Preparing Yourself Emotionally for Divorce [Guest Post]
Divorce is a big, weighty subject and a tough decision to make. If you’re contemplating divorce, I’d wager that you’re not going about this lightly.
There is a wealth of information about the financial and family aspects of divorce, but what about the emotional part of divorce? Divorce is something that can tear your heart in two, even if you’re the one initiating it. So why don’t we take as much care with our feelings and emotional health during a divorce as we do with our kids and our bank accounts?
Emotional health is important, too, and if you’re going through a divorce, it’s best to not ignore this component of your divorce experience. Prepare yourself emotionally for divorce before it happens, and it may just be a smoother process—before, during, and after.
I’m know the emotional aspect of divorce all too well. My story is not so different from many women's stories when it comes to love and marriage.
I met my first husband during my first weekend at college. He was a little bit of a rebel and I was attracted to him immediately. Unequivocally charismatic, he had a way with words and could absolutely enrapture me when he spoke. Intelligent, artistic, and a bit of a nerd, he was everything I was looking for.
We dated throughout college. But he graduated a year before me and failed to find his footing in the "real world". I didn't think moving back in with his parents without applying to jobs after earning two Bachelor degrees was a good plan. Besides, when he lived by himself, his apartment was littered with trash and dirty clothes, and he could barely take care of himself.
After a year of a completely desolate and dry dating life my senior year of college, I found him again on Facebook. He was going to grad school the next fall and seemed to have found his way. He was once again that confident, charismatic person I had met four years earlier.
But his personality didn't allow for stability too long.
After starting grad school, his life unraveled. He began abusing his ADHD medication (a serious problem in this country), self-medicating with coffee and alcohol, stopped eating, stopped sleeping, quit grad school, and moved in with me.
"His professors had absurd expectations! They were taking advantage of him and he needed to quit for his health!"
I even made excuses to myself.
"He drank my entire liquor cabinet this week because he is stressed. I need to support him instead of criticize."
"He doesn't have a job yet because he wants to take some time off to find himself again."
Well, "some time" turned into years. I married him when he was unemployed. He did actually find a job for a few weeks, but he simply stopped going and was, of course, let go.
I should have seen the signs right away, but I was blinded by the expectations the world had of me. I had always been successful at everything I did, so when the first signs appeared that the relationship was failing, even toxic, I ignored them.
He would shout at me when I interrupted his "work". (His work consisted of writing screenplays that never progressed past the third page.) He never slept unless he fell asleep on his laptop. If I even dared to bring up something I needed or wanted to work on with our relationship, it almost always resulted in a shouting match wherein he would call me a bitch or a nag. Twice he used his body to block me from leaving a room when I was done with a fight and wanted out.
I thought it was fine that we fought all the time, because he never hit me.
It was normal to walk on egg shells around someone, because he truly cared about me.
When he put me down, I thought it was "normal", because he's "only joking".
I was just simply naïve about how relationships worked. I had been told that true marriages took hard work, but somehow I equated that with struggle. So when that relationship was toxic, I thought it was normal.
I could change him.
I could help him.
It was my responsibility as his wife to be positive and guide him.
To those of you out there reading this and reflecting on your own relationship: It's not normal.
I wasn’t at the place where I was emotionally prepared to separate from him. I had not yet learned that it wasn’t my responsibility.
In our second year of marriage, I had started grad school, and he had found a job. Things seemed to be looking up.
For me, they were.
In grad school, I was learning how to support myself emotionally. I began to realize that his happiness and stability were not my responsibility.
I was thinking about divorce for a year before I finally made the decision. I had talked to him about it, but he never thought it would happen and dismissed it just like he had dismissed everything else I ever brought up. He was a good catholic—divorce was out of the question.
Feeling defeated, I called my grad school professor, who had been married four times, to ask his advice. (I figured if there was anyone who knew about divorce, he could lead me down the right path. And to be fair, his first three marriages had been short and his current marriage was steady and stable with two kids.)
Dr. M told me some advice that ultimately changed the way I make every decision in my life.
He said, "Be honest with yourself."
Shockingly, no one had ever told me that before.
I was so concerned with what everyone else thought that I never really asked myself what I thought.
It was my final step to emotional security in myself.
When I was honest with myself, my then-husband had failed to make me happy for a long time and had failed to make any positive change in his life.
That was his responsibility, not mine, and I could finally admit that to myself.
Luckily, we lived in a state that allowed dissolutions without children, and we qualified. We separated our belongs, filed the paperwork, and he moved out. 3 weeks later the paperwork was finished and it was official.
Your Emotions When Considering Divorce
After my divorce, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve had other friends go through divorce as well, and I have many opinions about the subject.
Your emotions are powerful indicators of something that is right or wrong for you. Observe them objectively to determine what they are really telling you.
In other words, look at your emotions as if you were not experiencing them but observing a friend’s relationship. What would you tell that person?
