by Elaine Gallagher –
My husband had left. I had been to see a lawyer and suddenly I felt exhausted and scared. I was alone with a five year old and a two year old in a city with no family nearby. The phone call to my mother wasn’t much help: “Of all the kids in the family, you are strong. You are the one that can handle this,” she declared. And with that, I was left to figure out what to do next.
What I needed was a road map of some sort to help me understand what all the tasks were and to help me see that there are many facets to divorce and they don’t all occur at the same time or speed. What follows is what I learned about the work I had to undertake in order to come out of a bad situation feeling okay. I wanted to be able to say: “It was a bad marriage but a great divorce!”
The Emotional Divorce
When I went to bed alone for the first time in seven years, I cried and cried and wondered what had gone wrong. I really loved my husband at the beginning and even though it all went south, I never gave up hope that our relationship could be repaired. I felt confused, anxious, angry, guilty and even relieved … all at once. I mentioned my pain to a casual work acquaintance who politely said: “you should find someone who cares about you to talk this over with.” It seemed like a cruel comment at the time, but after a couple of weeks I got up the courage to tell a close friend what was happening and it really helped me to have a sounding board. Some writers talk about going through stages of grief for the loss but in all honesty, I felt them all at the same time and it made it so hard to begin the work involved in the other aspects of divorce.
The Financial Divorce
This aspect of divorce can be tricky for couples to sort out. One would think that once the support for the children is decided upon, the family assets should be divided 50-50. In some cases that might be true, but not always. I underwent a second divorce where my husband had paid for our house so I didn’t feel right requesting any of it when we split. If one party has a pension, the other is entitled to a portion of it but it can be painful to have to agree to split up money in the future that you were counting on for your retirement. Going from two incomes to only one can put great strain on either or both parties.
The Legal Divorce
Most people need to consult a lawyer in setting up their separation agreement and filing for the legal divorce. If couples can’t come to terms on their own or through mediation, lengthy and expensive legal proceedings can put an added strain on an already fragile budget. Even deciding who to hire as a lawyer can be intimidating and confusing. I needed a “bulldog” for a lawyer when my third marriage ended. My partner threatened to clean me out of house and home, after contributing very little to our joint living expenses.
The Parenting Divorce
When there are children involved, many parenting decisions have to be made. One of the hardest days of my life was the first Christmas after my separation when at noon on Christmas Day, my ex came and took my two kids away to his girlfriend’s house. Of all my decisions and actions at that time, I most regret not putting my children and their needs ahead of mine at crucial times. They are resilient and have grown up to be wonderful, responsible adults and parents, but my own insecurity and fear did not always let me be a full parent to them during that first divorce. I can say I worked hard not to put their dad down and to provide them with plenty of love and care. The love of both sets of grandparents was nourishing too, and needed to be fostered.
The Social Divorce
One day you are a couple and the next you’re single. So how do you decide who gets the mutual family friends? Do you just wait until they call you, or do you reach out and see who will wind up being in your social bubble? It can be awkward for your friends and family when deciding whether to invite one or both of you to social events. Do you continue on in the same church or country club, where uncomfortable encounters with your ex are inevitable? Once single, it can be a struggle to figure out when to date again and how to go about it. Many people these days turn to online dating sites. I could write a book about the experiences I had meeting men this way.
So – divorce is not for sissies. It is exhausting, confusing, painful, frustrating and overall a bloody pain. Realizing this and being kind to yourself in the process is important. If a friend or family member is ending their marriage, be there for them and listen. There is light at the end of the tunnel and when that feeling of relief and peace finally hit me, I realized my mother was right – I am strong and I have been able to move on with my life in productive and meaningful ways.
Disclaimer: This article is based on my own divorce experience. It is not intended to convey any official legal or other advice and acknowledges that each person’s journey is unique and requires unique actions and resources.