Our relationship had become weathered and worn by time, until that last little bit of goodness between us had eroded away as though it were a natural part of life. So after much reflection and consideration, we decided to end our marriage.
Because we agreed to remain amicable and on good terms for our two children, I assumed that this divorce would be easier than the messy divorces we witnessed over the years. We vowed to work together to be good co-parents and still collaborate on all things involving the children -- just from two different households. We planned to set a new precedent for divorce and do it in a way that few have done it before, defying the odds and modeling a noteworthy example. Essentially, I thought I had it all figured out, and in the recesses of my mind, I had painted a landscape of ease and civility. I was going to master divorce in the same way I mastered college-level British Literature, with a zealous A+.
But I was not prepared for what happened in the months that followed. I had no idea how much it would hurt when the wave of sadness and reality finally came crashing down on me. Out of nowhere, I unexpectedly found myself lost, grief-stricken, and emotionally struggling to stay afloat. I thought I was mentally equipped and ready for this divorce, yet I was suddenly falling apart. There were a few things I wish I'd known about divorce before I faced it and a few things I've learned thus far:
There is no such thing as an easy divorce.
My father told me this, but I didn't really believe him at the time. No matter how well you get along with your ex, the ending of any relationship is painful and confusing, even more so if children are involved. If you share children with your ex, he or she will always be a part of your life -- like it or not. The fact that the dynamic of your relationship has changed is unsettling and strange, and remnants of regret still linger. Even when a divorce isn't volatile, it still hurts, but it's a quiet, deep ache. The days on which my children are away from me are the darkest, loneliest times in my life. The sound of their liveliness is replaced by silence and emptiness, and I'm not sure I'll ever grow accustomed to their momentary absences. Being cordial with an ex-spouse is beneficial for the well-being of children, but unfortunately, it doesn't make divorce a painless experience.
You don't just divorce your spouse; you also divorce your life.
I didn't realize how much of my identity was associated with being married, nor did I realize that I would suddenly feel like a stranger in my own life. Most of us are dedicated creatures of habit and the drastic change that divorce brings to our lives is shocking and disconcerting. Friendships change. Holidays change. Paperwork changes. Everything changes. Amidst my naivety, I was oblivious and unprepared for how different I would feel, how utterly uncomfortable in my own skin I would become. Order and routine were replaced by uncertainty and chaos, and I felt lost without the habits and rituals we had established as a family over the years.
Self-doubt and self-blame are vicious.
Self-doubt and self-blame are like the plague, but instead of wreaking havoc on one's body, they infect one's soul. After the divorce, I had no idea how intensely my mind would scrutinize almost everything I've ever done or thought, every move I've ever made to get to this point in my life. My mind became a combat zone in which I fought brutal battles against myself, flashing back to happier times, and then forward to more difficult times when we were falling apart, wondering what I should have done differently. I blamed and doubted myself to such a degree that I quickly depleted what little self-love I had. I never imagined that I would need to arm myself against the critical, relentless voice that lived inside my head. I needed constant reminding that I was not solely responsible for this divorce and that my children deserved two happy parents, even if they were happy separately.
The sadness will come.
No matter how tough and guarded you are, sadness and regret will eventually catch up with you. When you planned on spending the rest of your life with someone and had hopes, dreams, and a multitude of memories together -- and then it all ends -- it's sad. Even if the decision to divorce is the right one, there is still a huge sense of loss, and the most common reaction to loss is sadness. Some days, it can be overwhelming. I wish someone had told me, "Go ahead and give yourself permission to cry. Sadness is like a virus: it has to run its course and work its way out of your system."
It took me accidentally stumbling across an article outlining the stages of grief to realize that I had been experiencing them: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and then acceptance. It was like an epiphany for me, a powerful moment of enlightenment in which my feelings were suddenly validated and my emotions made sense. I didn't know beforehand that divorce would almost feel like a death in the family, nor was I aware of the emotional impact that even a civil divorce would have on me. People told me that it would be "hard", but no one informed me of the immense grief that would afflict my soul, grief that would unassumingly latch onto me in stages. I muddled through those stages for months until one day, I realized that I hurt less than the day before, and I slowly began to heal.
People leave marriages because they are ultimately unhappy or unfulfilled, so instead of continuing on a path of unhappiness, they choose to go in another direction. Even if divorce is the right choice and you embark upon it with a positive attitude, that doesn't necessarily mean that it will be easy and that you won't experience some degree of suffering. Those experiencing the aftermath of a divorce must realize that the road does get easier. The burden you carry does get lighter, or else it just becomes less difficult to bear because in time, you become stronger. In the midst of sorrow, you have to believe that brighter days are ahead, even though you can't envision them yet. Life will get better, but it's likely to get worse first. After all, some of the darkest hours of the night are right before the dawn.