Seventeen years ago this month, my divorce was finalized. I think more than anything else that’s happened in my life, all these years later, being divorced makes me feel like a failure. (The only thing that comes close is losing my house, which happened four years ago. But that’s another story.)
Typically in the western world it takes two people to want to get married, but it takes only one person to want to get divorced. And although I’m sure it’s hard enough on the person who wanted to do it, to the person on the receiving end it can be devastating. I could wax poetic about the feelings of betrayal when infidelity is involved. And when your parents are going through a divorce at the same time you are, it’s a whole different kind of miserable. You certainly can’t lean on them for support.
Even so, I thought I did everything right – I didn’t bad-mouth my ex in front of my kids. I thought we didn’t need to have child support court-ordered because my ex would send it every month and not “forget.” I tried to be friends with him after it was a done deal. I tried to be magnanimous about it, and I ended up feeling like a fool.
But you can’t get everything right. It’s divorce, after all. If everything were right, you wouldn’t be doing it in the first place. Here, then, are the Top 10 Things I Learned from Divorce:
10. Don’t think if you’re nice and civil in front of the kids they won’t know something’s wrong. They will, even if they’re little.
9. Don’t take for granted that your spouse will always be your spouse if you don’t make it a point to frequently tell him or her how much you appreciate them. They deserve the best from you.
8. Don’t assume because you look pretty good no one would ever cheat on you. Let me tell you, it’s a rude awakening.
7. Don’t beat yourself up when you realize your role in why things went downhill. It might not justify the other person’s role in the demise of your marriage, but that factor is not worth your focus. Learn from it and move on.
6. Don’t be a martyr. Ask for help, especially if you have special needs kids.
5. Do prepare your kids. If they have special needs or they’re not able to understand when you explain things verbally, tell them visually. Neither of my kids could talk at the time, one was/is autistic, and auditory processing was very difficult for both of them. I bought a book called Mom’s House, Dad’s House that had a cover with two separate (but whole) houses on it and a tree in the middle. It helped the boys visually make sense of what was happening. There was still a lot of anxiety, of course, but at least they had something to go on.
4. Do take the high road, but don’t be a doormat. Protect yourself emotionally. Value yourself.
3. Do communicate. Just because you’re not “fighting” doesn’t mean everything’s great. Be proactive.
2. Do see your spouse as the most important person in your life. Yes, even more than your kids. It’s impossible to have a great marriage without that. This is not a justification to neglect your kids and not nurture your relationship with them. Parenting is a gift and a sacred calling, and our children deserve our full presence in their lives. But you have to put your spouse first. I didn’t, and I should have. This is one of the most important things I learned from divorce.
1. Love is not all you need. It takes so much more than love to create, nurture, and sustain a good, fulfilling marriage. Love is why you do it, but it’s not always how.