In a prior post, we discussed how two teens who were once jealous of each other became soul sisters twenty years later…
Twenty years ago, walking the halls of a then suburban Pennsylvania high school, no one would have suspected the collision of circumstance that would make Sandy and I writing partners—two girls on opposite ends of the teenage social spectrum…now, years later we’ve reconnected and bonded—over bad breakups.
Sandy & Joan:
While sharing our stories with each other, we recognized that we were each following certain guiding principles that kept us moving forward, even as we were breaking down.
We want to share this with other women as they may see some of themselves in us. Maybe there is something here on our list that you as a woman can take on to empower yourself and move forward from a breakup that left you hurt, heartbroken, and powerless.
Welcome to our aggregate knowledge.
In terms of evaluating how I was healing from my gut-wrenching breakup, I took a hard look to see what I was doing and who I was being that was leaving me in a place of fulfillment and happiness. Here is what I saw:
1. Build a sisterhood.
If you want to feel good, supported and encouraged with regards to your sense of self, your life, and your purpose, align yourself with women friends you love and admire.
I’m extremely lucky in this department. When I take a look at the women I have in my life, I am genuinely moved. They run the spectrum from single, married, married with kids, single with no kids, young, fully expressed. What they all have in common is this: they are loving, kind, beautiful, supportive and inspire me in different ways.
In the past, when I was in despair, all I could see was what my women friends had that I did not.
I built a wall around myself that kept me in and them out.
No matter how these women wanted to support and love me, my envy got in the way.
Now when I look at these same women, I see that some of them do have things in their lives I myself would like to have. But rather than envy them for that, I let them inspire me. I look at what they did to get those things. Who were they being in the world when they achieved them? How did they define what they wanted and then go after it? Was it deliberate or effortless? Could I take the same path?
Once I chose to look at other women from a place of love rather than jealousy, I saw how wonderful they really were. I allowed them in—really in—to love and support me when I needed it most. I also allowed myself to be vulnerable with them, to let them see me at my worst. What I got from that is that who they have been for me is who I want to be for them. I had unknowingly built myself a sisterhood.
2. Write down what you are feeling.
There were many times during the shattered period after the breakup when I felt utterly alone. I felt like no one could possibly understand me. I feared that if I shared how I was really feeling, the world would judge me—and the last thing I needed was to be judged.
Up until this point, I had never written anything in my life, other than the papers I was forced to write in college.
To be honest, I hated it.
So I bought myself a marble notebook and began to write. Sometimes I wrote what I was feeling. Other times I wrote phrases that just flew out of my head onto the paper. And some of those little phrases actually sounded pretty good. They sounded powerful. Inspiring. So powerful and inspiring, in fact, I couldn’t believe it was me who was writing them!
I decided to be bold and share some of them on Facebook and Twitter. People began to respond, and actually identified with what I was writing. I began to see that other people felt exactly the same way I was.
It may not have been in the same moment, but at some point in their lives they had felt the same way as me, which made me feel infinitely more connected; I wasn’t alone.
What came next is still a bit of a shock to me and probably one of my proudest moments: I shared with my friend that I felt I had a story to share—my story. I also said I felt like I couldn’t do it. I was never able to write before, so why would I be able to now?
And what did this brilliant woman say to me?
“You can do anything!”
I had never thought that before.
I shared my idea with her and she asked me to write it out.
I did, and about 45 minutes later, what appeared in front of me was beautiful. It was my words, my story, and my freedom.
I immediately sent it to her. She loved it. She did a bit of editing for me and then, to my shock, she submitted it to The Huffington Post.
Exactly a week and a day after I thought I couldn’t do it, my piece was published in The Huffington Post! This was my miracle.
You may or may not ever see your words in print for everyone to see, but there is a lot of healing that takes places when you write your feelings down.
3. Embrace your inner sassy.
Every woman is different, and being sassy will mean different things to different women. But all of us have an inner sassy that is both sacred and important. It is something that needs to be cultivated and encouraged.
Take a moment and think about something you like to do, that makes you feel good. It may be something you used to do that you stopped for some reason. It may be something you’ve always wanted to do and never have. Whatever it is, embrace it and then go do it.
What being sassy meant for me was this: I wanted to feel attractive again. I wanted to feel a man kiss me and feel a man’s embrace. I knew in my heart I wasn’t ready for a committed relationship, but I still wanted connection in the moment.
