Finding Happiness After an Unwanted Divorce

My divorce certainly did not present itself as a gift, trussed up with a big red bow like a Lexus in a Christmas commercial. Instead, it was a big ugly box, filled to the brim with explosives. It was a present I never anticipated and one I never desired. But, as it came with a “no return” policy, I was determined to make the best of it. From Rewrapping Divorce As a Gift

When you are facing down the bullet train of a divorce you never wanted and cannot seem to halt, all you can think about is the devastation of losing your marriage. Your partner. Your best friend. The pain is unimaginable and a future without your spouse feels impossible.

I know. I’ve been there.

And I’ve also made it through.

Now, over five years out, I can say that my tsunami divorce was the worst thing to ever happen to me.

And also the best.

Sometimes you have to lose what you wanted.

To get what you need.

And sometimes you have to decide you want to feel better.

More than you want to hold onto the past.

Let Go of the Marriage You Thought You Had

You didn’t have a good marriage.

Maybe you thought you did. Maybe you still do.

But the truth is that it wasn’t the marriage you thought you had. Because if it was good, it would not be ending.

I had the hardest time accepting that truth. From my perspective, my marriage was great. And sometimes, when I think back at the wonderful moments we shared, I still do. I was happy. I had a good marriage.

But he didn’t. And it wasn’t.

In some ways, that realization was freeing. The divorce wasn’t the end of something good. It was the end of something broken. Even if I didn’t see the cracks.

You didn’t have the marriage you thought you had. It’s time to let it go.

I know his name. His face. His birthday. His social security number. His family. Yet I still do not know who he is. However, I can tell you who he was. He was my best friend. My lover. My confidant. He was the man who built a toy chest for our friend’s son’s birthday. He was the man whose scent instantly calmed me and whose arms held me like they were molded from my frame. He was a voracious reader and he devoured science fiction and fantasy novels. His favorite series was The Dark Tower, by Stephen King. He hated tomatoes and loved Sweetwater IPA. He preferred dark clothes and refused to wear V-necks. He wore his watch on his right wrist, the face to the inside of his arm. He was the man who patiently built me an office and then rebuilt it for me when I grew weary of the desk where I spent hours writing papers. He was a quick learner, but a poor student in school. He was a fan of Apple, Banana Republic, and Alice in Chains. He was never athletic due to bad knees, although he started to work out once the pounds encroached with age.  He was the man who stayed up all night for a week with our third puppy who came to us with kennel cough. He was so confident that I would win Teacher of the Year, that he ordered flowers before the votes were announced. He was the man I turned to for advice and comfort. He was my everything.

He was all of these things, yet he was also the man who left his wife of ten years with a text message. He was the man who hid debts and stole money from accounts. He was the man who wooed an innocent woman, told her nothing but lies, and married her although he was already wed. He was the man that locked the dogs in the basement and drove off, not knowing that they would survive. From Who Is He?

It’s Okay to Grieve. And It’s Okay to Move On.

An unwanted divorce is an enormous loss. You are losing the image you had of your spouse and your marriage. You are losing your present life. And you are even losing your hopes and dreams for the future. It touches every area of your life.

It’s okay to mourn the loss of what was and what would be.

I spent hours keening in my room, my pillow muffling my cries so that couldn’t be heard. I ran hundreds of miles with tears streaming down my cheeks, blurring the path in front of me. I would pick up the phone, just wanting to hear his voice, before I would remember that it wasn’t mine to hear anymore.

And I also made strides to begin my new life. I wrote and posted goals for the year. I made new friends and tried new things. I dreamed about what I wanted for my next chapter and started taking baby steps towards those aspirations.

By all means, grieve.

And also live.

I would have moments, even days, where the suffering was unseen. But its absence was always short-lived and my brain had a trigger-finger that would herald its return at the slightest provocation. My body held the memories like the discs in a juke-box, ready to play with the touch of a button. As long as I didn’t approach, I was okay. But as soon as I recounted the tale, my voice would tremble and the pain would come rushing back as though it had been lying in wait.

