Lessons on divorce that I could’t find online, so I’m sharing mine
It’s been almost a full year since I officially became divorced. I don’t get to remember the day I got divorced because it was on February 29th during leap year of 2016 to be exact. But while I don’t get to revisit THAT day one year ago, the lessons I have learned in the days since have been life-changing, and evolutionary to my core.
This past year has been a major year of transition for me and I would say that the lessons I have learned, and if I can be honest…still learning, have helped me to realize more and more, WHO I AM as a person. I have done more reflecting in the past year than I have done in my entire life. I have gotten to know the post-marriage me, the single-mom me, and yet and still, I feel like who I really am is also being fully rediscovered in more of a marathon vs sprint style.
I had been thinking about writing about my experience for a while because that’s what writers do…we write. Every day, I asked myself (and God) what can I say? I didn’t want to speak publicly until I had something of significance to share, that would be encouraging, insightful, but also raw and real. Then I just wrote what I wanted to know, but no one else was telling me when I searched Google.
Unlike my usual buttoned up and professional writing, that’s totally NOT what this is. A therapeutic, completely raw account of my experience is what this is. Me expressing myself unstructured. I pray my words will resonate and help you.
Lessons Learned Living Life…before and after divorce
Just like no one tells you everything about being a parent, no one tells you everything about being married, and most certainly, no one tells you the real deal about life after marriage.
Things like, how do you tell the kids? Yeah, of course I looked online, but nothing really helped me to understand what I ended up learning AFTER I told my kids (which is your totally inability to control the outcome once you tell them). I know that I am blessed, and I don’t consider it luck at all that my kids received the news that me and their daddy were no longer going to be married and living together. They actually took it better than I thought. I prayed that they would. God answered my prayer on their receptiveness.
But sometimes I wonder how they are doing internally? That’s the part that I can’t control or really see unless it is eventually expressed externally. Like when my kid gets on yellow or blue on the behavior color system, is that because he now only lives with Mommy? If my daughter acts a bit shy or doesn’t speak up much, is that because her parents are divorced? We never know how divorce truly affects the children, but what I do know is that I am a firm believer in teaching my kids what love is truly about, and curating the narrative that I want them to learn.
Now trust me. I get it. Some people stay in marriages for the kids. I pondered it myself. But you DO know that the kids learn what you put out, regardless of whether you stay or not. So if it’s miserableness that you put out…that’s what they see. If it’s division or living together separately, that’s what they soak in. So either way, they will learn something. We as parents get to decide what that is. The Lesson: be intentional about the well-being of your kids and don’t forget that they feel what you feel.
And speaking of parenting, no one told me that saying you’re going to co-parent in your divorce agreement doesn’t necessarily mean it will work out the way you envisioned in your head. In your mind, you think that you will simply operate the one house as two houses, and mommy and daddy will be seen everyday by the kids as usual, right? Nope. Not if Mommy and Daddy live in different places. No one tells you to expect surprises or the difficult parts because we all try to act like they don’t exist when they do appear.
This is called avoidance. And guess what? Avoidance is most likely the culprit that caused some of this in the first place. Avoiding the tough conversations when you were dating and when you were married. Avoiding the issues that were clearly red flags, but you saw green flags instead of red ones (sort of like the internet dress where some people saw gold and some saw blue). Basically, whatever you find, you’re generally looking for it. So if you find yourself not having the tough conversations you should have, you’re looking for lack of communication in your relationships and that could lead to the point of no return. I know. That’s a big pill to swallow. But I prescribe to the prescription of what that means…NOW! The Lesson: Tough conversations must happen and I have learned that they will continue to be required…even after marriage. There is no such thing as doing it one time and it being done. Not with kids.
No one tells you about the phases of ending a marriage.
So there’s the decision to do it. Then there’s doing the actual filing of paperwork to begin the dissolving process. Then there’s the DIY Divorce or Lawyer-Up decision you have to make. Then you go through the court proceedings and all the unbinding. This phase of actually DOING it after you have DECIDED to do it, is two totally different phases. And the amount of time in between deciding and doing varies from person to person.
