As my marriage was ending, I struggled with shame, feeling alone in my own personal hell.
However, as my journey continued and I started to heal, I connected with others who had walked a similar path, and I discovered that I was not alone. Many voiced similar feelings experienced during their divorce, and more than once I heard “if only I had known what to expect.”
As homage to those that have split from their spouse, as well as those currently on their own divorce journey, I offer this communal list of what to expect:
1. We will doubt ourselves, and feel so afraid of the Unknown that we will reason that even though we are miserable, we are at least comfortable, and that we can endure an unhappy marriage.
We will try to convince ourselves of this, even though in our hearts we know that it isn’t true. But we will tell ourselves lies and reason with ourselves that we shouldn’t split—for the kids, for the finances, etc. We will bargain with ourselves because we are scared. Know that this is normal.
2. The roller coaster we feel when the decision is made to separate is unlike anything we ever experienced.
The regret, the grief, the pain, the confusion, the overwhelming, the fear, the desperation of wanting to be loved after our spouse is gone.
But even though we don’t know it, there is a weight that will slowly start to ease from our shoulders—the same weight that we denied all this time when we told ourselves nothing was wrong.
3. Our self-esteem may shatter, and we will be desperate for love and validation.
We will think that nobody will ever love or want us again, and we may be tempted to date immediately and latch on to the first person who pays attention to us. We must resist this urge to attach ourselves, even if we have not had that romantic touch or intimacy for a long time. Trying to fill that void with another relationship robs us of the chance to heal.
4. Although we may tell ourselves that we’re fine, we will need a support system.
A therapist, a support group, good friends, or the non-judgmental anonymity of online forums. Whatever combination of systems we choose should help us attain two objectives: creating a safe place for venting, and helping us find constructive, healthy ways to cope with the divorce.
5. We will feel like we are getting sprayed with an industrial fire hose.
The number of “to-do’s” and “should-do’s” regarding emotions, finances, legal issues, custody and other logistics will come with incredible urgency. We will feel paralyzed and overwhelmed.
Understand that splitting is a process. Like any process, there are things to address immediately (safety, shelter, income), things to address a little bit later (understanding legal and custody issues, finding an emotional support system) and there are things to address longer-term (ensuring our separation agreement is something we can live with, making sure we and our children are adjusting). We will need to remind ourselves that divorce is like a marathon and it requires patience and persistence. We must save ourselves the stress by accepting that not everything has to be done right now.
6. We will have no control over our spouse’s behavior.
For serious offenses (threatening harm, cleaning out our savings account or wracking up debt on a joint credit card), we will absolutely need to take action. But there will also be annoyances that may not endanger us, but will anger us. It may seem like they are trying to make our life as miserable as they possibly can, which could result in a long, drawn-out, expensive, soul-sucking divorce—if we let it.
We will need to remember that although we can’t control their behavior, we can control how we react to it. Our decision to take the high road despite how they act is entirely up to us. Like most things during the split, it will be easier said than done.
7. We will be tempted to make decisions based on emotion, rather than logic.
We will forget that divorce is a business transaction––a splitting of assets and incomes. The logical part of us will understand this, but the part of us that is hurt may spend months fighting over things that have nothing to do with business at all. During the legal process, we will be forced to choose our battles. Choose wisely.
We will need to learn when to fight for the things that are rightfully ours, but also when to let other things go. We must learn that nobody wins in divorce. Otherwise, we will find ourselves robbed of years of our life fighting in court, having spent tens of thousands of dollars on legal fees that could have been put to better use in our post-divorce life, and so emotionally distraught that moving on will be extremely difficult.
8. We will find ourselves in new situations that make us uncomfortable.
We may be re-entering the workforce. Our budget may be tight. Our children could have trouble adjusting. If our social life revolved around other married couples, this dynamic may seem miserable. Friends may treat us differently, thinking for some reason our split means that their relationship is in jeopardy.
Understand that we are not alone in these struggles, and that whatever we need––career help, financial advice, counseling, new opportunities for socialization––is out there. We owe it to ourselves to research those resources. We can’t allow any of this discomfort to make us bitter, or drive us into hiding.
9. In our times of despair, we will wallow in self-pity.
We will say to ourselves, “my life was not supposed to be like this.” We will feel ashamed. This is part of the grieving process, and we will need to learn how to balance it all—accepting that our circumstances changed, learning how to deal with them, and learning how to heal and move on. We will need to learn that we are not prisoners to those circumstances, and we have the power to come out of the ordeal as stronger people.
10. We will learn that the split with our spouse has presented us with a choice, and that it is our decision alone how to handle it.
We can choose to look at this split as a trauma from which we will never recover, and to be guided by anger and fear and not knowing what to do, or we can choose the path that takes more work––the path where we ask for assistance, get the support we need, educate ourselves about every aspect of the divorce, and understand that we have the power to get through it all.
The choice is ours.
Author: Martha Bodyfelt
Apprentice Editor: Toby Israel/ Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Wee Lakeo at Flickr