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Lessons From the End of a Marriage

A “How to Thrive” Guide After Divorce

16 Things I Wish I Knew On the Day My Husband Left Me

The text read, “I’m sorry to be such a coward leaving you this way, but I’m leaving you and leaving the state.”

My world collapsed.

I did too.

Here’s what I wish I could tell that woman folded on the floor, trying to process those words from her husband –

 

1 – You will spend so much energy on things that don’t matter.

It all seems so important right now – Why is he doing this? What is causing him to act this way? How could he say that he loved me and yet betray me behind my back? You are going to spend so many sleepless nights agonizing over these questions. Your journal – and later your blog – will be filled with unanswered “Whys,” because you believe that you need those answers in order to be free.

But eventually, as those pleas for understanding remain unanswered, you’ll come to realize that it matters so much less than you thought it did. That the things that really matter are right in front of you and that your energy is better spent forward than on paying the parking meters in the past.

 

2 – Details that seem so important now will be forgotten.

You’re going to obsess over the details of his double life, holding up the life you thought you had to what you now know like one of those “What is Different?” spreads in Highlights Magazine. It will seem so critical to uncover every detail and reveal every lie. It will give you a sense of control even as your world spins around you. If you just know all of the pieces, then maybe you can put yourself back together again.

Those memories, so painfully imprinted on your mind right now, will fade like a bruise over time. You will forget the curve of his cheek, no longer remember those shared moments clearly and even those painful images from the end will become blurry and distant.

 

3 – Things that feel impossible will happen.

In a few days, you’re going to discover that you are the victim of financial abuse. And the fallout of this is going to feel impossible to ever climb out of. But don’t underestimate yourself. You’re a fighter. It’s going to take you several years, but you WILL rebuild and pay off all of the debt he has left you with.

Those other things that feel impossible right now – trusting again, loving again, being happy again – those are going to happen too. You got this.

 

4 – Those words that hurt so much will be seen for the projection that they are.

Through letters to others and emails to his lawyer, he is going to say some horrible things. Words that will cut deeply and echo through your head for years to come. A part of you will immediately know that none of what he is saying is true. But a bigger part – the part that trusted him and valued his opinions for so long – is going to internalize what he said.

Gather up all of the evidence you can to refute his projection and gaslighting BS. He’s painting you out to be the bad guy in an attempt to make himself look better. One day, you’ll be able to see his words for what are – the desperate lies of a desperate man.

 

5 – You’re going to learn some shocking things. Don’t get too hung up on it.

Your life is about to go full-on reality television as the revelations come one after another. The shocking details are going to bring about a strange sort of energy, a rush that temporarily cuts through the sadness. In a way, you come to look forward to the next thing because it tells you that you are still alive.

For a time, you are going to hold to those shocking elements as something that sets you apart, makes your situation different than anyone else’s. As you meet others and hear their stories, you will realize that although your divorce makes a damn good story, the healing from it is really no different than it is for anyone else.

 

6 – You will shift from “Why didn’t he want me?” to “Why he doesn’t deserve me.”

Rejection hurts. And sudden rejection from the person you loved (and though loved you) is horrific. You are going to spend a lot of time thinking about what must have been wrong with you for him to discard you so easily.

But with time and perceptive, you’re going to realize that none of this was about you. He was on a path of destruction and you were just collateral damage.

 

7 – You’re not broken and you’re not unlovable.

You know that sweater that you adore? That one you got from Goodwill almost 20 years ago that still looks brand new? Well, someone once discarded that sweater, thinking that it had no value to them.

You’re kind of like that sweater. Someone has discarded you, but that doesn’t mean that you have no value. You may be shattered, but you’re not broken. You may be lost, but you’re not unlovable.

 

8 – He’s been lying to you, but you’ve been lying to yourself too.

You’re going to uncover his lies first. After all, they’re pretty easy to spot once you know which thread to pull to unravel it all. The lies you’ve been telling yourself will take longer to see. You’ve told yourself that you can’t live without him, but you can. Your subconscious mind believed that you couldn’t handle the truth, but you can. You thought that if you played by the rules, you couldn’t get hurt. That if you stayed quiet to keep the peace, that everything would be okay.