And so I kept telling the story. And with each retelling, the heartache faded a little more. And the suffering grew weaker. My once constant companion became like a distant friend – we may keep in touch on Facebook, but we have no real need for face to face. From The Evolution of Suffering

Don’t Sign Away Your Right to Happiness

It’s funny. In a divorce, people will fight over the house. The retirement. The cars. But they often forget to fight for what really matters.

Your own well-being.

Be too stubborn to allow your ex to control your happiness. They may have ended the marriage, but they didn’t end you.

My early inroads to happiness were initiated out of spite. I went to a party at the lake soon after the text, mentally saying, “I’ll show him that I can still laugh.” I accepted a date, thinking “I’ll show him that I’m still desirable.” I went hiking on “our” favorite trail, muttering “You can’t take this from me” with every step.

In time, my spite faded, but my tenacity did not.

I was more determined than ever to live a good life. To show that I am stronger than what happened to me.

If you can’t because of, smile in spite of.

I began to realize that by telling him that he made me happy, I was putting all of the responsibility for my own well-being on his shoulders.  That is a huge burden to carry and one that was unfair to him.  I had given him the power to make me happy.  Which means he also had the power to make me unhappy.

If I had left that power in his hands, he would have packed up my happiness with the rest of his belongings when he walked out the door.  I snatched it back from him, determined to find a way to regain ownership of my well-being. From You Make Me Happy

Just Because You Can’t Picture It, Doesn’t Mean You Can’t Create It

It’s difficult to imagine things that we have not experienced. It is one of the reasons that we fear loss more than we value gain. And when you’re trying to picture a life without your spouse after an unwanted divorce? The brain simply seizes, locking in on what is missing.

You’re brain is only telling you part of the story. Yes, there is loss. And there is also possibility.

In the beginning, all I could think about was that I wanted what I had had. Then I realized I could create something even better.

It’s hard in the beginning to think about your future, unbound by the marriage you thought you would have forever. We tend to limit our thoughts and, in turn, ourselves.

The ending may have been unwanted. Now create a life you want.

Bloom where you’re planted.

Everything’s going to be okay.

That was my mantra for that first, awful post-divorce year.

Everything’s going to be okay.

I would repeat those words in my head as I lay sleepless every night.

Everything’s going to be okay.

My friends and family would offer those words as comfort, reminding me that the “now” was not the always.

Everything’s going to be okay.

I imagined some future where he would face consequences and I would be relieved of mine.

Everything’s going to be okay.

Sometimes, I railed against that platitude, uncertain how anything could ever be okay again.

Everything’s going to be okay.

But still, I held onto those words like a life raft, wanting to be pulled free from the pain.

Everything’s going to be okay.

Those words were my Xanax against the panic, the overwhelming fear of unwanted change.

Everything’s going to be okay.

One day I realized that it really was okay. Maybe it wasn’t the okay I imagined, but it was okay nonetheless. From Everything’s Going to Be Okay

Different Can Be Good. Or Even Better.

Yes, it is hard adapting to life after an unwelcome divorce. You are forced to change when you were happy with the status quo. It’s not fair. Life rarely is.

You can’t go back. But you can always move on.

And one day you just might find that you’re happy that your life didn’t go as planned.

I know I am.

So now here I am. Open and bleeding. No walls, no buried head. I need to learn to be here, to stay vulnerable, without allowing myself to panic and either hide or grasp too tightly. It’s not easy. It doesn’t feel safe.

I want reassurances. Promises. But the truth? That’s only a bandaid. I need to relax and breathe through my fear. I know I’ll be okay, I just need to do a better job of convincing myself. After all, the only true abandonment is when we abandon our true selves. And that’s one I can control. From Vulnerable

Here’s my personal message to those in acute divorce pain. In it, I give some strategies for moving on when all you want is for everything to be the way it was.

And a dose of laughter and truth:

photo 2-104So get out there and live!

