Even though I am in the happiest, most loving relationship of my life, I am also a divorcee.
A successful divorcee. Honestly, getting a divorce was the best decision of my life and I went through a brief, unrestrained period of telling all my friends at the time that if they were having relationship issues they should just dump their significant others and start fresh because it all worked out so well for me.
After watching Sarah Millican’s 5 Tips on Divorce, I decided I would make my own list…and share it with you.
My favorite part about Sarah’s tips is when she says something like: there comes a time when you realize that your ex wasn’t as brilliant as you thought he was. I didn’t worship the ground my ex walked on or anything but there was a lot I turned a blind eye too when I really shouldn’t have.
Disclaimer #1: I am not going to go into the ugly details of my divorce. I am not writing this to bash my ex (as fun as that would be). I am not writing this post to paint myself as a saint. This is a breakdown of a few of my experiences. At the end of the day, we were both terrible to each other, the divorce happened for a reason.
Things I learned when I got divorced:
1. Moving in with your parents (or other members of the family) is okay.
My divorce needed to happen and had many positive outcomes but I wouldn’t call it fun. Just like any major life change, a lot of adult things that need to happen and I did not have the ability to make it on my own at the time.
I worked with the lawyer and paid all the legal fees. My ex didn’t lift a finger to try to fix what was broken in our relationship and he didn’t help end it in a healthy way. I had to figure out how to balance moving out of my house, renting a storage unit, finding a new job (to pay for the legal fees), and take care of myself.
I felt extremely embarrassed about moving back home and I felt like I leveled-down or lost points as an adult. I learned the hard way that when it comes to survival you have to throw ego and pride out the window.
I know not everyone has positive relationships with family or other reasons why this might not be feasible.
I was very fortunate that my mother was willing to let me move back into her house after I separated from my ex. My two cats were very lucky too.
My relationship with my mother wasn’t perfect at the time, but I will always be grateful for her giving me a place to land and not have to waste money that I desperately needed to save on renting an apartment.
Moving in with my mom also kept me grounded. I didn’t go out and get trashed every night because I knew she wouldn’t appreciate me staggering home drunk. She helped me be accountable for my actions moving forward.
2. It’s okay to be sad about the whole thing.
Seriously. Even though I wanted my relationship with my ex to be over, he was someone who I’d spent almost 8 years of my life with. We had valid reasons for breaking up but it was still hard for me to close that chapter on my life.
I also had to deal with the fact that our relationship was unhealthy and there was nothing else I could do to make it work for both of us. I tried changing my behavior, even going so far as to pretend to be someone I wasn’t just to make him happy. That led to a lot of unhappiness and self-harm for me.
I felt like a failure for not keeping the relationship alive even though it was killing me. It was only after I had distance from everything that I realized how toxic things really were between us.
3. Counseling may or may not work. And it’s okay if it doesn’t.
Before I decided to go ahead with the divorce, I tried marriage counseling. I say “I” because my ex didn’t really care about counseling and didn’t think we had a problem ( or there was a problem but it was more my problem than his).
When we went in I immediately started crying and explained how I felt and everything that was stressing me out and what was wrong and my ex just sat there, not talking. The therapist then said I was an over-controlling manipulator and my poor ex was just sitting there afraid to even sneeze because I took over the conversation.
I didn’t go back to that therapist. She may have been right about me being controlling to some degree but she completely misinterpreted my ex’s silence as “fear.” Again, I’m not trying to vilify him but he was a manipulative asshole and knew exactly what to do to make himself look like an innocent victim.
That experience, though it was uncomfortable and I felt very let down by this mental health professional, made me realize that my ex never really respected me and it reinforced the fact that I needed to get out.
4. Know what you want.
While I was waiting for the divorce to be finalized, my soon to be ex-father-in-law told my mom, in an email, that some best marriages endure when the husband and wife live apart. He wasn’t talking about being in a long-distance relationship or living apart because of outside circumstances like job locations. He was trying to convince her and me that we should stay married but just be separated.
What’s the point in that? That’s like having a spouse with none of the benefits…which was what my relationship really was. To me, marriage is a partnership and separation is the opposite of partnership*.
I married my ex pretty early in life and I had no idea what it took to make a successful relationship. Communication and compromise are only at the tip of the iceberg. I firmly believe that you have to want to be around the person you marry, you need to want them in your life and their presence needs to bring you joy, otherwise, what’s the point of being married to them?
Getting divorced and saying goodbye to all that gave me the space to identify what I wanted in a life partner.
5. “Choose better next time.”
This last one is a bit tongue-in-cheek but it’s valid. After my divorce, I went to a comic convention with a few friends and got to see one of my heroes, James O’Barr. The Crow is one of my favorite comics, it has all of my favorite things; love, revenge, addiction, supernatural crow shit. It’s great.
I got my picture taken with him and I said, “Your stories got me through my marriage and my divorce.”
He said, “Choose better next time.” And we both laughed.
Relationships can be complicated and shitty but they are also super important. If you can’t honor and cherish the person you supposedly love, there is definitely something wrong. I mentioned earlier that I got married young, I had a few ideas about what loving someone else meant but I was too self-absorbed (as most 20-year-olds are) to really consider what making a commitment like marriage actually means.
Marriage means compromise and hard work, it means honest communication and forgiveness. It means stepping up and doing the dishes and laundry when you’d rather be napping.
When I was considering divorce I had to get really honest with myself. I didn’t love my ex anymore, I don’t know if I ever really did. Aside from work and interest in one video game, we had nothing in common. By the end of our relationship we weren’t talking to each other, we were making passive-aggressive quips or flat out fighting. But when I was in it I felt this perverse need to latch onto what was in front of me (even if it was toxic and I didn’t want to admit it). I was afraid I would end up with nothing. And just okay is better than nothing, right?
No! Fixer-uppers are fine for buying a house, not lifelong commitments to another human being. And why would you want to settle for “just okay?”
The most important lesson that I learned through my divorce is: there is no situation that you cannot get out of. Walking away might be complicated and difficult, walking away might mean changing your whole life but you always have the option to walk away.
Especially when walking away means building an emotionally healthy life.
Disclaimer #2: I am not a lawyer. Please do not use anything in this post as legal advice.
*Note: long distance relationships and couple separation based on outside influences like job location are totally different things. Couples are still together emotionally in those situations. I am actually in a long-distance relationship with my current husband right now, you can check out my thoughts on those here (part 1) and here (part 2).
Photo by Hutomo Abrianto on Unsplash