It’s going to be scary to face those truths. But you can do it.

 

9 – You’re having a perfectly normal reaction to a completely crazy situation.

There will be moments where you are going to feel crazy, when the situation seems like the fiction spun by an unstable mind and your reactions are outside of your control. Your sobs are going to come so hard that you worry you’re going to somehow tear your body apart. The confusion will leave unable to make even the smallest decision.

None of this is a reflection on you. You’re doing the best you can in a completely crazy situation. The good news? The situation – and your reactions – are temporary.

 

10 – You are going to screw some things up and that’s okay.

You’re going to send emails to him that sounds pathetic and pleading and others that make you sounds like a raging lunatic. You’re going to put your faith – and by extension, your paycheck, into the court system, thinking that they will bring about some sort of justice. You will let your anger about the ongoing financial betrayal consume you and impact those around you. You are going to date too soon and swing between being too available and too distant.

And all of that is okay. There may be thousands of “How to Rebuild Your Life” manuals, but that’s because you only know how to do it once you’ve done. As long as you’re moving forward, it’s okay if you’re making (lots of) missteps.

 

11 – You will have to find a way to live without justice or closure.

You’re going to think that you need an apology from him and some sort of justice through the court system in order to move on. For the better part of year, you will wait. But the apology will never come, the criminal trial will fizzle out with a diversion and the divorce decree will never be enforced.

You will be angry. You will be devastated. You will feel stuck. And then you’ll decide that it doesn’t matter and that damn it, he’s taken enough from you already and you refuse to let him have any more. And so you pack up all that reliance on outside factors to decide when you can move on and you just get to it.

 

12 – Your brain will protect you from acknowledging too much at a time.

The abandonment came as a shock. The betrayal and financial abuse were the aftershocks that rapidly followed. Now, your brain is on the defensive. It’s acting to protect you from any further harm. This is a good thing, because it gives you the space you need to acclimate to each new piece of information.

But it also means that processing all of this cannot be rushed. This is like a great big hunk of steak. The only way to get through it is by taking small bites and giving yourself time to fully chew.

 

13 – There will be surprising benefits to all of this that eventually you’ll be able to appreciate.

You’re going to like who you become on the other side of this. You’re going to learn so much about yourself and about the world and you’re going to find some really neat ways to put that knowledge into use.

You are going to have so much gratitude about what you do have and compassion for yourself and others. Even the worst experiences can have silver linings if you know where to look.

14 – Healing will take longer than you think.

At first, you think that you’ll be better by the time the divorce is final. Then, you will reluctantly extend that timeline to a year. Then another. You’re going to have months strung together with no issues and then you’ll walk headfirst into another trigger when you’re not looking.

Healing does not speak calendar. It is going to take longer than you think. Don’t forget to live in the meantime.

 

15 – You will meet some amazing people.

Any second now, your dad is going to rush to your side. And he won’t leave it. He’ll be followed by your mom and then one friend after another. You are going to become very aware of the support that you’ve always has around you.

And then once you’re back out in the world, you are going to meet so many amazing people. People that inspire you, challenge you, teach you. People that you never would have met if it wasn’t for all this.

 

1 6 -Your world will become bigger.

You’re going to dream bigger and have the courage to take those leaps of faith.

Learning to Trust Again

It is easier to assume a protective stance than it is to trust that you can relax out of it.

 

Just over a year ago, we were advised, that for the safety of all, we should makes our worlds small. “No problem,” I thought, ” I can do small.”

Almost 12 years ago, I received a text that was like looking through a pinhole, reducing my world to only the next moment. Senses were dulled, the ability to think, erased. It was breath by breath.

 

And so, like others around the world, I cut out unnecessary physical contact, approached the grocery store as cautiously as a poison ivy infested garden bed, and crossed the street whenever I encountered another another person while walking.

