When 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…
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.
I 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.
Moving 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
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.
Strive 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.
Lindsay 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.
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Special thanks to Jake Gravbrot Photography for providing the beautiful photograph for this post, image copyright belongs to him. I am in love with his Instagram feed, you should think of following him!