Divorce in 2022. What a ride.
As many of you know, 2022 has not been my year. In addition to many health issues, I finalized a divorce earlier this year. Since then, I have spoken with many of my friends as they worked through divorces. I have found several themes among them: their situation was genuinely irretrievably broken, but despite that, they felt guilt and shame for leaving what was already a broken relationship. So, my purpose today, as my situation is finally stabilizing, is to let you know that you shouldn’t feel ashamed, it does get better, and you deserve to heal.
The holidays are a wonderful time for many, but for those in a marriage that is gasping its last breath, this is not the most wonderful time of year.
Maybe you have considered divorce several times in the past, but obligations have pressured you into staying. Maybe you’ve choked down neglect or abuse for too long and your spouse refusing to defend you against their mother was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Maybe you’ve already asked for the divorce, but you’re putting on a show for the kids to give them the illusion of one last family holiday before you tell them.
Regardless of your situation, you have my empathy; divorce is a painful process, even when it could be titled “amicable.” While many would blame life after COVID for divorces in 2023, I also see it as the generation whose parents “stayed together for the kids” finally hitting a time in their life where the fairytale is over and they have to start making hard decisions. This generation grew up watching their Boomer parents passive-aggressively snipe at each other over the dinner table, refusing to let divorce stigmatize them in social situations and inflicting more harm than good as they tried to maintain their idolized Nuclear Family.
Our generation gets labeled entitled and spoiled, but we are also more aware of the importance of our mental health. Years of tearing down the social stigma of mental health have made a generation willing to consider what fulfills them and when to walk away from toxic situations. Unfortunately, for many of us, our own marriages are what is toxic and we make the heartbreaking decision to prioritize our own mental, physical, and emotional health over a partner who is no longer willing or able to meet our needs.
“But that’s so selfish!” you cry. “What about your children/family?” And you make a great point. What about those in our inner circle? Our children, especially?
The Fallacy of Good or Bad Choices
I think there is a culturally accepted idea that all choices have a “good” and ”bad” answer. That, somehow, a spouse considering divorce should be able to weigh the available options and make a perfect choice that ensures everyone (spouse, children, self) is happy. But that idea is as much a fairytale as the idea of a perfect marriage that requires no work.
In the real world, sometimes the choices are “least bad or destructive,” “slightly more bad and destructive,” or “my divorce lawyer will hate constantly talking me off the proverbial ledge.” No one really “wins” in a divorce. Feelings are hurt, hearts are broken, and even an amicable divorce will require a division of assets that drives difficult discussions. Do the hurt feelings make this a bad decision? No. The best example I can give is the impact of divorce on children. Would you rather your children be harmed by parents whose toxic relationship spills onto them, or would you prefer they see you make the healthy choice, heal as a person, and be a more present parent? I’ll be honest, I’ve never seen my child cry as hard as they did when informed we were divorcing. However, being away from the emotional toll of a broken relationship has given me more energy to devote to our relationship and she is both happier and healthier now.
It will seem like everyone in your life who knows of your divorce will have an opinion on the matter.
Parents. Siblings. Friends. Neighbors. Coworkers. Everyone. (I elected to tell only my closest friends, family, and coworkers. Huge shout out to my boss for never making me feel judged!) But remember, you made the choice healthiest for you and you aren’t responsible for anyone else’s thoughts or feelings; they are of their own making. But people will still seek to impose their opinions on you.
And what’s worse? Many of their comments will induce a feeling of shame, even the well meaning comments. American culture is arguably more accepting of divorce than it was in our parents’ generation, but there is still a stigma associated with it. Many people view divorce as a failure, a lack of moral conviction, or laziness in maintaining one’s relationships. But every person who seeks a divorce has their reason and everyone’s reason is valid to them.
My friend, you had your reason for seeking a divorce, it’s valid, and you should not be ashamed. Don’t let anyone’s comments make you feel ashamed; you are making the right choice for your mental and emotional well-being.
