When John and I separated after several unhappy years of marriage, I was hopeful. I looked forward to couple’s counseling and dating each other again. Well, the counseling never happened; dating . . . well, John did date . . . just not me.
John had a girlfriend before we ever separated and he quickly filed for divorce. I had no job, no money, no home, and no husband. You’d better believe I was in sad shape–humiliated, angry, devastated, and terrified. It was, quite simply, the worst time in my life.
Divorce, I learned, is a lot like death. I think there are stages of grief and you pretty much have to pass through each one of them. Elizabeth’s Kubler-Ross’s book, On Death and Dying, identifies the stages as follows:
As you might have already guessed, I went through the first three–with John and with God–when we decided to separate and I immediately saw we had very different ideas of what our trial separation would entail. His “way” won and that’s when depression embraced me. I gave denial, anger, and bargaining a pretty fair go, but I really excelled in depression. I slept constantly . . . hiding, I guess. I slept 8 hours every night, woke up and did what needed to be done, but then went back to bed for another 3-4 hours every afternoon. I was numb. I was . . . nothing.
I happened upon an interesting book title one afternoon several months later. (No, it wasn’t So If You Don’t Love Me, Why Aren’t You Dead Yet?) Barbara Johnson wrote a book called Pain Is Inevitable but Misery Is Optional So, Stick a Geranium in Your Hat and Be Happy. I was spellbound as I read and reread that title, letting it wash over me. Was it possible I was choosing misery?
Once I realized I really did have a choice in my moods and my attitudes things started to change. It wasn’t immediate, but it was steady. One painful realization was, regardless of how “John did me wrong,” I, too, bore some responsibilities in the circumstances that ultimately lead to the end of our marriage. So, after a lot of thought, I wrote him a letter. I apologized for the wrongs I’d committed against him and I sincerely wished him well. It was liberating, as was his sweet reply.
I don’t know your situation. Maybe you just need to forgive him, maybe you need to write, but not mail, a letter. But this step was crucial for my healing process.
John wrote me back. It was very generous letter and I kept it for years. Those two letters of ours paved my road to acceptance.
Unfortunately, divorce is a way of life in our world. Though I’ve never counseled a friend to divorce, when it does happen I offer these suggestions. They were my lifesavers.
* Allow yourself to mourn–for a time.
* Chin up! Johnson’s title really grabbed me right when I needed grabbing. Find a quotation, song, plaque, movie, book–whatever–to motivate and inspire your healing process. There really is life after divorce and it is often a better life than you had before.
* Get busy. I was fortunate to begin a new job around the time of our divorce. I threw myself into work and making new friends. If this doesn’t apply, try old hobbies you’d forgotten or start new ones. Get outside, take a walk, buy a pet, take classes. Find things and people who interest you and bring out the very best in you. This is your second chance to be who you were really meant to be!
* Look your best. We really do feel better if we look better. You may not be able to buy several new outfits, but you can buy a bottle of nail polish and give yourself a manicure. Get a sassy new “do.” Sure, he wanted your hair long and blonde . . . maybe you want it shorter and darker.
* Take it slow. This is a process. Don’t be discouraged. There is no set time line.
* Figure out who you really are and want you really want. Until you know the answers, you are just not ready for serious relationship.
* Hold off on dating. Unfortunately, I’ve watched many friends and co-workers rush right back into the dating scene and make some of the very same mistakes. I waited longer than most, dating only occasionally during the years I was divorced. But my divorce was devastating and if I knew anything it was that I did not want to repeat those mistakes. I literally studied marriage and healthy relationships, reading books, quizzing happily married friends, and basically retraining myself.
* Learn how to give and receive love and acts of love. This may not apply to everyone, but it sure did to John and me. We were so selfish, so demanding. I have since learned how to give unselfishly, never counting how many times I have taken out the trash or emptied the dishwasher. John and I kept score– with a vengeance and no one ever won. I’ve learned the question, “Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?” is a brilliant one.
* Most importantly, use this time to draw closer to your eternal Hope. Let our Father soothe, heal, and counsel you.
My years of self-imposed “dateless-ness” were not wasted ones. In fact, they were the best years of my life. I excelled in my profession and discovered a passion for several hobbies. I made the dearest friends and traveled extensively. I rebuilt my life; I became me!
So, the worst thing that ever happened to me turned out to be the biggest blessing in my life. I wouldn’t be the woman I am today if I hadn’t walked that path. When asked about regrets I might have, I never list my first marriage because its failure taught me the very life lessons and brought me the most rewarding career and friendships. And how can you ever regret the worst thing that turned out to be the absolute best thing?