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51 thoughts on “Finding Happiness After an Unwanted Divorce

  1. Not even close to overstating it when i say this is the very best thing i have read and listened to post separation. It says what i feel, but, it doesnt leave me there. Thankyou for sharing your experience with me to help me crawl through my own xoxo

      1. Thanks for sharing this- I was blindsided when I thought everything was ok- I guess I was wrong and I’m struggling with many of the things you outlined. God bless you!!

      2. My wise asked me ‘do you love me?’ I replied and said with all of my heart. She said’ I do not love you anymore’ she said these words after disappearing for 2 days. I felt as if I am on a horrify dream that I should wake up from instantly. Well it was real and I weeped in front of my in laws literally beginning her not to leave me. But your message will be used and hopefully I will post again in future.

    1. Thank you! Losing my best friend/wife has been the hardest thing I have ever started going thru. Doesnt seem like I could ever be happy again But I have hope thank you for your insight

    2. Thank you my wife is taking through it I can’t come in the house I can’t get my kids like I want and all this happened last Wednesday all of a sudden she told me how she been committing adultery and want to be with that person and don’t want me around at all I’m trying to do my best to hold it together but it’s tough I keep praying everyday and almost every hour I love my family Mama man I’m sorry if this is not like a man but I’m crying on and off even now it’s too much and all I keep asking God what to do what to do now and where to start I can’t find the answer help me if you have one please

  2. I was really in love with my pretend husband too, until I realized he is pretend with everyone. I think I probably know the closest to the real him there is, but even that is a bit fake. He could be what I needed him to be, so he left to be fake with someone else. And I thank him, all the time. We have children together so I have to look at his fake face.

      1. Omg, i had this whole post up, and – ugh i hate i phone! No, its not hard ro see him, we have been seperated since 2007, so i figured our he was a demonic presense in 2013, (I dont know what else to call someone who is absolutely so vile?) i dont really see him! Yuk.

  3. He stays in car, or the girlfriend comes, we dont talk in person, its all done by email, he only shows up to conferences when we go to court. We are civil, he has his pretend face on, I have my game face on. So, its all, very professional. Like the game Risk.

  4. This is compelling and honest, a must-read for people who are surviving a divorce. The simple fact of admitting the marriage was not a great as you thought is a major step toward creating a new future without your former spouse.

  5. Thank you so much for this post! I am just embarking on my journey now, and of course it seems that this pain will NEVER end! Your words and emotion are well received and I can feel your sincerity in your video. Thank you for sharing your story, it’s nice to know thank eventually “everything’s going to be ok”! Hugs to you…

  6. This was a great article. I feel so guilty for my divorce, and while i know we were not happy and i even told her many times that i felt we should no longer be married, I cannot understand why i hurt so much. Everyone tells me that it will all be ok in time, and i hope that is true, as i just cannot see it that way now.

    I also feel like i have to explain every gory detail to any new person that i will date, what happened in my marriage leading up to my divorce and that scares the hell out of me. Long roads ahead.

    again, thank you for the article.

    1. Time helps. It doesn’t completely heal, but it definitely helps. As to telling your story, you tell it your way and when you’re ready. Writing – and rewriting – it will help lessen some of its sting.

  7. Thank you – your video might have save my life tonight – the calm easy manner of your voice really spoke right to the heart of what I’m going through. It’s been six months since I found my wife cheating and I moved out. My world is completely shattered even now, and I often feel I only exist for my little boy who I love dearly. I still love my ex and I can’t seem to get it through my head this has all happened, that this is real life. I contemplate suicide constantly but for my son I can’t. We should be signing the papers later this week, but knowing who she’ll be with on Valentine’s Day is breaking my heart all over again. I appreciate what you’ve said and I’ll do the best I can to try to apply it. Thank you

    1. My heart goes out to you. The shock is so painful and so all-encompassing.
      And I know it’s hard to see past that.

      I started my ordeal determined that I would do it all on my own. Within a couple weeks, I had to admit that I couldn’t. On top of the friends and family I surrounded myself with, I saw a psychiatrist every few weeks for the first year. She and the medication she prescribed saved me.