And what about if you’re a Christian?OMG (and the G stands for God)! No one tells you how to get divorced as a Christian because biblically God doesn’t want that, which begs the question that you ask yourself in the decision phase: did God want me to marry in the first place if I have arrived at this point? Did I get God’s permission to marry? The Lesson: Your relationship with God will grow because you will be in constant prayer throughout the process as a Christian. He loves you no matter what. And I know this to be totally true.
No one tells you the emotional tolls you’ll have to pay with out an EZ Tag (there is nothing EASY about these tolls). Emotionally, you go through different phases: indecisiveness, anger, bitterness, guilt, grief, joy, back to bitter, anger again, throw in some more parental guilt, and a tad more grief, then joy finds a way to slip right back in. But where does the joy come from in all of that negativity?
It comes from HOPE. The hope that you will emerge and see your authentic self again on the other side and be okay. The hope that God won’t be mad with you (pssst…He’s not, but there are still the consequences that anyone faces for the choices they make.The knowing that God loves you no matter what you do (He really does) and forgives you when you ask him to. The hope that your kids will really be okay. The hope that you can parent the heck out of them, and the hope that they turn out to be who God called them to be. And finally, the hope that new love will come and you’ll relate with someone again…but better because now you know better. That’s where the joy comes from…if you don’t lose hope. The Lesson: Hope is the dope and rope to help you stay afloat when the emotional tolls try to drown you.
Telling People You’re Divorced
Okay, now you’re divorced. Papers have been signed. Welcome to the phase of telling people (BTW, this article is telling some people about me). No one tells you how to do this. When I looked online on how to do this in our social media world where your life is center stage (especially if you’re an online entrepreneur or social person like me), I got nothing that really resonated with me. I am the type of person who has always tried to share my experiences good and otherwise, to help others. But this wasn’t that. How was I supposed to share this? I ended up crawling into lurker mode on social and who I was, began to slowly fade away. I didn’t like who I was becoming and no one knew why. This phase was harder than I thought. It’s like you’re in divorce jail.
So here’s what actually happened over this last year. When I would tell people who asked that I’m divorced, they always would respond with, “I’m so sorry to hear that.” And I found myself questioning this default response. I’m a certified life and business coach, so yeah, this is my default to ask probing questions naturally. I would ask them: “What exactly are you sorry about, since you’re not even sure why I got divorced?” Most people assume you get divorced for the common reasons of infidelity or abuse because that’s the only two reasons you SHOULD get divorced, right? Especially if you’re a Christian. So people respond with: “I’m so sorry to hear that (he/she cheated or abused you)”, but they just don’t say that last part. They wait for you to confirm it. People always want to know why. And then the really really nosey people ask in dramatic form, “oh my gosh…what happened?” And then some even start telling you about YOUR marriage as if they really knew you so well. “Yall were so this.” Or “ I always thought y’all were so that.” But all of this is simply a way for YOU to tell them what happened. As if your telling them is going to progress the conversation from them still being oh so apologetic or even worse, judging you. I didn’t want that. You don’t have to know the details unless I believe those details are pertinent to the story of helping you (yep, I’m a real writer). Some people are just nosey though and I know that. Just know that if a person wants to tell you details, they will. But honestly, most people won’t and that’s okay too.
After telling people about my divorce, and they would hit me with the I’m so sorry bit, I would immediately ask, why are you sorry? Oh my goodness, the look on people’s faces or the pause in their voices or the three dots of texting, then the dots disappear and reappear, and then disappear and reappear again (because they don’t know what to say) let me know that I always shocked them by asking THEM why they were so sorry. They never knew how to answer. I then follow up with, what are you actually sorry about? They don’t know why or what. The Lesson: Don’t let other people’s lack of awareness make you question your awareness. You will always feels comfortable sharing your story with those whom you are truly meant to help.
But one of the best answers that I heard from someone after telling them I was divorced was: “I am sorry that it didn’t work out as you thought it would when you got married, and I am sorry that you have to endure the hardship of rebuilding a new life for yourself and your kids, and the uneasy feeling you will have to endure once you reemerge for the first time as your new self.”
