Support for all members of special needs families

Things I Learned from Divorce


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.

9 thoughts on “Things I Learned from Divorce”

  • Tanya, I learned a lot from my divorce too. I never, ever thought I would be divorced but it happened. I love your list – it’s spot on. Being with someone who is a great communicator and encourages communication has made such a difference for me and we are strong because of it! I hope you and Eric have a strong and beautiful marriage! Love you my friend!

  • Very insightful! I don’t have the personal experience (aside from having parents that divorced) but I would definitely advocate keeping communication open at all times. Can’t wait for your wedding!

  • My divorce will be final this month after 16 years of marriage. I too was on the receiving end. I entered my living room one night and heard him tell another he loved them. Shock doesn’t begin to describe the most surreal event of my life.
    Thank god I’ve decided to move forward and not lay down and die slowly. All I hear is how I look better, I’m doing better, isn’t it better……
    Some days yes, others not so much. Losing your best friend, partner, the one you swore would be there through everything is devastating.
    I’ll mourn it, but not let it define me.

  • Hi Jacquie,

    Thank you for your heartfelt comment. You’re right – it is surreal. For me that moment happened a long time ago, but it feels as sharp as it did then. I’m so sorry you’re going through this. May you move through it as gently – on yourself – as possible.

    Hugs to you –

  • Hello Tanya,
    I never thought I would be “the kind of person that gets divorced”. But, what I discovered is this… If you truly love someone you do not permit them to continue to harm you. I used to think people who got divorced were quitters, but knowing what I know now after a 22 year marriage and a 2 year marriage, divorce for me was not about breaking my commitment to the person I pledged my life to. It was about upholding my commitment to love at all times and in all situations, and that meant loving myself by protecting myself from harm, and loving my spouse by saying “no more”.
    As a result, I no longer judge “those divorced people”, for I am one of them now and my heart is full of compassion as a result of all the pain that broke it open and enlarged it.

  • Salina, thank you for your insightful comment. The experience of divorce can teach many things, and I’m very glad you mentioned compassion because it’s such an important element of growth and learning from any difficult experience, especially divorce. Blessings to you as well!

  • Divorce –such a “loaded” word. Mine ended up hurting my child horribly. My ex-husband chose a woman who didn’t know how to parent a special needs child, my daughter. It was almost too late when I took her full time. She attempted suicide at their home. I was angry at him. I was angry at his wife. One of my few regrets was getting a divorce. If I could go back I would do everything differently. I would not have gotten divorced. Everyone kept telling me that my girls would learn great things from my choice. *Be strong. *Take care of self. However…. This other woman and her beliefs almost killed my daughter. I may sound like a drama queen and I realize that one person can’t “make” a child attempt suicide, but…. one person can “break” a child. People must realize that sometimes someone else will help parent their children.

    • Jacqui, thanks for making that point – it is so true, and something we often don’t think of. I’m sorry to hear about what your daughter – and you – went through. And neither one of you is a drama queen – that’s a horrible thing to experience. I hope you are both in a better place emotionally. Take care.

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