Getting divorced is never part of the life plan.
Could you imagine? “When I grow up, I’ll meet a great man who will be my husband! We’ll live an okay life until things aren’t okay anymore and then we get a divorce and share custody of our dog!”
As Steve and I are in the midst of wedding planning, I’ve caught myself a few times with surprise when I say casually, “yeah, it’s the second wedding for both of us.” Being a divorcee was never a super en vogue thing, yet it’s so common.
I’ve jokingly told people: “divorce is the best thing that ever happened to me!” It was originally said tongue-in-cheek, but it does feel true in many ways. The divorce was unexpected and shocking, and looking back now – going on 4 years later – I am so grateful for it. I know in the beginning it was comforting to see other people who thrived after divorce. I thought I’d share my lessons learned.
Before I begin:
- As much as Steve (my fiancé) would love this to be a post about how he is the reason my life is so much better now, he’d be wrong. For as great as he is (and considering I said I’d never get married again, he has to be pretty phenomenal), the lessons I want to share were all done in the lead up to this moment.
- This is in no way an ex-bashing post.
- I’m not promoting divorce. The pain of divorce isn’t something I’d wish on my worst enemy, but sometimes it’s necessary. And sometimes, you don't have a choice.
- Everyone has a different timeline for healing, and every divorcee has their own challenges and triumphs in the years following. This is simply my experience.
5 Lessons Learned (or Reinforced) After Divorce:
Divorce Lesson 1: I learned to rely on myself.
I got married when I was 26, and while that seems like a totally normal age for marriage, I dated him since I was 20. I never had to really stand entirely on my own as an adult. I was of independent mind, sure. But for all of my adult life, I co-existed with someone. I never had to be alone, there was financial backup, and someone to help make decisions when a tree fell down in the yard or the dishwasher broke. The relationship was a safety net.
Many people may have this type of safety net with family, but that wasn’t my situation. I’m not close to my family, and would never ask for anything from them – emotional or financial support. The feeling of loneliness post-separation was something I had to face head-on. I threw myself into tightening up my finances, focusing on my business, and begrudgingly adulting by myself. When a major storm meant multiple leaks in my roof and chimney, it was majorly stressful, but I handled it on my own. At the time, it felt like a wet reminder from the Universe of “hey, you got this!”
Divorce Lesson 2: I reinforced my support systems.
While doing everything on your own is fine and dandy, getting divorced also reminded me of how alone I was. I spent a lot of time with my dog, bottles of wine, and Melissa McCarthy on DVD (I may be the only person in the country who found solace in “Tammy” on repeat.) I needed human interaction! Getting divorced forced me to pump up my support system, big time. No husband for support, and no family to lean on – it was time to amp up my friendships. I prioritized time with those who offered it, and I pushed myself out to form better relationships with some acquaintances from the Junior League. Those friendships are now stronger than ever, and I do think part of it is because I didn’t have the ability at the time to hide how much of a hot mess I could be. If you can find friendship with people while you’re at your worst, it makes it even stronger when you’re at your best.
On the flip side, there were some people who seemed to disappear with the divorce news. I get it: it’s a tricky topic to navigate and sometimes you don’t know where to help. In this regard, it still was helpful because I was able to prune some relationships that might not have been as strong as I thought to encourage new growth.
Divorce Lesson 3: I demanded more from myself.
I got stronger when I realized I could rely on myself. Little by little, the confidence started to grow and I became a better advocate for my business and myself. I increased my rates for some of my work, grew my business, created more content for the blog, and started to realize that asking for what you think your work is worth is an important part of self-care. I went a little bit in the workaholic direction, but that’s always been a tendency so some course-correction had to occur. There was power in realizing that if I wanted something to happen, I and I alone needed to do it.
Divorce Lesson 4: I demanded more from a potential partner.
Dating after divorce didn’t come until about a year later, as I really needed to process things before trying to find another relationship. Being alone was incredibly valuable in dissecting what I had in a marriage versus what I wanted from dating. That “gap year” made it clear as to what I missed in a partner and what didn’t mesh too well in the past. While I never went into dating as an automatic “new husband finder” (as mentioned, I didn’t think I wanted to get married again), I knew I didn’t want to spend too much time with people who had some of the most polarizing traits from my marriage. I also knew that if anything got serious, they better be damn amazing because my single life was looking pretty good! My business was strong, single routine of chores was in place, and not having to think about what my partner was up to before making plans was freeing. If someone seriously got close to infiltrating my life by way of a relationship, they needed to show up in ways that made me feel valued and appreciated – not just by words, but in actions and gestures. They had to mesh well with my friends, and make an effort to understand my work and passions. For someone to enter my single bubble, they had to be pretty damn awesome, because the bubble was nice, safe, established, and comfortable.
Divorce Lesson 5: I learned how to be a better partner.
After the initial shock of infidelity, my divorce forced me to come to terms with the deficiencies I had as a partner. My ex shared many of these with me during the divorce process. It was really painful, but with time and space, I could see some of the things that weren’t ideal for him either. I asked for a lot of little things like chores, picking things up, etc. I wouldn’t stop working when he got home. We had divergent social needs and circles. My spending made him nervous (He said I spent too much; I thought he was too frugal – it never meshed). All of these things and more were of heightened awareness in my new, serious relationship. I do a temperature check with Steve pretty regularly on these things. Both being divorced, we are aware of our “baggage,” triggers, and mistakes of relationships past. And guess what? While I still have to work on some things (like stopping work for a bit when he comes home from work), most of the issues from my ex aren’t present because Steve's a much different partner and we’re in different parts of our lives than I was with my ex-husband. Still, the feedback from the past is a very helpful lens to look through while keeping an eye on the future.
If you have been reading since the time of my divorce (or even before!) – thank you. I received so much emotional support and encouragement from people near and far. People shared their own stories, had kind words, and even seethed with me a bit during the raw anger phase. Years later, I still appreciate the kindness.
If you’re new here, or want to slog through the divorce archives:
- November 2014: “How do you say goodbye to someone you never thought you could live without?” Divorce announcement
- November 2014: “As much as I hate to admit it, I spent a lot of time the past couple of months crying on the bathroom floor. Or my office floor. Or my living room floor. Or my bedroom floor. Any floor, really.” Picking myself up off the floor.
- December 2014: Feeling really unrooted.
- January 2015: Still feeling the suck.
- March 2015: Starting to realize I am enough.
- April 2015: Starting to think about dating, and all the fun body image stuff that comes with it.
- November 2015: 1 year later, and lessons learned