Since I got divorced five years ago, the emails and texts have come every few months, from friends, colleagues and even friends of friends. Though the subject lines are always vague (“Coffee?” “Quick chat?”), I can usually guess right away what they want to discuss.
I both dread these messages and welcome them. I never want to see anyone go through what I did, but I am grateful for the chance to help during what is a horrible time in anyone’s life, no matter what the circumstances.
I’ve had this conversation so often, I’ve developed a script of sorts. Here are the six things I tell anyone considering divorce.
1. Don’t Do It
People are surprised by this; it’s as if they expect me to be some sort of divorce cheerleader. But even though divorce was the best decision for me, I don’t believe it’s always (or even usually) the right solution for every rocky marriage. So the first thing I say is that, barring abuse or addiction, they should think twice about separating, especially if they have children. If you can see any other option, you owe it to them to try everything you can.
I’m no marriage counselor, but there are a few questions I’ve found help people clarify their feelings: Do you still love your spouse? If not, what needs to change for you to feel that way again? Is your spouse ready to call it quits, or are they willing to work to repair the situation? Is this the kind of relationship you’d want your child to have someday?
Sometimes everyone, kids included, will be better off if the marriage ends, but struggling marriages can be fixed. At least three of my coffee dates ultimately reconciled with their spouses and are now relatively happy—one even told me our conversation was what prompted him to reconsider.
2. Get Some Sleep
A foundering marriage and a good night’s sleep rarely go hand-in-hand. There are too many late night fights, too much to worry over at 3 a.m. For me, the stress manifested itself in a raging case of insomnia that baffled my primary care doc and the psychiatrist she recommended. I don’t think I got a full night’s sleep for the two years leading up to my divorce or the year after it was final.
I tried several sleep medications, melatonin, Xanax, antidepressants, bourbon, This American Life podcasts (Ira Glass is very soothing). Xanax worked best, but I worried about getting too dependent on it. Eventually I gave in, took it regularly, and after a few weeks of regular sleep, things got a little easier.
It’s simply impossible to make good decisions on little to no sleep. Check into a hotel for a few nights, take the kids to stay with your parents, meditate. Whatever you have to do to get some rest, do it. You can detox from Xanax and Ira later.
3. The Grass Isn’t Greener, Just Different
My married friends, even the happy ones, often express envy over the two kid-free nights I have each week. They’re right—I have so much more time to myself than I did when I was married.
There are other positives too. I alone decide what we eat and where we go on vacation. No one questions how much I spend on shoes, and I no longer have to sit through endless golf tournaments.
But while I am far happier alone than I was in the last years of my marriage, my life is not easier. While their dad helps when he can, I provide nearly all of the financial and emotional support for my kids, cook all the meals, and do all the laundry. I make sure they have clothes that fit and money for lunch. I go to all the teacher conferences and doctor’s appointments and organize all their activities. And sometimes, I really hate doing everything alone.
So while some things will get better, others will get worse. Also, dating is not as fun as you think it’ll be.
4. See A Lawyer
If we’ve gotten this far in the conversation and my coffee date is still determined, I give them the number of my divorce lawyer.
Meeting with a lawyer feels very serious, but if you’re at the point where divorce is a real consideration, you can’t skip this step. Knowing how the process works (each state is different) and understanding the financial and custody issues you may encounter is just information. It doesn’t commit you to anything.
This step is especially crucial for those who expect a contentious split, but even the most amicable exes-to-be will face some tough decisions.
5. Accept Help
This is not the time to go it alone. While I was fortunate to have a lot of support from my family, I didn’t share with friends how much trouble my marriage was in until it was over. Co-workers didn’t find out for many months after my ex had moved out, and only because I started dating a colleague.
Once I opened up, I wished I had asked for help sooner. Whether it’s friends and colleagues, family or a therapist, let people know you’re going through a tough time and take them up on their offers to watch your kids, help you move, or take you to dinner. Your friends and family aren’t just willing to help; they want to. Let them.
6. You’re Going to Be OK
I have a letterpress print in my kitchen that reads: “Everything is going to be all right. Maybe not today, but eventually.” There have been many days over the past five years that I’ve looked to it for a much-needed reminder.
I’ve heard some truly terrible tales: the woman who discovered her husband had been cheating for nearly all of their 20 years of marriage; the friend whose wealthy husband cleaned out her bank accounts, leaving her broke and essentially homeless; the man who discovered his wife was unfaithful just after their second child was born. Those people are all divorced now (not surprisingly). Two are happily remarried.
It may not seem possible during those early days, but everything will be all right—eventually. Now get some sleep.