I don't think anyone ever responds to the childhood question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" with "Divorced." Yet, for many of us, the end of a marriage does become part of our life story.
I know I don't have to point out the downsides of divorce to you; after all, they have a way of speaking for themselves. But what about the upsides? What about the ways that your divorce, even if it was of the unwanted or malignant variety, has made you better than before?
Whether you realize it or not, divorce has changed you. Shaped you. Strengthened you. Its harsh grit has left you polished. Its demands have made you grow. And the pain has left its mark.
You aren't the same person you were before. You're better.
You may have to be a legal adult to get married, but there are no tests for maturity before we pledge our lives wed to another. And in many cases, we enter our first marriages still children in many ways. Perhaps we placed too much faith in the idea of soul mates and happily ever after. Maybe we didn't fully appreciate the effort that marriage requires. And possibly we still carry childhood wounds and patterns into our marriages rather than assuming adult responsibility for our own responses. Divorce is like a drill sergeant yelling, "Grow up!" into your tear-streamed face. It leaves no room for childhood fantasies and dependence on others.
In the beginning, divorce saps your confidence. You may be feeling defeated because you couldn't hold your marriage together. If an affair was part of your divorce story, you're wondering what the new partner had that you did not. And once you face the dating scene again, older and saggier than before, your self-doubt grows. However, that's only part of the story. Because whenever you successfully complete something that you thought you could not do, you gain confidence. Whenever you have to reframe your assumptions about your weaknesses and limitations, you fuel belief in yourself. Whenever you face your fears and survive, you acquire strength. And whenever you come through a struggle bruised and battered, yet without giving up, you build trust in your abilities. And divorce certainly provides these opportunities in spades.
The only way to truly understand something is to first walk through it and then step back and look upon it from a distance. There's a reason that some of the best marriage advice comes from people who have been divorced—they know the beginning, the middle, and what can lead to the end in a way that only those speaking from within can fathom. As time goes on, and your divorce moves further back into the rearview mirror, you will be able to see patterns less clouded by emotion and cluttered by detail. That perspective gives you information that you can use to change your own behaviors, and to improve your future relationships.
When you lose everything, you take nothing for granted. With divorce, you lose your past memories, your present marriage, and your future dreams. If you're like me, you also lose so much more, left with nothing but your clothes and your determination to survive. And as the dust settles, you will find an increased thankfulness for the friends who stepped up and stood by. You will treasure every day where the smiles outnumber the tears. And you will retain that gratitude even as the pain fades; because once you have felt rock bottom, you appreciate everything that lifts you up.
When you have felt pain, you honor and respect that pain in others. The end of a marriage makes you more empathetic toward people facing any kind of loss. As you move toward acceptance and forgiveness of your situation and your ex, you develop your ability to see more than one viewpoint and to consider the feelings of others. Divorce also wipes away the ego that demands that it's shameful to ask for help. And once you've needed and accepted that help yourself, you're better equipped to render aid to others.
It's all too easy to unwittingly put the responsibility for our life in our spouse's hands. We may look to them to provide our happiness. We may lean on them when we are upset or having difficulty with a decision. It's good to be interdependent, yet divorce requires that you learn to be independent. When you walk out of that courtroom, your life is your hands. You no longer have a co-captain; you're driving alone. One of the first areas you have to assume responsibility for is your own well-being. You can't outsource healing; you have to do it yourself. It's scary taking on all of the responsibility yourself, yet it is also empowering. Because what you own, you can change. It's your life now.
Divorce is a harsh lesson in our limitations. It teaches us that no matter how much we want something to be true, we cannot force it into being. It's a wake-up call that we all make mistakes; and we all make choices whose consequences may be much greater than we ever imagined. You may have been one of the divorce-deniers, now forced to admit that it can happen to anyone.The reality-slap of the end of a marriage helps you embrace acceptance while limiting expectations.
The journey of divorce is an arduous one, taking much longer and with more setbacks than any of us imagined before we took that first step. It has many moments of false hope when we think the worst is behind us, only to find that we are snapped back yet again to the depths of hopelessness. Divorce takes grit to survive. You flex your fortitude as you continue on, even when you can't yet see the end.
Many people see divorce as a wake-up call, often realizing that they were living on auto-pilot before they signed their "I un-dos." Divorce is a major change in the status quo. It's a time where everything stands out in stark relief, and there is an awareness and clarity that may have been absent before. Furthermore, as part of the healing and growth process, you may turn to meditation or yoga, deepening your mindfulness and consciousness. You may have been asleep before, but you're wide awake now.
Divorce has a way of surprising us with all kinds of situations requiring novel, and often immediate, solutions. Whether it be how to afford rent on a fraction of your previous budget or how to parent your children with your difficult ex, you are constantly placed in the role of problem solver. And the more we do something, the more proficient we become. The end of a marriage will give you plenty of opportunity to develop your ingenuity.
Many use divorce as an opportunity for reflection and analysis. With the ego stripped away, you are raw and ready to learn. Listen. There's wisdom in the lessons hidden in the end of a marriage.
Written by Lisa Arends
Lisa Arends is a divorcee working to inspire others to move forward, recenter, and repurpose their lives. She has written the "How-To-Thrive Guide." Learn more about "thriving" and be inspired by visiting LessonsFromTheEndOfAMarriage.com.