There are so many things people never tell you about marriage. When you’re basking in the engagement glow and planning the best day of your life, nobody takes the time to sit down with the both of you and tell just how hard it’s going to be. When you’re about to whisk away to your exotic beach honeymoon, no one is there welcoming you back with a basket of pragmatic advice that’ll get you through those first fights. It’s not until those few fights turn into nightly ones and you’re crying to your parents that he just doesn’t understand you anymore and you’re seeking a separation that all of the “advice” starts pouring in.
At least that’s what happened with me.
My marriage was always hard, from the very beginning. While my newly married friends were all experiencing the dopey-eyed, can’t-keep-my-hands-of- you stage, I was trying to sort through the feelings of inadequacy and confusion that came nearly seconds after saying “I do”. Fast forward five years and we’re now smack dap in the middle of a (relatively civil) divorce that should have happened a few years earlier. Despite this, it doesn’t make it any easier saying goodbye to the one person you vowed you’d never have to say goodbye to.
Marriage, for many, seems wonderful until it isn’t. And divorce, as common as it is (nearly 50% of marriages end in it), is still one of the hardest things a person will have to go through—often harder than dealing with the loss of a loved one. With death, the person is gone, so you can grieve who they were. With divorce, the person keeps going on and you have to grieve both who they were and who they are going to be, without you.
“It feels like that person died, but you know they will go on living their life without you,” Shannon Somers, realtor and divorced mother of one, said.
But that’s not the point of this column. The point of this is to share six solid pieces of advice, shared both through women who’ve dealt with the heart-wrenching pain of a divorce and the experts who have helped them find the strength they need to move on. It’s not easy and there’s no one-size-fits-all remedy, but there’s strength in numbers—and realizing you’re never alone makes it all just a little easier to bear.
Divorce can destroy even the most confident of a person’s ego, which is why many jump right into a relationship (or in bed) with the first person they meet. As therapeutic as a romp in the hay right after a devastating split, don’t rush too quickly to replacing your ex. Mother and daughter duo Nicole Baras Feuer, M.S., and Francine Baras, L.C.S.W., who wrote the book 27 Things I Wish I Knew Before My Divorce, strongly advised not dating someone seriously for a year post divorce because, in all honestly, you’re just not ready. “You need to find out who you are as a single person first, so enjoy casual dating to figure out what you actually want in a potential relationship,” Baras said.
Losing the one person you told everything to is the hardest part of a divorce, despite what others may think. You’re going from having a best friend and a sole confidant to nothing, which can be very hard to manage. “The hardest part for me was the the goodbye, says Somers. “The realization that you spent years building a life with some person who isn’t there anymore. Taking a human being that you shared everything with, told everything to and loved more than anyone and just removing them from your life. It’s hard.” So, let yourself grieve for the relationship you’ve lost in healthy ways.
For Anetta Simpson, food and travel blogger at Wanderlust Kitchen, her sister’s divorce showed her the importance of being sad and not constantly acting as if everything was okay.
“She held it together and pretended like she was fine for a long time, then one night (after some wine) she just fell apart in my lap and let it all out,” said Simpson. “I know she felt a lot better after that, and while wine isn’t (always) the answer, finding a safe space where you can ugly cry is really important.”
The benefit of getting a divorce in today’s society is that you’re not alone—not even slightly. Even though it might feel like you’re the only person dealing, trust that you’re not. That’s why most experts, like Jennifer Coleman, EdS, NCC, a life-transition coach, who works with divorce clients of the Rosen Law Firm in North Carolina, recommends seeking out a therapist, or at the very least, a support group.
“When you get divorced, most of your old friends run,” Coleman told WebMD. “They’re no longer thrilled to have you in their house; there’s a dynamic that shifts considerably,” she told. “That hasn’t been the case with women in the support group. They’ve saved my sanity.”
Therapists are also third-party observers. Unlike your parents, best friends or cousins, they don’t know your ex (or what they did to you), so their advice will come with a lot less blame. Plus, they’re not going to sugar-coat things for you either, which is beneficial to helping you move on.
There’s a big chance you evolved throughout your marriage, and probably compromised much of what made you you for your partner. It’s a normal evolution in a relationship, but the problem with most marriages is that it often means giving up things you love just because your partner doesn’t. That’s the freeing part of divorce. You no longer have to give up your Lifetime movie nights to watch action flicks or ride a bike when you’d rather run. Do the things that once made you happy, because there’s a pretty good chance they’ll make you happy again. Brit Tucker, a PR professional in Denver and divorcee, found that yoga and exercise brought her out of her post-divorce funk.
“I literally poured myself into yoga seven days a week for months,” said Tucker. “I lived on my rubber rectangle in the studio around the corner from my apartment. Since getting divorced, I’ve explored more. Found my roots in nature. Became a yoga teacher. I’ve never felt more ‘Brit’ than I do now.”
For Simpson, that meant throwing herself back into traveling, which took a backseat to trying to make her marriage work. “My life has changed quite a bit—I have a lot more freedom, I travel a lot more (which I loved more than anything), I finally got to adopt two cats, I took the trips I always dreamt of taking.”
For me, getting divorced meant one thing—that I failed. I couldn’t keep my marriage together, I couldn’t make my ex-husband happy and I couldn’t find a way to salvage what I thought was an important relationship. It’s hard not to feel like a failure when you couldn’t do the one thing you vowed to do. However, that’s not even remotely true—despite what the media (or romantic comedies) might say. You know the saying: “It takes two to tango.” Well, it takes two to get married and it definitely takes two people to get divorced. It’s your fault as much as your ex’s the relationship didn’t work, so shouldering all of the blame is only going to make you feel worse.
“For me, it was the feeling of failure and the shame that comes with a divorce that was the hardest,” says Simpson. “I felt like everyone was judging me and talking about it.”
Two-time divorcee and founder of Parents Teach Kids, Jennifer Little, PhD, believes that the stigma of divorce is fading.
“It used to be something people didn’t do, something that was scandalous,” she told Women’s Day. “But it’s not anymore. Divorcing now just means that the relationship didn’t work out. You haven’t been rejected as a woman or a person, nor are you incompetent at being a wife, a partner, a lover, a friend.”
For the first few months (or even years) after a divorce, it can feel like your life is ending. And in a way, it kind of is, but not in the way you think. The life you had (and to be honest, the life that wasn’t working) has come to an end, but that doesn’t mean your future has. Moving on is hard, but it’s important to celebrate every little victory, no matter how small. For me, it was weight loss. I gained a lot of weight towards the end of my marriage, so the months after my divorce, I started dieting. And every single pound I saw leave the scale was a celebration.
“I tried to enjoy the times around me and distract me from what I had lost because I still had a lot more in life,” says Somers. “I worked out. Went on little weekend getaways to concerts, celebrated birthday parties that I normally would have missed, lost 20 pounds. All of these little things made me feel more human.”
Image: Billie Grace Ward, CC-BY
Claire Volkman is a travel, food, and lifestyle writer based in Chicago.