It’s about time I wrote this series. Even if you are happily married , you might want to read it. Because chances are, at some point, one of your friends is going to get the Big D (and not the good type of D either). You’re going to want to support them with good advice and actual facts.
And if it’s you who’s considering a break-up, about to have one, in the middle of one, or have just come out the other end, I got you girl.
Like The Chicks in their amazing new post-divorce album (Gaslighter), we’re here for the collective therapy session.
Part 1 is about the emotional stuff. The things I’ve learnt, and the things my friends have learnt. This is the pep talk to tell you ‘you’re not alone’.
Part 2 will be the legal side of things, and I have an actual lawyer, Tessa Kelman, ready to drop some knowledge on us.
Part 3 is about the financial side of things, and our fave financial adviser Rachel O’Connor is going to help us out.
But let’s get into the feelings. I’m going to start with one of the most important things to remember.
Divorce isn’t an event, it’s a process
I wrote this in another blog of mine a few years back, and it still rings true today.
“I’ve left a lot of things in recent years: two jobs, a marriage, a home and three cats. Listing them like that makes it sound easy, but each one was a wrench. Each one made me afraid of losing something irreplaceable; each one was filled with the sadness of loss; and each one made me feel guilty for the pain or trouble I caused those left behind.
There is a pattern to leaving. First comes the thinking beforehand – testing your intentions and motivations. Are you doing it for the right reasons? Is it fear driving you, or unreasonable expectations of the situation? Have you really done everything possible to fix the current situation?
The thinking becomes a refrain in your brain, settles in, takes up many of your waking hours. It becomes familiar and inescapable, and eventually, undeniable.
So you make the decision. But rather than relief in having made it, there’s the anxiety of having to act on it. Change always seems like a good idea beforehand, but when you’re in the midst of it, it’s painful and scary and fills you with doubt.
It’s as though the whole time you’re trying to move forward, there’s a weight on your feet, trying to hold you back.“
My own divorce was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
As a friend of mine said, “Walking out that door is the hardest part. Everything else is logistics”.
God, when I look back at my old blog there was a lot of public soul-searching (a little cringey now). The post that still makes me cry when I read it is called, ‘When the Sadness Bird Leaves‘.
“And yet, the act of leaving was mine, so I took the guilt onto myself.
That guilt takes so much time to push your way through. I was swimming underwater, with the weight of it pressing down on me. But I kept going, heading upwards and fighting off the current. I had help too – hands pulling me up, currents pushing me up.
Until I broke through the surface, emerging from the ocean, exhausted but alive.
God, I’ve been writing this post for so long. I’m still scraping off the guilt, like a crust of ocean salt.”
The thing I want to tell you, wherever you might be in the process, is this: you’re going to be fine. Better than fine, you’re going to be great.
“In the times following the break-up, I would be ok for days or weeks at a time, then all of sudden be brought low. I came to see it as The Sadness Bird.
It would come, land on my shoulder, sing mournful songs to me, then quietly fly away. I even found a picture of it.
“I feel like the bird is almost gone now. Its visits are fleeting. It would be naive to think we could live life without any visits from The Sadness Bird at all. In fact, life is sweeter when we experience all of its ups and downs.”
That is, of course, if you’re the one who leaves. If it’s not your decision, the pain is no less, but it’s a different version of pain, because you’re not the one in control.
Elizabeth Gilbert talks about her life during divorce as a ‘piece of dropped pie’ – all in pieces on the floor. Our job is to scrape the pieces up and make something new and better.
Our emotional pain has different shades, different patterns, but it’s all the same in the end. Loss creates grief. Our job is to swim our way up through it, to the surface.
Be Kind to Yourself
I think one of the biggest fears women have about ending a marriage is the failure. I see women who heap guilt and shame on themselves for ‘failing’ at this thing that society has told us is the most important thing we will ever do (thanks patriarchy).
So I’m just going to tell you some facts here.
Just because you feel guilty doesn’t mean you are guilty; you’ve just been conditioned that way. Women are taught to be responsible for relationships and to care how everyone else is feeling. Leaving a partner alone, to endure their own pain, goes against everything we’ve been taught. But sometimes it’s the thing we have to do. (Side note: I couldn’t break this feedback loop with positive thinking alone, it took some NLP to undo it).
Just because they say you’re selfish, doesn’t mean it’s true. Prioritising your own feelings and happiness over a partner’s is not selfish, it’s self-care. They will likely tell you you’re selfish/cold/uncaring etc because this is possibly the first time they’ve seen you flip that switch, and put yourself first.
It’s not a failure, it’s just an end. A very good friend of mine helped me reframe this concept. We live long lives. We grow and learn and evolve. Not everything we set out to do will work forever. It doesn’t mean we have failed; it simply means we’ve learnt something.
A final thought…
A divorce is one of the most painful things you can go through, but it will likely be a catalyst for huge personal growth.
Your healing will not be linear. Sometimes you’ll feel great and sometimes you’ll feel like the Sadness Bird has taken up residence for far too long.
But what I can tell you is that you will find people to support you, believe you and help you heal. The rest is just logistics.
Next week: What everybody should know about divorce law in Australia