To The Family And Friends Who Ditched Me After My Divorce: It Wasn't Your Marriage, It Was Mine

by Helen Oliver
Originally Published: 
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I recognize that look. It’s the look I might give to someone or something that I’m trying to pretend isn’t there. It’s the look I typically reserve for awkward, embarrassing, or even hurtful situations – the ones I don’t know how to respond to. It’s a look meant to block someone from attempting to engage with you. It’s a look that quietly shouts, I thought I knew you! Maybe it’s a look someone would give if they saw a ghost. It’s just never a look I thought I would receive from people I emotionally invested in for years and years – individually (irrespective of my marriage). By emotional investment, I mean these were people I shared laughter, worry, happiness, tears, and life with. I’m talking about you – my “ex” life (family and friends).

There’s a stigma wrapped around divorce, especially around the initiator. Especially if it’s initiated and there was no infidelity or domestic violence (let that sink in – that’s the standard for justifications around divorce. And even then, don’t put it past someone to judge you for not working it out even with those things present).

For those who haven’t walked this road called divorce, count that as a blessing. Really. Divorce is a gut-wrenching business. It’s emotionally bankrupting and a torrid force of nature that takes on a life all its own. Granted, I can only speak from my own experience, but it took a bottomless pit of heartbreak, disappointment, broken trusts, and genuine suffering to get here.

I didn’t enter into my marriage with the assumption I would end up here. NO ONE in their right mind would willingly sign up for that! I entered into my marriage the same as most people – with high hopes, blind faith in love, and a sincere desire that we would always be together. I entered into my marriage with a vision that we would grow together in a strong, healthy, genuine way. I held out that hope for many, many years.

Before I start down the path I intend to go down, I would like to point out that I’m not advocating for divorce here. However, there are times when divorce is someone’s only option for peace and preserving their mental and emotional well-being. Sometimes divorce is the path you must choose to ensure you (and possibly your child/children) don’t go on to experience a lifetime of hurt and disappointment.

Divorce hosts a multitude of negative emotions. First, I saw it from a Christian standpoint — the scripture that God hates divorce is staunch. I am absolutely convinced He does – why wouldn’t he? God loves his children and knows the pain of divorce (for both people). There’s so much collateral damage it leaves in its wake. Divorce is ugly, folks – for both the initiator and the non-initiator. Yes, both people! Downright painful from the moment you’ve met your threshold for heartache and you decide you can’t remain in a marriage, to the days you sit in your new place in life and realize you’ve lost part of your identity.

Though you’ve removed yourself from something that was toxic for you, when you’re sitting in a new void-like limbo, it’s terrifying starting over. You must forcefully cut away the person you were before you accepted your partner wouldn’t partner with you in any healthy way. Nothing is ever the same. We often grow comfortable in the uncomfortable spaces. We often justify staying in ugly situations for a number of reasons that we would tell others not to stay for. A lot of times we stay in ugly situations just to please other people (and often those people aren’t even the people that choose to sit at your table of life). I read a quote the other day that went something like this:

Grab a plate and throw it on the ground.

-Ok, Done.

Did it break?


Now say sorry to it.


Did it go back to the way it was before?


Do you understand?

I felt that.

Having said all that, I still recommend that before you pass judgment, alienate, or avoid and cold shoulder the initiator, remind yourself of a few things: This was not your journey. This was not your marriage. This was not your life. This was not your parenting relationship. This was not your child that you worried about impacting. This was not your emotional and mental wellbeing at stake (and remember, a child needs two emotionally and mentally well-adjusted parents). This was not your burden. These were not your tears, your heartbreaks, your daily struggles with trust issues and deeply rooted resentment. This was not your pain you had to carry around and still seemingly function as a happy, healthy, well-adjusted human being. This was not your heart that you felt breaking into a million unrecognizable pieces so regularly that you lost count.

You were not the one being lied to whenever it was convenient. You were not on the other end of the master manipulator. You were not the one being taken advantage of or taken for granted day in and day out. This was not your loneliness. This was not your daily reminder that someone you vowed to love would never see you as a priority or worthy of mutual respect. These were not your spouse’s demons you had to try and wrestle to the ground ever so consistently. This was not your experience. This was not your failed marriage. It was, however, mine. Let that marinate.

I’m sorry if this took you by surprise. Sadly, we often don’t express a genuine interest or ever fully pick up on other people’s pain – we only know our own. I’m sorry if it made for uncomfortable conversations with your child/children (though imagine how difficult it was and will remain to explain it to mine). I’m sorry if it struck a nerve in your own life/marriage regarding things you might currently tolerate for the sake of keeping your marriage together. Though I’ll say this: you only know your own threshold for pain, so please don’t expect or even pretend to know mine.

I’m sorry that the offender was your son, or brother, or friend and you’re having to watch him unravel. I hate that part too – I gave 14 years of my life to this person only to see him throw it all away one day at a time. I’m sorry that I couldn’t twist myself into the barbwire I would have become had I stayed just to placate the relationship I was in. I realized my mental and emotional well-being were important too – I am after all, like you, a human being, not a garbage disposal for someone’s toxic behavior.

See, the problem is that I’m giver who married a taker. I’m an optimist who married someone with a deeply rooted negative view on life. I was a naïve 21-year-old girl who rooted for someone to develop into a person they hoped they could build a lifetime with, only to realize that person wasn’t capable of that kind of growth. I’m someone who refused to give up on this person, only to realize this person all too willingly gave up on himself long before I left. I’m a mother who realized that she would have to take drastic measure to ensure her son’s father would stop taking his role in their child’s life for granted. I’m a human being with a real heart that is really, truly broken.

I began seeing myself as someone that didn’t deserve love, compassion, partnership, or even respect. I started walling myself off from a reality I couldn’t digest anymore. I began operating as if this person didn’t even exist just to live in my own marriage. It’s easier to deal with disappointments when you set the expectation for your partner at zero. Then, one day I woke up devastatingly out of touch with my life. I didn’t recognize myself. That day changed everything. There’s a saying, “Be careful what you tolerate, you are teaching people how to treat you.” It’s true. I allowed someone to almost ruin me. However, you didn’t share that experience with me. You didn’t live that. I DID.

So, please, when you see me out at events, during child exchanges, looped into communications regarding children and family functions, even when you simply see me out in the world just trying to piece my life back together – have some compassion for what it took for me to get to this point. Remember that while this divorce is painful, it’s not your divorce, it’s not your ugly chapter.

Please remember the millions of overnights I had with your children, my nieces and nephews, holidays celebrated, family functions, and life experiences we shared together. I’m not a ghost, I’m not a leper, I’m not a villain, I’m not your enemy. I have loved you. I have invested in you. I have rooted for you. I have prayed for you. I have been there for you. I’m still me – just separated from something I let foolishly hurt me for far too long. That “look” means something to me. It’s now fully resonated with me, your cold shoulder, your silent condemnation.

Congratulations, you’ve succeed in fraying yet another relationship that I spent a great deal of time and energy investing in. It makes me question whether you were ever invested in our relationship at all. Truth be told, it hurts, and I’ve experienced enough hurt for a lifetime. I really don’t need it coming from you too. Please remember that even though I did ask for this divorce.

I never asked to be treated the way I was treated before it finally led me there. So please remember when you decide to pass judgment or cast that “look” over my way, ex-family and friends, just because a decision hurts, doesn’t mean it was the wrong decision. Until you have walked in my shoes, lived my life, felt my hurt – you really don’t know a thing about me. You can bet on this though: should you ever have to write a chapter in your own book that looks anything like mine, I’ll spare you the look. Because I have lived it.

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