Divorce : A Primer For All (Yes, That Includes You)

To all who have known and/or will know someone suffering the death of the life they once knew, and to those who've been through it or will (so pretty much everyone unless you live alone under a rock), I impart this primer on what I've learned thus far.
05/09/2016 01:53 pm ET Updated May 10, 2017
Lifestyle image of woman looking out of a cafe window whilst holding a drink.
Lifestyle image of woman looking out of a cafe window whilst holding a drink.

Much has been written on the subject of divorce, yet likely it goes unread by those who are married. "It doesn't apply to me," we think. "That will never be me." And for many who are married, that it will never be them is, thankfully, correct. For many others, self-included, it isn't.

Whether or not you find yourself in that place you never thought you'd be, the reality is that you likely know someone who has been or will be. And for them and, perhaps yourself, I humbly suggest you know some basics on the subject. Because (apparently) just like when someone dies, if you haven't been there then you struggle with what to say to the newly divorced. And sometimes, you inflict hurt with the words you choose because, like myself, you thought "It doesn't apply to me."

My thoughts on divorce, prior to my own, were naive. My pastor had said something about locking the back door because, in marriage, you can't consider that back door. In marriage, you work it out. You don't leave. There is no back door. But, as I discovered, that isn't always the case. Sometimes that door needs to be unlocked and, despite what the church believes, it's for the best that you pass through it.

That said, when you walk through the door, a death occurs. Your life, all you knew, all you expected for the future is gone. It has died and mourning is a part of the process you will have to face. But, unlike the death of a loved one, you don't expect it. No one tells you what is to be expected because, in our society, divorce is a shame that isn't spoken of. Worse than discussing politics and/or religion at the table, you most certainly don't discuss Aunt Jane's divorce from Uncle Dick. Aunt Jane suffers her shame in silence.

There is no handbook and, just like the mourning of a death, there is no rhyme or reason to the stages she will go through. One day she will be fine and the next she will be unable to get out of bed so overwhelmed by the pain of her varied emotions.

Along the way, many will have their opinions. Some will judge quietly while others will make their feelings known. Knowing nothing about what has occurred behind the closed doors of your house, some will feel compelled to advise you on your most intimate relationship. Their reasons are many but the truth is, unless they have been there, they likely don't understand in full because they simply can't.

To all who have known and/or will know someone suffering the death of the life they once knew, and to those who've been through it or will (so pretty much everyone unless you live alone under a rock), I impart this primer on what I've learned thus far.

What divorce is:

It is hard. Perhaps the hardest thing you've ever suffered. And sometimes, you may not want to go on.

It is a death. The death of your dreams. All you knew, all you thought you knew is gone. You must start from scratch.

It is heartbreaking over and over again. From the realization that you must figure out what to do with all those Christmas ornaments to your children creating new memories with your ex's significant other, you are struck by the pain suddenly and often unexpectedly.

It is humbling. If you thought you were better in any way than those people who couldn't make it, you now realize you aren't. At any moment, it could've been you and now it is. You feel horrible for thinking you knew better than they did.

It is a mystery. Since it isn't really talked about, you have no idea what to expect. And you get the sense you should feel ashamed of your failure so it's hard to reach out.

It is a time of questioning. Your idea of marriage may have been wrong, which causes you to question everything else you ever thought. Religion, politics, relationships, the meaning of life. Nothing seems concrete anymore.

It is lonely. The silence can be difficult. Once upon a time, someone was always there. And now he/she is not. You are so alone.

At the same time, it is:

It is not the end. You will go on. You will see the sunrise again. And, at some point, you will smile at the idea of it.

It is a second chance. Generally, it takes two to tango and two to screw it up. Divorce teaches you how you have failed and what you want to bring to the next relationship.

It is new over and over again. With the old put away, you can fill your Christmas tree with new memories and with the introduction of your ex's significant other, comes new memories that your children will cherish.

It is a club. You have a new respect for those people you may have judged. They are now your brothers and sisters who welcome you into the club no one wants to be in. They save you time and again.

It is a discovery. You learn that you can survive. You can do all the things all by yourself. You don't actually need anyone and that is empowering.

It is a time of answers. You may not know all the answers but you learn to be okay with that. You accept that your past notions may not hold true but that, in this new life, your beliefs will be deeper and truer as they have been tested. So tested.

It is lonely. And that is okay. You learn to enjoy the silence. You discover, in the quiet, who you are and how you really want to spend your time. You grow. You become the new you.

Even the most amicable of divorces, as mine has been, are messy. Beneath the surface, the divorced person is struggling the same as anyone to figure out the next step. And as is the case for anyone else's life, there are no magic words to make it better.

Marriage, death, divorce... whatever life throws at you, the best solution is to learn to ride the waves as they come and hope you have a friend who brings a bottle of wine. Because if you should find yourself in that place you never thought you'd be, you're going to need a drink and a friend who, at the very least, has tried to understand.