      People need help at the beginning and end of life. Divorce is the end of one life and the beginning of another. There is no shame in asking for help.

      Let your beautiful little boy be your motivation, not only to keep living but also to learn how to move on.

      Stay busy tomorrow. Focus on your boy and do something with him he really enjoys.

      Think of you…

    2. David! Don’t you dare think of taking your life over someone that betrayed you! I also going through a divorce that involves betrayal can relate. Yes, your son needs you. Please get to a counselor fast. Life is precious and in time you will see that. Prayers for you…

  8. Thank you for sharing your invaluable message! I can’t tell you how badly I needed to read it. I would not have ever believed this would/could happen to me. My wife ended our marriage last night and walked out. We just celebrated 17 years last week and everything seemed perfect. We have three teenage kids and they are also in shock. I don’t know how to help them yet. Right now I’m just trying to get a hold of myself. My heart is truly broken and I feel completely lost. I don’t know what to do next, but this helps to get me started.

  9. Thank you , and the best thing that happened to me is that , I became closer to God and with his help, I became a better father to my 2 boys , thank u again

      1. Today, was a little brighter with your message in mind . Like you said , I need to retrain my way of thinking . Thank you again , I just hope I can continue this positive step

  10. Most clear and invaluable writing & video I’ve experienced. Thank you. After my wife battled mental health issues, culminating in her wanting to live on her own and end our 23 year marriage, I’m four months into an unwanted divorce. Your perspective give me hope for reframing my life forward.

  11. Great article! I was made to believe that our divorce was predicated on my failings (I’m definitely not perfect). It wasn’t till after the divorce was finalized that I found out she’d been having an affair for several years. My world has been upended and I work everyday to regain solid footing. Your message resonated with me. Thank you for putting youself out there to help others it speaks volumes as to your character. I hope your new love knows just how lucky he is!

  12. THANK YOU SO MUCH! My husband walked out 2 months ago and I’m devastated, embarrassed, happy, sad and trying to hang on each day – moment by moment. I stood by him as he cheated, quit jobs, etc. and feel like a fool. But, your video said exactly what I needed to hear….and now….in this moment….I see things differently. It is a process….it’s not going to be over night…..but to take this experience as it is….an experience in life. Tomorrow already looks better……thank you

  13. Oh, thank you. I’m reading this, listening to your message, and sobbing.

    My husband had to leave our home almost 7 weeks ago after a psychotic episode. I am now the focus of delusions about things like mind control, controlling the weather, etc. While it’s clear my husband is mentally ill, and that it’s impossible to get someone treatment if they don’t want it, it’s still a devastating, sudden separation. Like many people feel, I guess, the person you think you know best is now a stranger you don’t know at all. The last 7 weeks have been so dark, and I found this today at what feels like the darkest time.

    Thank you.

  14. Only people who have gone through a divorce can relate to this. That feeling sick to the stomach all the time and still trying to keep everything together.

  15. Hi, Thank you so much for the article and I love the video. My husband left a month ago for a few days and then came back. I had absolutely no idea he wasn’t happy. We had just returned from a weekend away where everything seemed great. I have been seeing a therapist and he went once with me for counseling and we were working on what came up there. We went away for another weekend where he told me he was staying and again we had a great time. He told the people at the B&b where we stayed that we would be back in October and we talked about buying a vacation home in the area in a few years. Two days before he left (a week ago) told me he thought we were doing ok. I feel like I’ve been lied to, had hopes raised and then slammed again. He hasn’t even contacted our kids and our son’s 21st birthday was a few days ago. So I go through periods of hurt, anger, devastation and sadness. However, I am making a real effort to spend a lot of time with friends, going to meditation and planning activities for me!! He is not going to destroy me! I love the idea of your 3 part journal and will be trying it. It really does hurt so very much though and I’m going to hang on to your promise that I will be ok.

  16. Hi,

    Thank you so much for sharing your story and experience. I am 8mos into a separation and the divorce was final 3 months ago after a 17 year Marriage, 2 kids, & 19 total years together with my ex-wife. This was completely unwanted from my perspective. Yours is the first article & video that truly resonated with me. It gives me hope for the future that everything will be ok and I will be happy again.

