I‘ve met many women who’ve said they could write a book about their divorce and I was no different. My book was going to be about all the tasks and activities I learned to do when my husband was no longer around, such as removing the dead mouse from the mouse trap, learning to use an electric drill, installing a curtain rod, replacing the flush mechanism in the toilet and so on.
It didn’t take me long to realize that it would take quite some time to learn enough to fill a book and even then, I wasn’t sure that anyone else would be interested in reading it. So then my book idea morphed into collecting stories about other people’s accomplishments. I started my blog and started my search for other women to interview.
Slowly those women and a few men came forward and trusted me with their stories. I started out asking “What do you consider your most significant accomplishment?” I chose the wording of the question very carefully. I didn’t want my interviewees to be constrained by any societal definition of success. I wanted them to share what it was that made them proud.
I thought I would get a collection of entertaining and humorous tales like learning to drive a boat trailer or changing the fluorescent light bulb, but I was wrong and naively so. I can see now that my simplicity was a reflection of my own emotional numbness at the time.
Growing from divorce
The stories these people shared were more meaningful and deeper than a simple record of mastering a new household skill. The accomplishments were on an entirely different level of learning, often wrapped around the emotional obstacles and challenges of their marriage and upbringing. I am now convinced that it is the people who can face the end of their marriage as a learning opportunity that have the resilience and capacity to reinvent themselves.
What has also surprised me about the interviews is the variety of lessons I’ve been able to garner. As I review each interview, it’s usually easy for me to pick out one overarching message. With many of these interviews that message sticks with me for days and days following the interview. There’s such a resonance that I now realize that these interviewees were and continue to be a key part of my own learning and growth. These stories have opened my eyes to issues that I have never considered, increased my awareness, guided me and helped me understand.
We tend to think of therapy as formal sessions sitting with a counselor and I do wholeheartedly endorse the value of formal therapy especially when you are dealing with any example of extreme behavior, such as domestic abuse, addiction issues and narcissism. I used a counselor when I first started to think that ending my marriage was an option. I was reluctant to discuss our martial issues with friends having been raised with the mantra that what happened within a marriage stayed within the marriage. Thus it was enormously helpful to meet with a counselor.
Subsequent to my divorce, my therapy also included a holistic healer who I was seeing for some food sensitivities. It wasn’t traditional therapy and yet she helped me see what my own part was in my divorce especially after the sudden and unexpected death of my father surfaced familial tensions and behavior patterns I’d successfully buried for many years. Most recently, it was my dating coach who gave me the final piece of the puzzle to forgive myself for my divorce.
Yet, as valuable as the insight from each of these professionals has been, it was often a piece from one of these interviews that lead to a breakthrough. Through them I’ve come to a new appreciation for sharing stories because it is these stories that open our minds to possibilities and opportunities.
Divorce is individual
Perhaps my greatest understanding is that while we may try to fit divorce into a single legal process, ending a marriage and the subsequent recovery is a very individualized experience. The women I’ve interviewed come from very varied backgrounds: some had been married just a few years while some had celebrated over forty years of marriage. Some were wealthy, some had been homeless. Some were educated, some were high school drop outs. Some were stay-at-home-moms, others had worked full-time outside the home. Some had children, some had none and were young enough that they still wished for children in the future, for others, divorce also meant they would never bear a child. They were all willing to share their story because they believed by doing so they would help others through the process. Several of them said that even though it was odd to read about themselves, it was also therapeutic.
Each divorce and the subsequent healing has its own time frame. Yes, the legal process may set deadlines for this document or that agreement to be filed within a certain time frame and yes, your marriage may have legally ended after a stipulated number of months but it may have taken you years to decide to end your marriage. It may have taken you many years to find the courage to seek divorce. Recovery and healing is also very personal.
Perhaps the most visible measure of “moving on” is dating and this is a great example of individual timing. One of my close friends started dating within months of the end of her marriage while I’m just now starting to consider it and it’s been over four years since my divorce. It doesn’t make her right and me wrong or vice versa. It’s simply a question of what we each felt was right for us. For one interviewee, dating was part of her healing. She said she could tell where she was by the type of man she was dating. It’s all about what is going to work best for you.
Divorce is a creative process
As common as divorce is, many of those I spoke with had had no exposure to divorce. The decision to divorce, if it was theirs was never made lightly and it was never without pain. Like them, I was the first in my immediate family to get divorced and I had no close friends who’d been through divorce either. My perceptions of divorce came from sensationalized media coverage of celebrity breakups with soundbites of parental alienation, domestic violence and serial infidelity, and whispered gossip from work colleagues or school moms of broken homes, traumatized children and at times the worst examples of human behavior. I was pretty sure divorce was not going to happen me.
But it did happen. While we worked our way through the legalities, I kept thinking that it would all soon be over. Then as my ex and I started our co-parenting, it began to dawn on me that although our marriage was over our relationship was far from over. Our marriage vows couldn’t tie us, but our children could and do. Without question, the end of our marriage would be an indelible mark on their minds but it was talking to these brave souls that gave me a deeper of understanding of what it meant to put your children first. And I do truly believe that it is possible for children whose parents are divorced to be just as happy, successful and well-adjusted as children from “in-tact” families.
Collectively these stories tell us that divorce is a normal part of the life cycle even though there is a stigma attached to it in many circles. These stories say we are still a family after divorce, we just look a little different. These stories tell us we can customize divorce and our post-divorce life to fit our personalities, our characteristics, our strengths, our weaknesses. They mean we can create a relationship with our ex that allows for the rebuilding of trust and a shared commitment to parenting. They mean we can create a loving, supportive environment where are our children will thrive. They mean we can grow and learn and be the persons we were always meant to be. They mean too that divorce is may be an ending but it is also a beginning.