I am not an expert on how to navigate a “successful” divorce, but five years later I am here to report that I am happier and healthier than I’ve ever been — and our kids are too.
To that end, I can assure you that the divorce process will be exhausting and probably one of the hardest (and most expensive) things you’ll have to endure. But, as the joke goes… Why? Because it’s worth it.
I’ve learned a lot having gone through this experience. Hopefully, something in this collection of thoughts and observations will be valuable to you (or someone you know).
40% of all marriages today will end in divorce. Another 50% will end in misery. Okay, I made that last one up to make you feel better about your impending situation. Either way, you’re here now and you’re going to have to tell people that you’re doing the D.
Having gone through it and witnessing others share their news, my own personal experience has me convinced that the best way to tell the world is to tell your whole world — as efficiently and painlessly as possible.
Rather than doing it one-by-one, we decided on the whole “conscious uncoupling” announcement. She wanted to announce it on Instagram, I wanted Twitter — go figure — we settled on Facebook. I know, I know.
21st century lame.
Trust me, as People magazine as it sounds, posting your divorce announcement on Facebook and tagging each other certainly beats smiling-and-dialing friends or hearing “Oh, I didn’t know… I’m so sorry” everytime you go out. The viral nature of the sad face emojis and “thoughts and prayers” in this case were much easier to deal with.
Things are going to start happening to me now.
You know this is going to suck. It’s not a secret. Don’t worry. I’m here to remind you that your real friends, who have been there for you (and probably already know), will still be there for you. They’re ready to help carry your thermos. (I love you guys) And, some old friends will come back into the mix as well. Bonus.
Actually, the world, in general, might be nicer to you — if you don’t let this make you bitter. The cashier. Your Lyft driver. You’re going to reek of divorce to those who know that scent, for a little bit. These random acts of kind people were there for me when I was feeling low. They’ll be there for you, too. We family.
I’m also here to share something no one told me and wasn’t in my divorce calculus.
You’re going to lose some “good” friends.
Even the most congenial divorce carries too powerful a stench for some. It’s the relationship equivalent of saying “cancer” too loudly at a party — some couples will simply not want to jinx themselves by being near your divorce cooties. It’s childish, I know. Or, they simply don’t want to risk being stuck in a middle. It’s understandable, you know? Accept all of it with gratitude. This will be a herculean effort 98% of the time in the beginning, then 60%, then 30%… you get the point. It will feel like a sad, tragic series of backstabbing betrayals — and it will get easier.
The ‘crisis’ of divorce
Speaking about the dangers in the world John F. Kennedy, in 1959, once said, “When written in Chinese, the word “crisis” is composed of two characters – one represents danger and one represents opportunity.” Make this crisis your opportunity.
The ocean of feelings you’ll experience will come in waves and the best way to ride those waves is to harness them into something positive. If you want to get to the bottom of things you need to calm your waters. When you look at a calm pond you can see a clear reflection.
To help see your reflection, buy a notebook or become BFFs with the Notes app on your phone. The point is, start writing.
Write all of the emails you will never send to your ex (I repeat DO NOT SEND any emails). Write a note to yourself about how you feel and what you want life to look like in 5 years. And 10. Write down your top 5 qualities, more if you’re lucky. Then, write your list…
…with six categories.
- This relationship didn’t work
- The things you needed
- The things you wanted
- The things you appreciated
- The things that drove you crazy
- What you contributed to the mess (you helped make this bed — or maybe you didn’t help enough)
The point of this exercise is not to blame, relive, or regret. It’s not even to be right or feel good. It’s about getting it all down in front of you; what you see, what you need to improve on yourself, and your life in a relationship (if you dare). You have a unique window right now to do this. You’re raw. You’re destroyed — shaken at least. This state-of-being will be much harder to access when you’re less raw, less shaken. This ‘crisis’ moment is your opportunity to look into the bottom of the abyss and see what stares back.
Every writer will tell you, the writing process helps distill thoughts and provide clarity. Be a writer. The process will serve as a better blueprint for building 2.0 You. Expect to iterate. When you’re done, your misery map will offer clear direction.
Captain Obvious says, “Remember kids, familiar is not always good.”
As part of the process of divorce, you’re both likely going to have a moment where you’re in the same room, maybe picking up “your half” of the china you’ll never use. Things will feel familiar. You might be tempted to lean in, just like on TV. Do not. I repeat. Do not. Ever. If you need a reminder about why this is not a good idea, press play.
This is a death. Casseroles will help.
Don’t kid yourself — divorce is about as close to death as anyone can get. Mourn it. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. Allow yourself that. Find some trusted colleagues to lean on at work. Ask them for help. You’re going to need it. You’re going to be busy being dead. It took me a year. My colleagues saved my professional life. Hopefully, yours will too. Buy lunch and dinner for them, often.
This is not the person you married.
I remember telling my friend about the first attorney meeting with my soon-to-be-ex, lamenting, “I feel like I don’t know who she is…”
“You don’t,” he said, “that person sitting in that office is not the person you married. The person you are dealing with now is the person you are divorcing. They are not the same person. The person you married is dead and gone. The sooner you realize that, the better off you’re going to be.”
He was right. The person you are divorcing is a stranger. Some things you thought you’d never witness are going to happen. Accept it. That’s the bad news.
The good news is the sooner you treat them like they are a stranger, the better things will get, too, because you don’t interrupt strangers. You don’t assume you know what a stranger is thinking or about to say…. we’re often kinder to strangers — and you’ll be less surprised.
You can contribute, you cannot control.
Whether you’re the dumper or dumpee, there’s going to be moments where the other person is happier than you. Catch yourself before you get angry. Catch yourself before you fall prey to jealousy.
Be mindful of what you contribute. The race is long, and in the end, it is only with yourself.
Your marriage is over for a reason. Actually, probably many many reasons. Your writing will serve as your reminder. And, that’s okay. Your marriage was a failure; you are not. This is your chance to start anew.
The best advice I can give you now that I’ve crossed the chasm is something an older, wiser friend shared with me. Once you’re done writing, “Turn the page. Don’t look back. Get to work on writing your next chapter. Get busy finding happiness.” He was right. And, I can say this with confidence now…
Whatever you decide from here, or the deck of life deals you, there’s a beautiful world waiting for you.
Two books that helped me:
What I’m currently consuming: