Thinking Of Our Marriages As A Vending Machine Can Make It Harder To Move On After Divorce

by Martha Bodyfelt
Originally Published: 
Omar Lopez/Unsplash

So I’ve been hearing this one thing a lot from readers and clients of mine who are trying to move the hell on…

“It wasn’t supposed to be like this.”

“We were supposed to grow old together.”

“I was supposed to raise the kids, and now I have to go back to work and find child care.

“I was supposed to be on his health insurance, but now I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

Supposed to…

I should be….

Sound familiar?

Ah, the language of expectations. Or rather, unmet expectations that now haunt us.

It’s these expectations we had about our lives and marriages and how things “were supposed to be” that are now keeping us stuck. It’s those unmet expectations that are holding you back and maybe making you feel angry or resentful.

But here’s a truth bomb for you, my friends.

We have a hard time recovering because we can’t let go of what we expected or assumed about how our life would be.

Here’s the hard truth for you all: we subconsciously think of our marriage and other relationships as a vending machine.

We assume that if we put X amount of time into a relationship, or make X amount of sacrifices over the course of a marriage, than we are entitled and guaranteed a certain output, a certain “Y.”

But guess what?

That’s not how it works.

Here’s what you need to know. This idea that if we made sacrifices, we’ll be rewarded, is absolute bullshit. But as women, we drank that Kool-Aid because that’s what our misguided puritanical society told us. From an early age, we’re fed the lie that if we are good and work hard enough and make the sacrifices and do all those things that good girls do and check off the list of putting our spouse’s needs before our own, and we focus on his goals and not our own goals, and we define ourselves as a couple and not as an individual, then, that means we get the payout of a comfortable retirement, financial security, and a stable and comfortable marriage where we’ll grow old with that person.

But seeing that you’re reading this, you know that’s not how your algebra equation worked out.

You know that regardless of how many coins you put into that crappy office vending machine, and no matter how many times you pushed the E3 button for that Snickers, and no matter how many times you pounded the machine when the little whirly thing got stuck on the candy bar that wouldn’t drop, and no matter how many times you stuck your hand in that little door at the bottom of the machine… you didn’t get what you put into it.

Your investment did not pay off.

The algebra equation did not turn out.

You were not rewarded for your sacrifices.

Ta-Da! Your expectations were not met.

And how does that make you feel?

Does it make you angry? Bitter? Did it make you feel like you got the short end of the stick? Did it make you feel like you were the latest victim in a Ponzi scheme? Have you caught yourself saying, “I did everything in that relationship and now I’m the one who has to start over, while that SOB is with his new girlfriend, or taking trips to Mexico, and I’m here alone just struggling to get by. I feel like I wasted the best years of my life with that jerk. And I’m left with nothing.”

And you know what? All of it is true. And all of your feelings are valid.

Great, you’re right. But now what? What do you do now?

When your expectations haven’t been met, you’ve got two choices, and two choices only.

You can choose to remain in that space of feeling like you got screwed over with the divorce or breakup. You wouldn’t be wrong. It’s understandable, but it’s not going to get you anywhere. Or…

You can take it the next level and f*cking do something about it.

Here’s how.

Step 1: Take a quick survey of everything you still have and write that stuff down and be exhaustive and specific about it.

Do you have your health? Are your kids okay? Do you have any kind of income coming in? Do you have a job? Do you have health insurance? Do you have a support system? Do you have a good therapist? Do you have a divorce coach? Do you have interests or hobbies you would love to pursue but haven’t had a chance to? Do you have some f*cking goals and aspirations and dreams that are yours alone that nobody can take from you? WRITE. IT. ALL. DOWN.

Step 2: If you are lacking in any of those areas that you listed, write down exactly where you would like to be with those things that have nothing to do with your ex.

For example, if you were expecting that you’d be on your ex’s health insurance and you’re not, what can you do now to make sure you’re covered? To whom can you reach out to help you figure that out? If you were expecting to stay in your house where you’ve lived for the past 20 years but you can’t swing the mortgage, what can you do to find a housing situation that you can afford? If you are going to have to go back to work when you thought you’d retire in 5 years, what things can you do finance wise (taking on a second job, cutting down on expenses, etc.) to make sure you’ll still be okay?

Here’s what we’re doing here. We’re shifting the mindframe of not getting what we expected, to taking action to making sure that we’ll be okay, regardless. Doing so accomplishes a ton of good for us.

It’s shaking us out of our learned helplessness, where we think we’re going to be stuck and miserable because our life circumstances changed.

We’re serving a model for your kids, whose little eyes are watching you navigate this crises although they may not completely understand what’s going on.

It’s forcing us to get up and empower ourselves and let us be in charge of our own future. It doesn’t matter if your life is now different than you expected. That point is completely moot so it’s not even worth wasting your time thinking about. You have too much work to do to keep ruminating on how things didn’t go.

It’s building the resilience you deserve and showing you how strong you really are, even if you don’t know it yet. By shifting the focus on you, defining your future for yourself, and no longer relying on somebody who obviously wasn’t that dependable anyway, you get to take matters into your own hands.

Because, like it or not, you don’t have a choice.

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