I don’t think anyone ever responds to the childhood question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” with “Divorced.” Yet, for many of us, the end of a marriage does become part of our life story. I know I don’t have to point out the downsides of divorce to you; after all, they have a way of speaking for themselves.
But what about the upsides? What about the ways that your divorce, even if it was of the unwanted or malignant variety, has made you better than before?
Because whether you realize it or not, divorce (like many other life challenges) has changed you. Shaped you. Strengthened you.
Its harsh grit has left you polished. Its demands have made you grow. And the pain has left its mark.
You aren’t the same person you were before. You’re better.
You may have to be a legal adult to get married, but there are no tests for maturity before we pledge our lives wed to another. And in many cases, we enter our first marriages still children in many ways. Perhaps we placed too much faith in the idea of soul mates and happily ever after. Maybe we didn’t fully appreciate the effort that marriage requires. And possibly we still carried childhood wounds and patterns into our marriages rather than assuming adult responsibility for our own responses.
Divorce is like a drill sergeant yelling, “Grow up!” into your tear-streamed face. It leaves no room for childhood fantasies and overdependence on others. It requires that you put on your big-girl panties or big-boy briefs. Maybe for the first time in your life.
In the beginning, divorce saps your confidence. You may be feeling defeated because you couldn’t hold your marriage together. If an affair was part of your divorce story, you’re wondering what the new partner had that you do not. And once you face the dating scene again, yet older and saggier than before, your self-doubt grows.
However, that’s only part of the story.
Because whenever you successfully complete something that you thought you could not do, you gain confidence. Whenever you have to reframe your assumptions about your weaknesses and limitations, you fuel belief in yourself. Whenever you face your fears and survive, you acquire strength. And whenever you come through a struggle bruised and battered yet without giving up, you build trust in your abilities. And divorce certainly provides these opportunities in spades.
The only way to truly understand something is to first walk through it and then step back and look upon it from a distance. There’s a reason that some of the best marriage advice comes from people who have been divorced – they know the beginning, the middle and what can lead to end in a way that those only speaking from within cannot fathom.
As time goes on, and your divorce moves further back in the rearview mirror, you will be able to see patterns less clouded by emotion and cluttering detail. That perspective gives you information that you can use to change your own behaviors and to improve your future relationships.