10 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Got Divorced

10 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Got Divorced - #staymarried guest post by Lindsay HellerWhen my husband and I were dating, we went to one of the most lavish weddings I can remember. It was before brides were pinning their dream days on Pinterest, and looking back, I’ll bet Pinterest probably sent a correspondent to this same wedding just to take a look at all of the details.

The bride, Lindsay, was perfectly polished in every way. Her groom was tall and handsome. They were both friends of mine, so I’d witnessed their rocky and passionate relationship from a distance, but none of us questioned that they would get married some day. And, on that day, everything seemed just as it should be… at least it did from the pew I sat in.

Sadly, their dream wedding did not result in a dream marriage and they divorced. I later learned that Lindsay, like 30% of other brides who end up divorcing, had serious doubts on the day of her wedding.

Henry Ford said, “The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.” I have watched and learned so much from Lindsay over the years. She is wise and resilient, creative and determined. She and I talk from time to time about what it looks like to move on and today we get to share her perspective with you. Wherever you are on your relationship journey, I hope you’ll take in her story and glean from her the way I’ve had the opportunity to…

Irrevocably Broken

by Lindsay Heller

There surely comes a time in every marriage when we question if the grass is greener on the other side. When marriage is not easy and doesn’t look or feel like we thought it would. When the voids within ourselves become so dark and heavy that we can’t help but blame our spouse for not filling them, not meeting our needs, not coming to our rescue and pulling us out of the slump. So we question the decision to have made those vows, wondering if we should throw in the towel or trust that a dire situation could ever be redeemed.

Divorce was never part of my plan, yet I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t have doubts before walking down the aisle. In the back of my mind, I questioned if I was making the right decision, yet I pressed on, not wanting to rock the boat. And how did I know what were real doubts versus standard cold feet? So I would move forward, resolved to make it work. Love would win. And as much as I would say that divorce would never be an option, in the deepest, darkest parts of my mind, it was.

Over time, the communication deteriorated and instead of turning inward toward each other for support, we turned outward and grew apart. We were expecting each other to fulfill all of our individual needs without considering any of each other’s, disconnecting to the point of seeking attention, validation, and emotional intimacy with people outside of our marriage and fantasizing about how much better it could surely be with someone else.

"Daring greatly means the courage to be vulnerable... Brene Brown quote on #staymarriedI was afraid of being vulnerable and unsure that my husband was a capable and willing partner to confide in and truly see me from inside out. Perhaps it was the walls I had built that didn’t allow him the chance to come in or to see me at all. We desperately could have used a #staymarried blog from which to gain some advice and perspective, but it was as if we didn’t know any better and just floundered in our downward spiral.

We started therapy and had elusive glimpses of improvement, but it seemed that only one of us would be putting in effort at any given time while the other was checked out and uninterested. We both were grappling with unrealistic expectations of trying to get the other to change, perpetuating a cycle of animosity and resentment between us until eventually we were standing in front of a judge together and answering, in unison, “yes” to his question: “Is this marriage irrevocably broken?” They really should make you stand in front of all the same people you did at the wedding to answer that.

Walking out of the courthouse, I could never anticipate what laid ahead. At first the freedom was amazing, like a weight had lifted. Single again after 10+ years. Optimistic. An endless sea of possibility. But then the blinders came off and reality and panic set in. Ebbs and flows of contrasting emotions. Loneliness, hope, insecurity, confidence, depression, excitement. And lurking there, always, the guilt. What have I done to my life? How is this impacting my child? Do I regret not trying harder? Can I still make the best of the path I now find myself on?

I realized quickly on the couch in my therapist’s office that recovery was going to last forever. That divorce, especially with a child involved, would never be wrapped up, tied with a bow and shelved. There would be residual effects of this decision every day. I struggled to find balance. I was pulled in a million directions, feeling discouraged, inadequate and ineffective, trying to juggle work and parenting responsibilities. Trying to peacefully co-parent. Entering into new relationships but responding to certain behaviors in ways triggered by my past relationship. Facing the unique and often frustrating challenges of dating with kids and blending families. Feeling weighted by the disappointment of my ex in-laws and my own parents and other family involved by default in our division. Navigating how I now fit into the landscape of friendships as I had previously known them, often feeling out of place in once familiar circles. Life was moving on all around me, yet I felt stuck in a weird in between space of my former and current lives.

