About six months ago, when my husband and I began the process of getting divorced, I broke my silence on the issue to a dear, unmarried, friend of mine. When I did, she gave me the head tilt, nod, and sigh combination I would come to expect from everyone else who heard the news. She said, “I’m so, so sorry,” and put her hand on mine in a crowded restaurant.
Friends would go on sighing and apologizing, but no one ever exclaimed or turned pale or shook in their seats. I couldn’t blame them for that.
No one close enough to me to know who I was could feign surprise when they found out. Over the years, my husband and I had grown into our truest, best, and most beloved selves. We were proud to be who we were. But these selves were stark contrasts from who we had been when we married. More importantly, these selves were not even remotely compatible with one another.
And I didn’t want pity for getting divorced. Though I felt the supreme weight of a failed marriage like a winter coat all year long, I wasn’t necessarily looking for people to add a hat and mittens. In truth, however, I did want people to see how hard it was. Not just for me, but for him too.
Although divorce is somewhat common (with roughly 42% of marriages predicted to end in divorce), it remains one of the most stressful experiences of your entire life. Unlike your average adult breakup, divorce arrives with a suitcase full of legal paperwork, court-ordered meetings, financial redistribution, and, in many cases, co-parenting. The Holmes-Rahe Life Stress Inventory ranks it as the second most stressful life event, just below the death of a spouse.
My own divorce was the worst period of my life by far, even in light of it being, as I already noted, not completely unexpected.
I made the mistake of letting my divorce engulf me then, like waves of despair every morning. I waded directly into the groundswell and its whitecaps of chaos and loneliness.
I didn’t stop to think about how I could do divorce right. Not just for my kids, but for myself.
The following is a letter I wish I’d received when I was beginning the divorce process.
You are incredible. I am proud of you.
This isn’t about him, so I won’t mention him. And for a time now, you shouldn’t either. Because this is your time to hold yourself higher than him and what he says and thinks.
This is about you.
There was a team, and because there are children, that team needs to stay intact, of course. That team does not get an off-season.
But, for a moment, consider that simultaneously, on a different court, five miles down the road, there’s another game. And in this game, you are your team. You are the coach, you’re playing every position at once, and there’s no bench. Just you in this game, representing yourself. Your children are watching all the time, so make them proud.
I’m sitting in the bleachers with them, so make me proud too.
Friend, divorce is hard. Many of the days ahead are the reason they invented the word “misery.” The process of getting divorced, especially with children between you, is a long and grueling one.
You’ll ask around, call up old friends who you know have been there. They’ll fall quiet, and what they say when they do speak might feel like silence too. It won’t always be what you want to hear, anyway.
Because you are an infant being carried home through your first snowstorm. You may have been prepared with a thick down snowsuit, a woolen hat, and soft gloves. But this is the first storm you’ve ever felt all over at once, through the down. Your face stings no matter which direction you turn it.
Your family, who knows this type of storm well, walks with you. They reassure you, mentioning weather forecasts, wrapping arms around you tighter, and counting down the minutes.
But you’re a child. You don’t even speak their language. All of this terminology means nothing to you. You don’t get to know, really, how much farther you need to go. You don’t get to know what to expect along the way. And their arms, though strong and warm, can’t cover all of you at once.
You must simply nod and keep going.
Friend, divorce is lonely. Incomprehensibly so. But never forget that being lonely is better than leaning on someone who can no longer catch you.
Divorce is lonely by design. It is your time to be alone. It is your time to love yourself. Self-care was invented for you.
I don’t mean the expensive kind of self-care. You can spend a little here and there, but don’t spend too much. Because money will be difficult ahead.
Instead, give yourself time. Give yourself time with your children, being present and loving always. Give yourself time alone, listening every day to how you are feeling.
I have heard you say that you wish the people in your life would meet you where you are now instead of trying to fix your past or push you toward a particular future. Think now about whether you are meeting yourself there too. It will be difficult because so often we filter our feelings through how we wish they would be. But your feelings now — every day — have value just as they are. No filter needed.
Pretty soon, you’ll start to enjoy being on your own. You’ll start to imagine more happy moments of being alone down the road. This means you are more ready than you think.
Friend, divorce is not what you imagined. It is both predictable and unpredictable. It’s impossible not to be devastated to watch the plans you wrote out and filed neatly away turn to kindling.
Give yourself a new future. You had a future before, and it might not change much. Truly, if you don’t want it to, it doesn’t need to.
But listen to yourself. Because you might want it to. It helps to write down your goals and your values, however small, and make plans every day to reach and uphold them. Take quiet moments to remind yourself of them.
Friend, this is big. Divorce is a huge life event; a massive change in your everyday. There is nothing you can say to make it smaller.
Combat this by making your life smaller instead. Put your children at the forefront, and spend time with them doing simple, wonderful things. Minimize things in your life that distract from that time, like excessive planning, material pleasures, and time away.
Say “no” to big events and “yes” to time at home. Cook easy meals so you can spend more time eating them together. Talk to them about their interests and share your interests with them. Read together.
Donate clothes and items you don’t need. Leave your work at work. Keep a small list of friends and family to reach out to and talk to about your divorce; only the ones who are truly there for you. Go to bed early so you are ready to be your best every day.
Friend, you can do this. I cannot wait for you to do this.
More than that, I cannot wait for you to meet me, because I am the you you always knew you could be.