stop laughing about.

But it was in that moment that I learned a really important thing: that we were going to be okay! Because even though getting divorced felt like such a big, scary thing, our sitting in our kitchen laughing about a pizza stone reminded me that, though relationship titles may change, connections are for life. And for us, redefining our relationship was what we needed to keep our connection healthy and strong. And now, ten years later, we still laugh really hard about that stone (which I got by the way, because he’s nice like that). But more importantly, we are still best friends.” — Katy

It’s No Longer Your Problem

“During my marriage I did the majority of the emotional labor and covered most of the finances (I was married to a professional student). When I left my husband, and even in the years following, people would ask me about his ability to manage on his own (paperwork, deadlines etc.), or even how he would afford child support. I learned the best four words that have continued to help me when I get into a brain loop about something he’s doing: “It’s not my problem.” — I’ve Moved On

Thoughts? Have you been through a divorce? Would you add anything to this list?

You Also Might Like:

Your Turn: “I Have a Lot of Baggage From My Divorce”

“My Boyfriend Can’t Handle My Divorce”

20 Tips for Surviving a Breakup

4 comments… add one
  • Anonymous May 15, 2018, 12:16 pm

    This advice is so interesting. I wrote one of the stories told here, and some of the advice here is super spot on and others seem so specific to each person.

    Like the one about books! That is fascinating to me, since I literally could not read a book for at least a year. I couldn’t take all the silence. It left my mind too much time to wander back to everything that happened. I basically had to watch TV at any point I was home, up until falling asleep and if I woke up in the middle of the night, which I did for a year, I would watch more TV to fall asleep. Anything light! Friends reruns, Parks and Rec, and The New Girl (which is actually the perfect breakup/divorce show).

    I used to think I was going to rot my brain, but just do anything you can to make it through. Your mind is already in such pain, just make it happy.

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    • Kate May 15, 2018, 12:28 pm

      Yeah, I was never a TV person, so for me it was books, to lose myself and shut my mind off. Whatever works, as long as it’s not drugs or booze.

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  • london May 15, 2018, 12:41 pm

    I think people often wonder if they are doing the right thing to get divorced. In my experience, and my friends’ that have gone through it-you realise afterward, that the marriage, your ex’s behavior, your unhappiness etc. was much worse then you even understood at the time. Then you will know you did right and life will be better! We can’t always see how bad something truly is,until we are away from the situation.

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    Bittergaymark December 13, 2018, 4:04 pm

    The women in this piece have great refreshing takes on divorce. Solid read — filled with even better suggestions. PS: The pizza stone non-fight was simply hilarious.

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