So I went after it. I told people I was looking for Spartan sex (you know, the kind where he throws you over his shoulder), and then it showed up!
I found a man I am now happy to call a friend, who wanted the same things from a woman as I wanted from a man, but who also didn’t want a relationship. In fact, I guess I would say we had a wild affair together! (No, he’s not married). I found a man who I trust to tell me whatever he’s feeling, whether I deem it good or bad—and with whom I can do the same.
We have created a safe haven where both of us can share how we actually feel, not how we’re “supposed” to feel. We talk a lot. In fact, we talk for hours on end. I love this about us. He makes me laugh, allows me to be me, challenges me, and kisses like a dream. I have a man that I have amazing sex with as well as have the honor of calling my friend.
I know this won’t last forever, but for now this relationship is exactly what I need. For now, it fulfills me.
4. Do at least one thing that scares you.
As children, we believed we could do anything. There was nothing we couldn’t do, and nothing in the world could stop us. What happened? What changed that those things we once thought we could do, now we no longer believe are possible?
Nothing happened. Pick one of those and go for it.
I went big on this one. I have always wanted to fly. As a child, flying meant tying on my cape (which was actually my favorite blanket) and flying like a superhero. As I got older, I grasped that flying with my cape on was not possible. But what was possible was flying a plane. I began telling others this was something I wanted to do for myself. And lo and behold, I have a friend who has flown planes for the Navy for over 20 years. He offered to take me.
Here’s the kicker: I’m scared of heights.
Once I really understood that I was going to be flying a plane, I got confronted by the fact that I was going to have to face my fear of heights. I took a deep breath, let my fear go, and got in the pilot’s seat. Then I flew a plane, with my friend right by my side, instructing me.
In one day, a dream came true and one of my fears was conquered.
5. Take a vacation.
It doesn’t matter whether you do it with good friends or you take one alone. Do yourself a favor and get out of your everyday environment. All you’re going to do is find something to remind you of your ex. Give yourself a break for a few days and get out of town.
For Christmas, I had purchased a vacation to Mexico for my ex and myself. We were going to get our scuba licenses together.
Three months later, I found myself on a plane, alone and scared.
I decided to be bold and do something I’d never dared before: take a six day trip by myself, not knowing a single person.
As I checked into my romantic suite overlooking the ocean, I got present to the fact that I was all alone. I dropped to the floor and cried. I mourned what was supposed to be my present and my future. I cried for over an hour.
Then I picked myself up off of the floor and walked back out to the balcony, reminding myself I was at a beach with crystal blue waters. This was what I considered paradise—I needed to pull myself together.
What followed were six days of incredible ups and downs. The ups included getting my scuba license, something I’ve wanted for a long time now. Even more impressively, I did it alone. I also took a group tour of the Mayan ruins at Tulum and Xel Ha. In fact, I was so taken by Tulum and the beach beneath it, that I was left behind by the tour bus! What could have been what I considered a tragedy became a triumph for me. In the past, I would have relied on my ex to figure out how to get me to the next destination. But he was nowhere to be found. The only one getting me to Xel Ha was me, and I did it.
I spent much of the rest of the vacation sunning, swimming, reading and writing in peace.
It was the first bit of peace I had allowed myself in a long time.
What adventure or healing is in store for you?
Forgiving is not something I like to do.
In fact, I like to make others feel bad for how they hurt me. I become their victim, telling a great story of how they wronged me. I will tell someone that I forgive them but deep down I know I don’t really mean it. I also have a bad habit of punishing myself.
God forbid I forgive myself and give myself a break when I make a mistake or a bad decision.
However, I was clear after this breakup that I wanted to heal and do things different—I wanted to grow up.
Growing up meant forgiveness. I had to really look at everything I was mad at with my ex, every grudge I was holding, and choose to let it go.
He was not the only one who had moments of bad behavior. I also did. I had to let those go as well.
What did being hurt, angry and a victim get me?
I can tell you: it allowed me to stay in the past. It allowed me to wallow in a relationship that no longer existed. It allowed me to believe that people felt bad for me. It allowed me to have an excuse not to do things.
It also left me with little or no power. And that was unacceptable.
I’m a grown woman and I want to live my life as one.
