I'm divorced, as is 50 percent of the population. While going through my divorce, I read voraciously and swapped stories with other divorcees in an attempt to find insight into the pain that I couldn't make sense of. Post-divorce, some women were brokenhearted, some celebrated their newfound freedom and some were happily remarried. But in all of my experiences, I never found someone who shared my perspective on divorce: Although I was the one who decided to leave, I still found myself completely devastated and filled with regret -- my entire world turned upside-down.
While it sounds nonsensical to have made the decision to leave and then feel upset, I know now that many women find themselves in this situation. I assume that often it isn't discussed because of a fear of how others will react. Friends and family cannot fathom why you would leave a successful marriage for a new life of insecurity, loneliness and struggle, but I did. Here's my story.
Unlike many divorcing couples, I had the perfect life and the perfect relationship. I lived in a condo on the beach, had a great career and a kind and patient husband. I had friends, money to spend and security. The only thing that I didn't have was happiness. I didn't feel fulfilled by my life, not because my relationship was lacking, but because I didn't know myself. I didn't feel that I had been an active participant in creating my life, so I wasn't able to feel satisfaction in what I had achieved.
During the nine years we were together, I tried everything to remedy my happiness "issue." Although some changes would bring temporary happiness, it would eventually slip away and I would once again feel empty and sad. Finally, I made the difficult decision to return to my hometown alone and start my life over.
Contrary to popular belief, leaving your marriage doesn't make divorce any easier; in fact, I often wished that I could have been the one who was left by my husband. Of course, I acknowledge that being left isn't any more fun, but I longed to be able to avoid taking responsibility for the choice that made me feel so unhinged. By being left, I could have retained the belief that I had done everything possible to save our marriage. When times were particularly tough, I could have gotten angry and blamed him. Instead, I had to deal with the loneliness, sadness and emptiness of divorce, while also experiencing crippling self-doubt and regret.
In my experience, the only way to come to terms with your choice to leave is to accept it -- and your new life -- absolutely. Without acceptance, you will never be able to move on or feel true happiness. Many women jump headfirst into a new relationship or distract themselves with a nonstop social calendar, but in most cases, these tactics only prolong the inevitable; the emotions resurface and are much harder to deal with after the fact. You can't expect to be able to deal with all of the emotional fallout of your divorce immediately, but it is important to face your current reality, even if only for a few minutes each day.
Of course, like any important psychological change, acceptance is much easier said than done. Since situations like mine create different feelings than the typical divorce, it can be difficult to find the support that you need to make it through the tough times. I have found that professional help is key in overcoming these feelings. I've benefited from a year and a half of therapy, which helped me sort through my conflicted emotions and find acceptance. While therapy can be expensive, it is the best way to deal with the emotional baggage left over from divorce.
On the days when you are holed up at home, sobbing uncontrollably and kicking yourself for not being able to make your relationship work, remember this: At least 50 percent of the population has, or is, going through the pain of a divorce. It is a simple thought, but in my darkest moments, remembering that others had experienced the hardships of divorce and survived, was a comfort.
Now, six months after my divorce was finalized, I have made it through the most difficult part of the divorce process -- the regret and the overwhelming emotional devastation. Although I will always feel a certain level of sadness for the fact that I had to abandon my husband in order to find myself, I am thankful that I had the strength to do so, and am happier every day because of it.