There were times when it felt like my heart was seizing, the grief was so overwhelming. When I couldn’t fathom not having a partner to go through life with, to start each day with, to kiss goodnight. An empty house. Voids everywhere. No security. No safety net. The guilt of being 50% of a decision to end a union I knew we didn’t try hard enough to save.

10 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Got Divorced - #staymarried guest postMoving on looks different for everyone. I knew I didn’t want to jump back into another union that would likely resemble the first, repeating old patterns and perpetuating a negative cycle. I instead chose, and am still choosing, to do the work of self-discovery and exploration. Diving deep into introspection. Finding the self-awareness to recognize how I contributed to the downfall of my marriage. Thoughtfully examining myself and who I am. Clearly defining what I am looking for in a partner and what I want my life to look like. Choosing not to live with regret but to apply the lessons learned from past mistakes and to allow them to act as a catalyst for growth and change.

There are a handful of things I’ve learned that hopefully will be helpful for those navigating relationships whether married, dating, single, or single again:

10 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Got Divorced

10 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Got Divorced - #staymarried guest post

1. Prioritize character.

Be with someone who respects you and others and lives with integrity. The novelty of substantial differences will wear off but shared core values are what lay the foundation that will see you through the hard times. It’s hard to be a safety net for someone you don’t respect.

2. What you see is what you get.

While the goal is to navigate personal growth together and to handle the not-so-lovely things about your partner with grace, who you marry is who you marry. Release any expectation of being able to change them and be sure your partner loves you for you, just as you are.

3. Invest in community.

Have a reliable network of friends and family in place that will honestly share their opinions with you during the dating stage, and will offer advice and support within a committed relationship. Vow to listen and trust them – don’t brush off sound advice. Being in love can cloud judgment and a separate set of eyes can help to see things from a different viewpoint.

4. Practice self-awareness.

Learn to see yourself from your partner’s perspective and also turn the tables to put yourself in their shoes. Take responsibility and be accountable for your actions. Admit when you are wrong and ask for forgiveness.

5. A relationship will not complete you.

10 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Got Divorced - #staymarried guest post by Lindsay HellerStrive for personal wholeness and self-sufficiency on every level both before and after committing to another person. You’ll attract or inspire the same and avoid co-dependency. While focusing on partnership as a team is important, so is maintaining individuality and investing time for yourself within a relationship.

6. Have a plan.

Create a vision for your ideal life; career, relationships, parenting. Clearly define, in writing, your top five non-negotiables in a future spouse. Focus on the positive, but also create an understanding of things you absolutely won’t stand for. What does an ideal marriage look like to you? Have realistic expectations built around common goals. Right thoughts follow right actions – strive for progress over perfection.

7. Set boundaries.

Stick to them. Know your worth. Loneliness is powerfully persuasive and can lead to the allowance of bending the physical and emotional rules you’ve outlined for yourself. Honor your truth and trust your gut, which can be a trustworthy combination of head and heart. If something feels off, explore it, don’t ignore it. Have the guts to walk away from good to hold out for great.

8. Go team!

Be your partner’s number 1 fan and supporter, offering more encouragement than criticism. Build a foundation of friendship and shared interests, prioritizing quality time together to continue to deepen the connection in each other’s lives. What’s important to them should be important to you.

9. Invest in maintenance therapy.

Take preventative measures (both as a couple and individually) and tune up with a professional or other resources as you go instead of waiting until the ruts are deep and things are spiraling downward. The grass will be green where you water it. Sometimes a watering can won’t cut it and you need a sprinkler system, landscaping team, and lots of time spent getting your own hands dirty. I’d argue that working to rebuild a marriage beats potentially building a life alone.