As I reflected more on the entire situation, I realized that in truth, my ex would probably take back all the mistakes he made just as quickly as I would take back my own. I sat with that for a few days. Then, slowly, painfully, I forgave both him and myself.
I began to look at what we both did well—as individuals and as a couple. What did he teach me that I wanted to take into my next relationship? Who was I when I was with him,that left me proud of myself? What gifts did we give to each other that we’d never given to anyone else before?
When I allowed myself to look at the relationship from that perspective, it was easier to forgive us both. I felt free. I became more present, which took me to where I am today: living happy, living bold, doing things I’ve always wanted to do with my life.
So to my ex I say, I forgive you for everything I ever blamed you for. I thank you for every moment you loved me and taught me to be the loving woman I am today. I know you loved me the best way you knew how, and I thank you for that. In my heart I now know we just weren’t meant to work out.
As for me, Sandy Rosenblatt, I forgive myself. I will no longer beat myself up when I don’t get it right or I make a mistake. Beating myself up allows me to be a person I’m not interested in being anymore. I forgive myself, I let go of my past, and I leap into my future. Sandy is now a woman who is strong, inspiring, empowering, loving and full of life.
I wish the same for you.
My list is similar to Sandy’s in some ways, and different, too. You’ll notice the overlap, but also the places where we complement each other, where we diverge to create a larger tapestry with many parts. To me, that is part of the beauty of our friendship. We have a lot in common, and at the same time we’re able to surprise each other with what we have to add to each other’s lives.
Here are my six essentials to surviving the storm of a marriage falling apart:
1. Get out of your comfort zone.
When your marriage or relationship falls apart, you are thrust into a world of change. You may not have imagined any of it. You may be ill prepared.
But don’t let unplanned change conquer you—embrace it fully. Go after manageable change first, to build your personal confidence in the uncharted road ahead. Run a 5K, take a class, go on a vacation with your kids, talk to the guy at Barnes & Noble or simply smile at the checkout line clerk.
It starts with small things.
My kids are still young enough that I don’t totally embarrass them, so when my girls asked me to do the “Texas Dance” for their classmates, I did. An absolutely silly dance with flailing arms and legs, the Texas Dance was small, but meaningful. The kids and I had made it up (we’re trying to create a dance for each of the 50 states now), and doing it for both the kids and the teachers was freeing. And wouldn’t you know that every time I was back in those classrooms this year, I was asked to do the dance again?
Whatever people expect of you, try something different. Have fun! Don’t take your life so seriously. Find simple joy in a place you once would have been uncomfortable.
Divorce does not need to define you. I invite you to break free!
2. Frame your kid’s artwork or poetry and rearrange furniture.
Take your life back by putting your personal stamp on your space. Highlight the love you have for your children. Anyone in a relationship with you after this one needs to immediately see the priorities in your life, most importantly your children. Someone worthy of your time and love will see those children as an extension of you, thus a bonus.
When someone mentions baggage or says they wish they’d met you years earlier, know he’s not the right one, smile and move on. Remember, there are plenty of “B” words to describe your children: bonus, blessings, beautiful…not baggage!
You are the master of your fate—so don’t settle, try to convince yourself otherwise, or make excuses.
3. Tell the truth!
When a marriage ends, there are plenty of reasons, but there is only one truth.
Accept only what is truly your responsibility. For me, it was that I made excuses for him treating me so poorly. I was strongly motivated to not see the truth because I thought I was protecting my children. What a huge mistake.
I wasn’t protecting them, I was unknowingly aligning myself with behavior unbecoming of a healthy marriage, which set a bad example for my kids. Children often see the truth before us adults because they haven’t spent years building up walls. The truth is, I deserve someone who will honor me, be loyal to me, have my back (even though I can take care of myself) and love the strong woman I am without feeling inadequate or insecure.
Don’t align yourself with lies—your own or your spouse’s. This robs you of your power. Instead, face the reality that the relationship is not what you hoped it could have been or falsely believed it was. Your truth is inside you: look straight at it and it will empower you. (That is, after you want to slap yourself in the face and cry.) Ask trusted friends to be brutally honest. See a therapist. Grab a glass of wine and make a list of your individual truths. Gain insight so you don’t repeat your own patterns in your next relationship.