The Emotional Rollercoaster
Have you ever ridden a rollercoaster? There is the long wait in line to get on the coaster, then the disconcerting rattle as the car chugs up the first hill. A sense of trepidation and fear sets in. “What have I done? Did I really want to ride this ride?” And before you can complete the thought, you hit the first drop. Your stomach climbs into your throat and all you can do is hold on for dear life. At the bottom of the first hill, you immediately zip up the next, maybe even inverting and wondering if it will ever end. But the hills and drops get smaller as the ride goes on before it levels off completely and you move on with your life.
And that, my friend, is what the emotions of divorce feel like.
As you wait to file for divorce, like standing in line, you know this will be intense with ups and downs, but you don’t fully comprehend until you’re on the ride.
The moments before telling your spouse you want a divorce is the chug up the first hill and their reaction is the first drop. Maybe it’s a shock, like the case of a “walkaway wife” (or husband/spouse). Maybe they lash out and the abuse you’ve endured for years intensifies. Maybe it’s a quiet acceptance of something you both knew was inevitable. (In this rare case, you’re on the teacup ride at Disney: you don’t ride an up and down so much as a dizzying twirl through the legal system.)
In the days and months that follow, you must ride the ups and downs of informing family and friends, seeking a lawyer, splitting assets, and finding new living accommodations. Having children in the home will add extra twists and turns as you navigate a successful co-parenting relationship. But slowly, the rollercoaster winds down and you find a new stasis. It gets more stable, especially if you are able to work with a counselor, and life begins to feel normal again. A feeling of hope returns.
Is the Grass Greener?
Maybe. Maybe not.
Everyone’s situation is different. But even if the grass isn’t greener, you are the gardener. You get to decide when the grass gets trimmed or decide to tear it all out and plant a flower bed instead.
To the outside world, this is the most visible part of the divorce. You redecorate your house. You ask yourself why you do something a certain way you hate and realize you did it for them, and habit patterns change. You do something you never did because your former spouse disliked it. (Hello, new tattoo!) To those on the outside that have never experienced divorce, it seems chaotic. Mercurial.
But with every little (and not so little) choice you make, you walk closer to who you are. You find the things that make you happy. You begin to heal.
And what I want you to know most of all is that you deserve to heal. You deserve to live a healthy life.
I liken a dying/toxic relationship to a boil. The only way to cure it is to lance the wound and drain the bad. Is it painful? Yes. But until you can remove the harmful effects, you can never fully heal.
I hope my words help you feel a sense of relief, that you aren’t alone, and that your health and happiness are worth more than being miserable for appearances. I will leave you with a few recommendations from my own experience and from helping several friends navigate the process this year.
1) Consult with a divorce lawyer before you do anything else. I meant it. Before you say a word to your spouse, you should know your rights, what a reasonable timeline is, and what you are both entitled to in the split. Every state is different and you need to know the law in your state so you aren’t caught by surprise when your spouse suddenly asks for half your paycheck AND your house AND child support. You will also what to know how much access you have to your property and what the rules are for co-parenting before the divorce is finalized. A lawyer will set realistic expectations.
2) Have housing lined up before you inform your spouse. There is nothing worse than being forced to cohabitate with someone when both your emotions are on the rollercoaster.
3) DO NOT BE AN ASS ON SOCIAL MEDIA. Or, as one lawyer I consulted with told me, “Don’t tweet anything you’d be embarrassed to read in a courtroom. Make sure your social media would impress the judge.” He was not wrong. Bad mouthing your soon-to-be former spouse will not only anger them, potentially making the mediation process more difficult but it could also be seen as a sign of instability in a custody fight.
4) Be realistic but give yourself grace. It takes two to tango: you and your former arrived at this point together. It is incredibly rare for one party to be completely in the wrong and the other be a saint. You need to be prepared to accept that you had your faults too. But you should also give yourself grace. No one is perfect and people change.
The divorce process will bring out a range of emotions and when feelings are raw, past trauma can sometimes come to light. If you need them, below are a few resources that can help:
RAINN – National Sexual Assault Hotline, 1-800-656-4673
National Domestic Violence Hotline – 800-799-7233 or text START to 88788
Veteran’s Crisis Line – 988, option 1 or text 838255
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