Ahh, sometimes I miss my smug married life.
I’d been married for 11 years, to the person I thought was my very best friend. We had similar interests, we laughed together, worked as a team, and had grand plans for our mutual futures. I could never understand how people were sideswiped by divorce until I was. I mean, really, how do you miss the signs that your partner is at the end of their rope? How can you seriously not hear the warning bells? We would talk about the state of friends’ marriages, and gloat about how our own was bulletproof.
Except it wasn’t.
Time wears on a couple. Through financial strain, having children, losing babies, job stress, family tension… eventually, even the best relationships start to fray around the edges. I always thought we did it all “right”. We dated for many years, we talked about our hopes and dreams, we based a romantic relationship on a friendship, and we didn’t fight much at all—but I suppose we never really did the regular maintenance that a long-term relationship needs to survive.
Thinking back, I wonder where we diverged—what went wrong? Or maybe it was never really right? I don’t know what constitutes a solid relationship, really. I’ve never been head over heels in love, I’ve never been lost for breath without a partner, and I wonder if my standoffishness had anything to do with the demise of my marriage.
One day it was just . . . over.
Of course, that’s simplifying things, but the truth is, I never saw the end coming. There were no regular fights, no hostility, no resentment I didn’t see as surmountable. I thought every marriage had ups and downs, and that the slumps we experienced would pass. I never expected anything to be irreparable, and I never expected to be facing divorce at 42. But here I am. I could spend forever trying to figure it all out, but if 11 months hasn’t given me any answers, I doubt it’s worth pondering indefinitely. The reality is that sometimes things are too broken to fix, and moving forward is the only way through.
I’m no expert obviously (hahahahaha), but I know that I’d never do things the same again. I can see where I lost myself, I can see that my life had lost its shine, but I can also see that I was resigned to the idea that that’s just how life is at this stage—having young kids is trying on anyone, right?
I may not know how to prevent this kind of relationship end, but I sure know what to do once it’s happened. When my partner told me he was leaving, my first reactions were all ones borne of deep emotion. Crying, pleading, scrambling to hold us together—too little too late. I went to counselling and was given permission to do something I hadn’t done in decades: focus on myself. I’m going to tell you that if you’re facing divorce, things will be okay. It may not feel that way right now, but if you take some healthy first steps, you’ll soon be on the road to happiness again.
Here are some helpful first steps for anyone who’s been sideswiped by divorce:
• Take a deep breath
Don’t react until you’ve had time to think. I know, it’s almost impossible when the rug has been yanked out from under you. But here’s the thing—if you really think about it, there have to be underlying problems in a relationship for any party to want out that badly. Really sit with yourself and think about your own happiness, and nothing else. If you have young children, you’ll have to be strong for them, and acting from a place of logic rather than heated emotions will help.
• Separate Finances Immediately
Open your own bank account, and discuss finalizing financial disclosure documents. I wish we’d done this immediately, but it’s so difficult to see through the emotions to get down to the business part of a separation, that this is something that often slides. But the sooner you have a clear financial picture, the sooner you can breathe, and see that you’re going to be fine. But take note: your finances are 50/50 until your separation agreement is finalized, so if you think revenge spending is a good idea, think again.
• Seek counselling
This was key to my survival. I poured my heart out to a kind counsellor who had zero real answers for me, but a ton of support. Nobody can tell you what you should do, or why this happened because nobody has lived your life, but a good counsellor or therapist can give you the tools needed to work on yourself and emerge from the ashes whole again.
• Learn about the process
This one was scary for me—the mere word “divorce” made my heart pound, and I felt nauseous. But the more I researched, the more empowered I felt. Knowing your rights makes you feel less abandoned or hopeless. Financial insecurity must be the biggest worry in this process, so find out what your options are, and how you can both get to the end without unnecessary fighting. I was in the dark with regards to many household finances, but seeing everything on paper made things seem daunting, challenging, but manageable.
• Lean on good friends
I’ve learned that there is no end to the “friends” who are ready to slam your spouse for their “selfish” decision to divorce. There are people who’ll forget we may have played a part in our marital demise, and much like any other crutch, this kind of support feels good but doesn’t heal us. We need the friends who will listen and support, hold us together, and it’s even better (sadly) if they’ve walked this path. Reach out to support groups (like this amazing one on Facebook) for info on how to get through things, and how to co-parent effectively.
Being sideswiped by divorce is one of the most challenging things I’ve had to wade through, and I’m not saying it’s smooth sailing now, but I haven’t cried in months.
And that’s progress.