4. Choose happiness.
Do not facilitate or exacerbate the negativity. He will put out lies and misconceptions about you to justify his bad behavior—maybe not even on purpose, but because it’s the only way he knows to protect his ego. You can and will feel angry, but keep those feelings to a few special confidantes or a dartboard in the basement. Prove to yourself that you can and will move on. You have little choice, given that the emotional health of your children depends on you.
This process may start small, such as simply not answering a text until you have 24 hours to consider your response. Ask yourself what the pattern is in your marriage and break the cycle by choosing something different. Choose happiness! Take every attempt by your spouse to break you down as an opportunity to succeed. Prove to yourself you are powerful.
Try not sending that text, or for once, remain silent. I went for an entire month without speaking to my spouse. I chose myself and my happiness for the first time in over a decade. That time helped me gain clarity, acceptance, and started my path forward. It is success in the face of personal chaos that is the greatest reward and thus the sweetest revenge. Misery loves company.
Don’t lower yourself into the trenches of despair. Don’t allow circumstance to force you into the negative stereotype of the bitter divorced woman—then he won. Be different: be the breath of fresh air.
5. Sell your rings.
Sell your rings, and with the money, be selfish and decide what will bring you personal joy.
What do you want to gain to help with your own personal closure? You may not get the closure you want from your spouse or the court system.
Try starting your own retirement fund, buy a piece of jewelry with your children’s birthstones, donate the money to your favorite charity or purchase “thank you” gifts for the people who helped you the most.
Listen, I met my husband when I was 16. It was a classic fairytale story. I now laugh at the fact I believed it—take it from me, there’s truth to, “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is!”
At the time it happened, we had three amazing kids, two homes, and an amazing family and group of friends.
Then he just up and left—moving 600 miles away without even saying he was sorry.
I kept laughing at his lies, protecting myself and the kids, and looking to special people in my life for support. I felt empowered when I cracked a joke at the insanity of my personal life (I’ve got some killer one-liners). People’s unexpected responses to my humor encouraged me to continue down this path.
Let’s face it—no matter how wonderful our friends and family are, the tolerance needed to handle sustained emotional upheaval and drama is very difficult. So, I ended up wanting to see them laugh again. Making people laugh with me gave me a window into what life would be like once this was all over.
Then all of a sudden, laughs and good times were my life again. I had taken my life back…and I’m still not divorced!
I never gave my spouse the power to destroy me, but it wasn’t easy. You can’t control people, even when their bad choices impact the little people you love the most. All I could do was control my reaction to every situation. I wasn’t always gracious—after all, I have a fiery edge and am protective of my kids.
Over and over, I had to ask myself: What is the worst thing that could happen in this divorce? It was that I could lose myself.
So I made sure to hang onto my sense of self. I never compromised my morals or values. I remain intact. I was in control of me and I refused to let anyone steal my soul or eat away at my identity. I couldn’t be bought off or manipulated. I know exactly who I am: a mother, a woman known to laugh and be positive, a fiercely loyal friend with unbreakable family bonds deeply rooted in love and laughter. So despite my divorce still not being finalized, I have already won.
If all else fails, get it in “old school” style. Roll down the windows of your car, pump up the volume, and rock out to your favorite divorce anthem! Try “Straightjacket” or “Guardian” by Alanis Morissette, “Dog Days are Over” by Florence and the Machine, “Undo It” by Carrie Underwood, or “God Gave Me You” by Blake Sheldon. You may think you look ridiculous in that minivan of yours, but that’s not true. You look strong. You look laughable (in a good way). You look fun. You look like you know that you are your biggest asset, your best friend, and your most loyal companion.
And you’ve got all your sisters with you.
Sandy & Joan
Sandy Rosenblatt graduated from Pennsylvania State University with a degree in health and human development (family studies) and a minor in women studies. She also serves as Executive Director of an assisted living home, overseeing care and treatment for people suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia. Sandy is an adventure junkie with a soft-but no-nonsense coaching style, who drives her students to improve themselves even when their own insecurities are holding them back. When coaching, she applies “a strong hand in a velvet glove.”
Joan Natoli holds an undergraduate degree from the University of Maryland in psychology with a minor in women’s studies and a Master’s Degree in Psychology from Loyola in Baltimore, Maryland. She is a mother of three amazing kids, and an active community volunteer, who is entering a new phase of life as a single woman. She loves the beach, working out, having fun with loved ones and laughing her way through life.
Editor: April Dawn Ricchuito
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