When my husband and I married in 1982, I never foresaw our demise. And why would I? Our youth, and the promise of the future made divorce simply unthinkable. We were so happy for such a long time. We rarely fought, were willing to learn from each other, and agreed on most parenting issues. So what happened? Like many couples, we found it easier to bury our most difficult issues and pretend they didn’t exist. But feelings buried alive never die, and the anger, resentment and unresolved trauma from a long ago accident came up in spades in the 29th year of our marriage. The garbage bag stuffed full of negative emotions finally exploded. I left.
Once I’d turned the corner, and decided to divorce, I couldn’t leave fast enough. In my haste, I neglected to consider how this divorce would affect the other people in my life. How would it affect me after two years, five years, 10 years?
If I could go back, I’d wish for a divorce fairy godmother, who would take me gently and firmly by the shoulders, gaze deeply and compassionately into my eyes, and very seriously tell me these things about divorce:
1. Even though your children are grown, and you have a warm and open relationship with them, they may be deeply and profoundly shaken by the news of your divorce.
They may turn against you and away from you for a time. Be prepared. Whether your children are two or 22, they can be shocked and dismayed to learn of your divorce. Especially if they have no clue that you and their father are at odds, as was the case with my two adult daughters. Your divorce raises the question of the sustainability of relationships. They may question whether their own romantic relationships are trustworthy and sustainable. Marriage may lose its value for them. Be willing to maintain dialogue and honesty with your children, to the degree they are able to understand this. A two-year-old needs less information than a 22-year-old, but she deserves to be reassured you love her unquestionably and that this will never change, despite the divorce.
On the other hand, for women in high conflict marriages, in situations where there is chronic cheating or lying, adult children are often very aware of the injustice and are relieved when the marriage ends. They can be great sources of emotional support and encouragement. This does not mean the children are not affected by divorce. Usually they have known for some time the futility of the marital relationship. In many cases, a child vows not to repeat the dysfunctional behavior they saw in their parent’s marriage. This awareness makes change possible for their own partnerships.
2. Seek financial advice the minute after you call your attorney the first time.
Consider hiring a Certified Divorce Financial Planner. This group of specially trained financial advisors understands the details to attend to in working through the financial aspect of your divorce. This may be especially important for a divorce after a long marriage. In a longterm marriage, the couple often has acquired significant assets, such as a home, other properties, stocks and/or a 401K. Perhaps they own a business together. Divorce analysts can dig deep into assets to make sure the tax implications and property division is fair. Each partner deserves a fair share of the assets. In most divorce cases, there is an imbalance of knowledge about the financial and tax status of the couple. Do not count on your lawyer to have the expertise or willingness to excavate your financial landscape. A financial advisor is trained to look at the entire financial and tax picture, and to project the impact a settlement has on the future.
3. Be very careful about your romantic attachments.
Did you know that 85% of romances for which people leave their marriages do not sustain the divorce process? This is often because the sheer excitement of the illicit nature of the relationship feeds the fires of passion. These fires don’t burn as brightly in the harsh light of reality. So see it for what it is. If this is what helps you leave your marriage, okay. But realize that you both will probably move on from this. Take off those rose colored glasses. It takes at least two years for the brain fog of divorce to dissipate. By all means, date, make new friends, enjoy your new found freedom, if that is what you wish. And stay true to yourself. Be willing to look at the ways you contributed to your divorce, and resolve for those issues not to follow you into new relationships. Think about how you want to be different in relationships and what you want in a partner. This is not easy. A good therapist can help.
4. Seize the opportunity of your divorce.
You have permission to reinvent yourself. Spend some time alone. For some this may involve prayer or meditation. Discover your values. What is important to you? What might you do as a single woman that you couldn’t or wouldn’t do as a married one? It is true that many women experience a loss of economic status after divorce, but you may decide to change the way you think about economic status and having “nice things.” For some, the sheer freedom of choosing their own path is worth the loss of regular spa days and expensive designer clothing. Many women in long term marriages have been spared the everyday concerns about financial matters. You may be frightened about assuming this role. It’s okay. Go slowly, obtain good advice, and dare to craft a life of your own vision.
5. Don’t be surprised when you are overtaken by grief.
After the initial surge of excitement over your new found freedom dissipates, you may be beset by doubt and sadness over the impact of your decision. Time softens the edges of memory, leaving the sweet ones behind and blurring the difficult times. Be prepared for grief to sneak up on you in the form of a song from your dating days playing on the radio. You might dissolve into tears. This is normal. It does not mean you want to reconcile with your ex-spouse. It is your brain, allowing you to honor a part of your life that was once everything to you. You are acknowledging all the possibility, potential and hope of fulfilling the “til death do you part” promise on your wedding day. It is okay. You may have those feelings of longing and nostalgia over the past, and you may move on and be happy in your current life. The two are not mutually exclusive.
As your divorce fairy godmother, I hope I have imparted the wisdom I wish I’d received when I divorced three years ago. The fog has lifted, for sure. I have learned about myself, repaired relationships and made new ones. Despite the uncertainty of the future, I have found a peaceful ease to my existence that was absent for so long. May you find it too.
Melanie Somerville, MA, LPC, was married for 29 years. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor, working towards her PhD and has a private practice in Austin, TX. She specializes in working with parents divorcing with children. You can find her on Facebook and at www.therapyplease.com. 512.593.0583.