10. Become a master communicator.

Be transparent, vulnerable, and clearly express your feelings and needs. Learn how to fight effectively and understand how to handle recurring arguments. Pick your battles. Forgive quickly. Offer grace.

I still don’t get all of these right, but am learning as I go, implementing best practices and honing them through trial and error, encouraging others along the way as much as possible. I move forward, creating positive momentum and mustering up resilience and perseverance, some days more successfully than others. I continue focusing on taking the next right steps, albeit sometimes small ones, recognizing that despite my first marriage being irrevocably broken, I certainly don’t have to be.

 

10 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Got Divorced - #staymarried guest post by Lindsay HellerLindsay Heller is a freelance writer living in Woodinville, WA  with her 7-year-old son Cohen. She likes travel, prefers her meat and wine red, loves her monthly book club, the gym, meaningful conversation, grammar, sunshine, being on the water and standing on her toes. She believes in grace, an open mind, saving the whales, and giving the benefit of the doubt. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

The #staymarried blog was created to offer hope, stories, and resources for couples who want to stay married.

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Interested in more posts like this? You might like…
25 Things To Do Before The Wedding
The Marriage Counselor and His Wife – a Real Couple Q&A
♥ The Second Time Bride – a guest post

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20 responses

    • This post was so helpful. I was three days away from divorce and I implemented just a few of these and saw immediate results. So much so that my husband changed his mind. I’ve also learned that being a master communicator is so much more than just sharing your feelings, its knowing what type of communication works best with your spouse and doing it. Men mostly want to be respected so for me it confronting unrespectable behavior in a respectful way…great post.

  • Thank you for a very practical and informative article, I am at the therapy stage with a partner that is stonewalling. your passage through divorce, the emotions and emptiness is what I fear as well. One question, what would you have done different at therapy to get a partner that is not 100% committed to commit, or is that just a sign that its more over than you would like to admit?

    • Hi Gordon,
      Thank you for reading and for the feedback. I read your response of “not 100%” as maybe not 100% in but also not 100% out. Stick with it as long as she’s willing to go. Even sitting closed off in therapy sessions is better than not being there, with the hope that each time, even minute shifts will add up to multiple small steps to get the ball rolling in a positive direction, to where you are both putting in effort towards redemption of the marriage. It can be so discouraging if you feel like your efforts are one sided, but resist the urge to give up and keep at it so that when she has a breakthrough, you are ready to receive it with open arms versus a turned back. Be able to know that you are doing everything possible to save it.

    • As a licensed therapist, would like to suggest that, unfortunately, there is no way to convince your partner that is not 100% committed to commit to therapy or improving your relationship. (Wouldn’t life be a whole lot easier if we could control other’s responses and actions? Just kidding.) The only thing you can change in the therapy room is your own thoughts, feelings, and actions. You can do “couples’ therapy with out the other person being in the room physically, because whether physically there or not they are present (if that makes sense). You partner should see that you are making changes and will either want to join in to make those changes with you or will withdraw more. When ever I entered into therapy with a couple, after the initial assessment/interview, the next session would be split to meet with each party individual and check in to see what their agenda for therapy was, and if I felt that one person was not fully committed to the process, I would bring it up to be discussed. It’s impossible to fix something, if someone is there to be able to tell their lawyer that the checked the box of having done everything to save their marriage. I would be curious as to who initiated therapy. Also, you may be interested in reading Sue Johnson’s “Hold Me Tight” as it discusses Attachment in relationships and how past hurts effect the way actions are currently perceived. For example, If I were to ask you to take out the trash and you don’t do it, I may see that as you not caring about me or my needs, when you simply forgot that I asked. And I said all of that to say this… Sometimes being silent and listening, (but beyond listening into HEARING what is being said beneath the words to the emotion of it) with out trying to defend your self or work on a comeback or try to convince someone else why your partner is wrong and you are right, will do wonders for beginning to soften someone who is stonewalling you. Good luck to you in counseling sessions.