Now for me, that was something deep I could have a conversation behind. Not the typical, I am sorry response, but a REAL response! I was intrigued because this person actually sounded like they would be able to give me some insight. And guess what? I was right. They had gone through it and wasn’t apologizing for the divorce ending because they didn’t know THOSE details and they knew the details didn’t matter more than where you were at the moment. They just were sorry that I would have to go through the hardship post-divorce, of rebuilding who I was.
No one tells you how hard it will be to emerge a different person. No one tells you that you may actually keep pretending even after you’re free from the need to pretend (I pretended I was still married because the phase of telling people didn’t seem possible at one point). But pretending keeps you from moving forward. No one tells you that your level of maturity on this journey will decipher if you will quickly surpass the rest stops of pity and petty or the drama fuel station, and ride on into the sunset of your new life.
In reality, maturity is rarely seen. Typically what we see with the big “D” is, drama, bitterness, pitifulness, pettiness, and just straight up ignant-ness. Yep, I made that word up, but I know you get the point. I was destined not to have that in my divorce. My parents were divorced when I graduated high school (and for years no one knew about their divorce) but I had seen them handle it with so much freaking class. I knew it was possible. Not all are privy to the benefits of witnessing such mature behavior. But deep down, I knew that I would be who I always was; the woman they raised me to be. Not just their daughter, but the daughter of the most high God.
But no one tells you just because YOU plan to be that way, doesn’t mean everyone involved will fall in line. I mean they don’t have to be in alignment anymore, not legally anyway. But once again, I am blessed to not have experienced much of anything that was out of alignment with who I am as a person. Thank God! Not all who are a part of this life after divorce “society” can say the same. But I am determined to showcase a side that most don’t get to see. Bitterness always makes divorce a longer healing process. The Lesson: Don’t be bitter. Pray to be better.
Life after divorce is full of phases that are not defined anywhere online (of course I looked). Again, it’s the stigma that is associated with it. Women won’t talk about it much. And we are the talkers. We hide. So you end up feeling alone, until you share with a woman who has experienced it and she shares her experiences. You begin to swim your way back to the top after healthy conversations. The more I talked, the more I learned. And the biggest lesson that I have learned about being divorced in this last year is that it’s okay to move forward whenever you are ready…not on someone else’s schedule of appropriate timing.
You see, what most people don’t realize (who aren’t divorced or never talked to someone who is open and willing to share the real deal vs the save-face details) is that there is a point when it’s over. It could be years before any paperwork is ever filed. But all they know is that THEY just found out. So when YOU move on, for THEM it’s too soon because you JUST got divorced, right? Uhhh No. Some people go through divorce proceedings for years and feel like they can’t move on with their lives because of unresolved or pending proceedings or even worse, because they don’t want people to judge their next moves as too fast or too slow or too something. Some only have to endure the court mandated waiting periods of 60 and 90 days once they file (but it may have taken them years to find the courage to do it). The Lesson: Other people will never know how long it’s truly been over. So they don’t get to decide when it’s okay to move forward either.
Be Who You Are
What no one told me, but what I want to share with you is this….it’s okay to just be who you are whenever you want to be and not let the invisible timetable of others impact your ability to move on. Your new life is waiting to embrace you once you emerge from the water that at one point you felt you would drown in. People will talk no matter what. They will judge no matter what. But when you know WHOSE you ultimately are (and for me, that’s a child of God)…you can confidently move forward. You don’t need anyone else’s permission.
If you’re recently divorced, be encouraged to move forward and emerge from the water with the sparkle that never truly left you. You may have thought your sparkle drowned, but it didn’t. You kept your arm extended enough to let the world know…my divorce didn’t drown me. Your old life is over. And most likely, it’s been over for longer than anyone will ever know.
If you’re just finding out about my divorce or you learn about anyone else’s divorce, don’t force them into stagnation by feeling “sorry” for them. Allow them to move on. Replace the default language of “I’m sorry to hear that” to “I’m praying that you’re moving forward in peace, love, intentionality and happiness.
I know I AM.
Originally published at medium.com