  17. You are a true inspiration, I’m at the very beginning of the end , he still lives with me but is very excited about his new apartment next week , and he lets me know it . I was with a serial cheater for 17 years who had me beleiving I was crazy , had me feeling guilty for hurting his feelings for not trusting him . Until I finally had proof . Now I realize all those times I wasn’t crazy .. it’s a lot to except . He was also extremely abusive , sneaky and mean . He drinks everyday and blames me for everything . Sounds charming right ? Yet for some crazy reason it is me dealing with all the loss . I feel like a can’t breath , I feel so lost full of panic and anxiety that he is leaving . I’m the one who filed for divorce because I do know better , I know how wrong this life is , so why am I feeling such loss . I’m to the point a can barely function . I know when he goes it’s going to be torture. I am forcing myself to make decisions that I know are right , yet I’m ripping my own heart out as he lives the party fun life . We have children together and I can not live with the guilt of setting this example of marriage or exceptable behaviour , so I push forward . I am trying to be a good mother but it is so very hard to do when I feel so devistated , I feel like I need my mom , I try my best to put on a smile and not let them see my pain , but they know I’m not the same . I pray that you are right about getting better because that is the best gift I can give my kids . I want to be strong enough , yet I don’t know if I am.
    I know I shouldn’t play the victim , but we are doing all the paying for his decisions ,
    I do have things to be greatful for , my babies , my health and the fact that he will have to support us until I can stand on my own .

    1. My heart goes out to you.

      It is completely normal for to feel relief one second and second guess your decision the next. It sounds like you’re doing the right thing, but it is still so hard to leave what you know. Especially when there’s been emotional abuse (which it certainly sounds like it) that twists your own perceptions and beliefs.

      You ARE strong enough. Maybe not to get all the way through at this point, but you don’t have to get to the “end” today, just to the next breath. And then the next. And with each one, you’ll get a little stronger and a little braver.

      You are paying for his decisions. And that’s far from fair. It’s okay to get angry about that and to feel upset at the unjustness. You’re only a victim if you let him and his actions define your limits. And you’re not. I can hear your spirit load and clear through your words:)

  18. Thank you..I have read your piece 3 times already. My wife came home 4 weeks ago and said she was leaving me and our marriage that day. That was the first time she had even said she wasn’t happy. We never argued or fought about anything. Yet more and more she had been going out with friends she had and more and more on her phone all the time and I know she had mentioned pursuing her all the time. And it turns out she was excited with all the attention and wanted that new excitement more than me or her marriage. With everyone having Thier own phone and everyone knows there spouse would be unaware of any contacts night or day this makes your marriage wide open for sabotage. She was right in the range of women who could experience mid life crises. And she gave into an affair and it made her feel younger and her brain felt those great chemical feelings. Now I’m left alone with my wife being pulled from the life we shared every day for 4 years. I can’t function yet and the pain is unbearable. I think I have told every detail to everyone who would listen. We also were smoke in the middle of building her dream house and I was so involved with every aspect of that it must of gave her way to much free time to go do her own thing. I did think it was strange she wasn’t as excited about our project as she was in the beginning. I am now going to my first therapy session Monday. And I have joined a gym and hired a personal trainer. I think this will take more time to unwind from than the length of my actual marriage. This was the last thing that I thought would happen if gave my wife more than she ever had ever in her life and I worked full time and gave her all she needed and she had my total attention at all tines. She just drifted back to what she was before we were married. She was addicted to Marijuana and I enabled that 500 dollar a week habit in witch I did not indulge in. And she said we are not interested in the same things such as staying out all night and smoking. I still miss her every minute of the day and it doesn’t seem to be getting better with time.

    1. So sorry you’re going through this. I’m glad to hear you’re taking the steps of therapy and exercise- that’s huge! Healing is combination of time (often more than you think you need) and actively turning your attention and energy other directions. You’re doing the right stuff. Keep doing it:)

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