  • Great advice!! But “in unison, “yes” to his question: “Is this marriage irrevocably broken?” They really should make you stand in front of all the same people you did at the wedding to answer that.” is probably the most heartbreaking thing i’ve read in a looong time. So true but still so SOO sad.

    • Mandi! I wholeheartedly agree. That line chocked me up and drew me in the first time I read it. Such a profound visual, isn’t it? Thanks for your comment 🙂

  • Lindsay, thank you for sharing this personal and painful journey with the #staymarried readers. Know that this post has helped me have insight and learn about myself today which in turn helps not only me, but my husband and four children as well. Your honesty and transparency is a blessing!
    Thank You!

  • My Husb of 10 yrs had an affair the past 2. We have been going to therapy, but he will not fire his mistress/employee, despite my expressing how awful it has been for me. He says she will be vengeful. I want my marriage but will not stand for this! How do I take a stand without throwing him out? If I throw him out, he will go to her for good. She begs him to.

  • Hi Jaden,
    I’m so sorry you are facing this. I’m not sure I have the “right” answer, and would certainly advise that you continue to seek the professional advice of your therapist. Much of Mackenzie’s advice above to Gordon may also be applicable to your situation as well.
    In my opinion, while it’s possible to overcome infidelity, it’s also extremely challenging and takes both partners being 100% committed to each other and to the ongoing process of rebuilding trust, which would mean cutting all ties with any third person outside of your union, and unapologetically making each other the number one priority at all costs. Without all of the details of your situation, it sounds like good news that your husband is willing to be in therapy, pending it is with the right intent. While you can’t control another person, as Mackenzie mentions, you can control yourself and your responses, maybe realigning your efforts to meet his love needs if he’s communicated that he feels like something has been lacking in the marriage. You deserve to be in a healthy marriage based on respect, loyalty, security and faithfulness and I hope you find resolution and healing whatever the outcome. Wishing you all the best…

  • This was a great post. I try to be mindful of these things and I agree that it takes both people to be 100% invested for counseling to work.

  • Unbelievably thoughtful, wise, intuitive and helpful. After 36 years married i’ve always tried to keep humility , unselfish, and prayer as my guides. You have done a masterful job at putting wisdom into words.

  • Jaden, if your husband keeps his affair partner close by, he is dooming any effort to repair your marriage to fail. I suggest you join the Talk About Marriage forum. You will get a lot of support and advice from people who have been in your position. It can help you take control of the one person you can (yourself), and figure out what is ultimately best for you.

    Good Luck, Infidelity sucks

  • I really enjoyed reading this. I went through a divorce a couple years ago that was not by my choice. I’ve been making the most of the situation and am dating someone I was seeing as a future spouse. But you’re right, you do start looking at your next partner from a perspective of the previous marriage and try to make sure you avoid the same mistakes and now I’ve begun wondering if I am just being selfish by bringing her into my life.

    Anyhow, this is a very good read and I hope it reaches someone contemplating divorce. Since mine, I have spoke with multiple men who have come to me for advice due to going through it now. Best advice, fix the problem. If you can’t, make the best of it and realize your life is not over and there’s more out there. Don’t let it end your story, just let it start a new chapter.

  • Anyone contemplating divorce should look for a copy of Divorce Demystified from Henry Gornbein.
    There are countless things I wish I knew when I went through my divorce and if this book was available back then, I would have known it all.
    It really is a total guide of advice for every step in the process and offers really sound advice on maintaining the right kind of mindset throughout.
    An excellent resource. http://www.divorcedemystifiedbook.com/

  • Lindsay, this was an honest and heartfelt post about the challenges of life after divorce. I appreciated your 10 tips, particularly #9 – invest in maintenance therapy. I think it’s critical to get ongoing individual support after the end of a marriage. It’s often an incredibly lonely and grief-stricken time for many people and maintaining your equilibrium is essential.

    I also wrote about life after divorce here: https://clintonpower.com.au/2014/07/life-after-divorce/