Here are some questions you might ask yourself
Are you making their happiness your responsibility?
Here’s the fact: you are responsible for your own happiness, as well as the well-being of your children if you have them.
You are not responsible for the happiness of any other adults in your life.
If you are taking responsibility for your husband’s happiness, ask yourself if the outcome of their happiness has been worth the cost of all that work you do.
In my case, I was bending over backward to try to help my ex, but he was still miserable. There was no doubt that it wasn’t worth taking on the responsibility for his happiness.
This in and of itself does not equate divorce, but it is a potential emotional weight that could contribute to your decision.
Is the relationship toxic?
If you’re taking responsibility for their happiness, the next question to ask... Is this relationship toxic?
Some signs of a toxic relationship are:
- Lack of trust
- Trying to control you
- Fights, verbal or physical
- Name calling
There may also be some mental health issues there, such as bipolar disorder or any of the Axis II personality disorders such as Narcissistic Personality Disorder. If you suspect that this may be the case, there are additional steps you may need to take to protect yourself such as using particular language or setting boundaries. Your spouse may need a psychiatrist and counseling, if they are willing.
I did not even realize that my first marriage had been toxic until after I had been divorced for over a year. Following a huge amount of research online, I realized that there may have been some undiagnosed mental disorders that had been contributing to his creating a toxic relationship.
You may be taken aback to learn that your partnership is indeed toxic, and if that is the case, remember:
Be honest with yourself.
The first step to healing is awareness. Once you have acknowledged and accepted what the issue is, you can begin to construct your path towards wholeness again.
Are you both willing to work on the relationship?
Perhaps you have drifted apart through the years. Maybe you feel that you’re taking different paths that you both can’t take together. Chances are, there may be some avoidance, doubt, and lack of communication in this case.
Ask yourself, are you willing to work on the relationship? Those emotional wounds of avoidance and doubt still need to be mended. Is your spouse willing to help mend those wounds with you?
Even if your spouse is toxic, if they are willing to admit there is a problem and move toward healing, then perhaps the chance of divorce will be less. Consider giving them the opportunity to work with you to improve the relationship.
It won’t be any less an emotionally-grueling process than actually going through a divorce, but you will be doing the emotional healing together instead of apart.
Are their faults deal-breakers?
As humans, we all have faults.
All of us. Me too. You do too.
If you’re considering divorce, you’re likely acutely aware of the faults in your spouse. They probably drive you up a wall.
In my first marriage, his emotional immaturity, lack of willingness to work on our relationship or take responsibility for how he was treating me... these faults were deal breakers.
Maybe their faults are drinking more beer than you’d like, or not helping put the kids to bed. But if those are things you can live with, divorce may not be as close as you’d think.
Are you out of like or love with your husband?
Emotions come and go. If, in the question above, you’re willing to work on the relationship, those feelings of like and love can potentially be kindled again.
If one or both of you is not willing to take responsibility for the health of your relationship, chances are those feelings have gone for good.
Notice I didn’t say to consider children? Here’s why:
Your children will benefit from seeing a role model who puts their own health above staying in an unhealthy relationship. What kinds of traits, habits and mindsets would you pass on to your children if you are constantly stressed, unauthentic? What kinds of traits or beliefs could your toxic partner pass on to your children if you stay with that person?
Your kids will most certainly benefit from seeing a couple committed to each other—working through problems, going to counseling, and keeping their relationship with each other healthy.
Conversely, if you are whole, healthy, happy and single, it’s far more beneficial for your children than being with a broken, unhappy, sick mother who won’t get out of a toxic relationship.
I’m not advocating for divorce, but if you’re thinking about it, there’s a high chance it could be the right course of action. Like my professor said, be honest with yourself.
Take your time
Divorce usually takes a long time. In my case, the legal aspect of divorce was short, but my emotional healing took years. You may be dealing with the aftershocks of divorce for years. If you have children and need to co-parent, you may be revisiting those old emotions for a long time, every time you see your ex.
Emotional healing, happiness, and peace are journeys, not destinations. When the divorce drags on or those old feelings creep up, remember that you’re healing, and it’s okay to still feel pain.
The ending to my divorce story
I’m now in a healthy marriage with an amazing man. It took a long time of emotional healing and making peace, but I’ve finally come to terms with those wasted years. I view them no longer as years that I can’t get back, but as the stepping stones I needed to give me the power to have an amazing, fulfilling life and a wonderful partnership. That failed marriage taught me how to be a good partner and taught me to be true to my values and myself.
I never wanted to be a statistic, but divorce was the best thing that had ever happened to me up until that point in 2013. Since then, marrying my husband and having two beautiful children have absolutely put everything else to shame.
Divorce is a difficult path. Whether or not you choose to embark on that journey, you should take the steps necessary to heal emotionally. Healing can be a painful process, but what lies at the end is beautiful.