Six years ago I woke for the first time in this house separated. It was the beginning of the end of my marriage, technically. I don’t talk about being divorced often. I don’t hide it, but it’s deeply personal and people have many embedded and entrenched ideas about divorce and divorcees. I don’t like having them applied to me, so I just don’t make it a topic of conversation on many occasions. However, six years is a bit of a milestone, and there’s reason to reflect.
If you have ever divorced or are especially close to someone who has gone through the experience, you know how challenging the experience is. Those of us who have walked that path understand those embedded and entrenched ideas I mentioned early are the challenges. We feel like failures. Shame, guilt, and a host of other negative emotions come with the experience. We know that rumors are told. People want to know what caused the divorce and they make up stories when they don’t have the truth. Usually, it’s not intended to be malicious, but it is what it is. But then….it ends. Our personal lives are no longer news, and life goes on. But we are not the same person. We are wiser, more resilient, and smarter. We’ve learned lessons that have altered us. We emerge from a very broken version of ourselves into…..as pop culture calls it….a badass. And this is a very, very good thing.
So tonight, I’m sharing the most important lessons I’ve learned in the past six years as a way to celebrate — not to celebrate my divorce, but to celebrate the person I am now despite having gone through a divorce. Perhaps if you are walking the same path, it will provide you some clarity and hope.
I feel it important to add this disclaimer: my lessons are mine alone. They have become truths for me, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are universal truths. While many of the experiences of divorce are common, each situation is personal and nuanced and unique. Therefore, it is not my intention to assume that these are the same experiences or lessons for anyone else that has gone through or is going through a divorce. It is not my intention to infer that I have divorced in any way that is better or worse than anyone else. Please note these are “I” statements.
- Single doesn’t mean lonely. In fact, loneliness very rarely has anything to do with how many people are in the room. I have an incredible support system. I have people I can spend time with. I have people I can call. I have people that I know will drop everything and run to me should I ever need it. And spending a night binge watching a series or cleaning the house or even staring at a wall doesn’t mean I am sad. It means I’m making a choice to recharge my batteries or do something I want to do.
- I did not ruin my kids by getting divorced. In fact, I believe there are many situations where the worst thing someone can do is stay in a dysfunctional relationship and give kids that example. Point is, it’s not divorce that negatively impacts kids. It’s how adults handle situations — a divorce or otherwise.
- I am in charge of my behaviors and attitudes. When I separated, I knew the kind of person I wanted to be….kind, strong, responsible, peaceful. I decided I would be that kind of person regardless of how my spouse behaved or how my friends acted, or how people in town talked, or how others reacted to the news. Tons and tons of people in this world react to every unfair, unkind, untruthful thing said about them. They react to every passive aggressive social media post. They fight fire with fire. You do you, but I decided that was not who I wanted to be. I wasn’t going to be a doormat, but I was going to be faithful to who I wanted to be. I was going to take responsibility for my own behaviors and attitudes, and not rely on the excuse of “they asked for it” or “they deserved it” or “but, did you hear what they said?”. I was going to be navigated by my own true north. I’ve not always done this as well as I wish, but I almost always at least hold myself accountable. And I’ve never, ever, ever regretted making a decision that has aligned with my own version of my best self.
- A divorce is a death. It brings its own special kind of grief. I went through those grief stages of denial, anger, depression, and bargaining, until I reached the acceptance. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t tough days. Most of the times those tough days surprise me. And even more surprising, the days that I expected to be tough sometimes aren’t. But knowing that emotions are always temporary means I can just lean into whatever I’m feeling and then move forward with better days ahead.
- Divorce doesn’t have to mean hate. I do not hate my ex-husband. I never will. He is not the villain in my story. I don’t agree with him sometimes just as he doesn’t agree with me sometimes. I get angry or irritated with him even now, and I know he gets angry or irritated with me sometimes, too. And that’s okay. We all get angry or irritated with people that are important to us. That’s not the same as hate. He is a good man with good qualities, but we cannot be married. I’m sure he’d say the same thing about me. I’ve learned that even beyond not hating, we can find ways to support each other. Again, I get to choose what type of person I want to be, and I don’t want to be a person who is full of bitterness and hate. I’m so very thankful he has decided he won’t be a person that hates me, either. …. and while we’re at it, I don’t have to hate others for the gossip, questions, or comments. You don’t have to, either.
- If I don’t do the work to examine my own baggage, hurts, faults and patterns, I will repeat the same life over and over but with different people. I will get hurt the same way, and hurt others in the same way until I see my own part in it. This is why filling every ounce of excess time with work, dating, addictions, etc., is not good as much as withdrawing from the world and sitting in isolation is harmful. Spending time doing things I enjoy is good, but I have spent so much of the last five years reflecting so I don’t repeat patterns over and over. Filling every spare moment or jumping from relationship to relationship would not have allowed me the opportunity to do this reflection. It isn’t fun, but it’s necessary.
- Every healthy relationship needs boundaries. This is true for every type of relationship. People will not hate me if I say no. It is not my job to fix or control everything. My feelings are my feelings and your feelings are your feelings. I cannot make someone love me or like me. And I don’t even want to try.
- I can trust again. I can love again. I am not damaged beyond repair. Neither are you. I will not die alone.
- Divorce doesn’t make me unfaithful in my Christian walk. It doesn’t make me a bad person. It doesn’t mean I can’t be used by God. It doesn’t mean that I can’t hold any leadership position within my church that I could have held prior to being divorced. In fact, perhaps it makes me more qualified now because I’m being authentic. And…..hold your hat for this…..are you sitting down? I don’t think being divorced is a sin, and I don’t ask for forgiveness for being divorced. Now, I know what the Bible says. Trust me, I’ve read up on this. It’s cool if I just lost you now because what I am saying here sounds heretical to you and you can’t read another word. But I think divorce is a byproduct of humanity’s brokenness. I don’t think it’s great. I don’t think it’s what God intended. But, no, I don’t believe it’s a sin. I believe the sins are found in the circumstances that lead to divorces. Consider it….nearly any situation you’ve ever heard of that is at the root of a divorce — greed, adultery, disrespect, abuse, neglect, selfishness, and the list goes on and on — is the sin. Deciding to end that situation is a byproduct. And as long as I have breath in me, that’s why I will never understand why in some churches being a divorcee is a single excluding factor to not able to hold positions of leadership. I’ve done a lot of things in my life for which I’ve begged for forgiveness from God, but divorce isn’t one of them.
- I don’t want to be needed by a partner. I want to be wanted. In a marriage or partnership, need comes with obligation, burden, …. even codependency. It squeezes out the satisfaction of knowing you are chosen. Being wanted comes with the idea of being chosen, valued, appreciated above others. I’ll take a serving of that any day of the week. Please and thank you.
- While I wouldn’t say it would be wise to celebrate divorce, we also don’t need to treat it as if it was the end of the world. No pity. I don’t need anyone to feel sad or sorry for me. Divorce gave me an opportunity to rebuild my life on my terms. It gave me an opportunity to rebuild myself. It was a blank slate. It may have been tough in the beginning, but I actually believe I’ve been blessed in it. My life is so vibrant and full of abundance in ways I could never have known otherwise. And, I honestly believe I’m a better person because of it.