After learning that the one person I trusted with my inner self had betrayed me in the worst way possible, everything became a threat. Nothing was safe. The world became unfamiliar and hostile. I curled up tightly within myself in an attempt to avoid further harm.

 

The world contracted. And even while grieving the loss of normal life and facing the anxieties about the unknowns of this pandemic (which were quite numerous in the spring of 2020), there was comfort in the absolutes. Stay home and stay safe. 

I had a singular focus in navigating the legal system, seeing a favorable outcome in the courts as a sort of salve for my pain and confusion. It felt good to have something to fixate on. I made me feel as though I had some sort of control in a world that had gone mad.

 

I was fortunate to be able to work from home through the spring. But come July, that changed as we went back to school with around half of our students in person. After months not getting within 10 feet of anyone other than my husband, I had to lean in close to teach 6th graders how to open lockers and to show 8th graders where their equation veered into nonsense. 

After weeks without sleeping or eating, I accepted that I would need to ask for help. To allow some people in. My world grew slightly bigger, but the walls stayed just as reinforced.

 

It took weeks for my body to adapt to the new environment. As a middle school teacher, I’m used to being on alert – for cheating, for tears after a breakup or argument with a parent, for fights, even for shootings, but I didn’t know how to be alert to something invisible. Since we were one of the first schools to go back in person, there was not much data on what to expect. I find comfort in risk-assessment, so this void was quite scary early on. 

I knew to be wary of dangerous men – the aggressive ones who yell and hit and threaten. I had no idea that some of the most dangerous people are the ones that gently hold you and whisper their declarations of love.

 

All around me, I saw people acting as if Covid didn’t exist. At the same time, I knew firsthand of others that refused to step foot outside their home even to visit the mailbox. And from both extremes, ones who got sick. Very sick. Meanwhile, the media alternated between, “We’re all going to die!” and “This is government’s way of controlling you.” Every voice seemed to hold some element of truth, but it was hard to sort the facts from the filler. 

My husband painted me as a horrible wife, unfaithful and unable to stop spending money. He spoke of a miserable and disconnected marriage. His version of our lives crashed into what I had lived. I desperately searched for the hard evidence to refute the lies he spread in an attempt to purify his own image. Even with evidence in hard, it was hard to know what to believe.

 

Eventually, I found a comfortable sort of compartmentalization – at work, pretend that everything is normal and outside of work, avoid any unneeded physical contact. Like many others, I eventually got sick, spending Christmas holed up in my office while my husband slipped sweet notes under my door. For weeks after, immense fatigue made my world smaller still as I struggled to get off the couch. 

I tried to merge the memories of the man I loved with the current reality. I questioned whether any of it was real. Eventually, I settled on the belief that there was the man I married and the man he became. A compartmentalization that brought some peace.

 

Finally, the weather warmed. Life stirred. A small needle introduced into my shoulder offered promises of normal. But after months of assuming that I can catch – and carry – this invisible threat, it’s hard to trust that it’s safer now. The data are still new and the messages are still conflicting. I find myself wishing that I had a LCD display on my arm that would show current immunity level as well as current risk. 

Eventually, the acute phase passed. I wanted love again. But it was hard to trust. I examined each date carefully for signs of potential threat, quickly retreating at even the slightest indication.

 

And so now I maintain my protective stance while slowly lowering my guard. “There are no guarantees of safety”, I tell myself. “Yes,” I respond, “But don’t be a fool.” I am learning to trust again.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Not You, It’s Them: 10 Signs You’re NOT the Reason They Cheated

Even though our heads know we’re not the reason they cheated, sometimes our hearts can get confused.

We wonder why we weren’t enough for them. We hear their words blaming us for making them vulnerable to an affair. And we even face accusations from others, accusing us of doing (or not doing) something that caused them to stray.

Yet no matter what you did or didn’t do, no matter the issues in the relationship, you are NOT the reason they cheated.

Here are 10 signs that it’s not you, it’s them –

 

1 – They Have Had Multiple Affairs

When a person has multiple affairs, they are often searching for something outside of themselves to fill something missing inside of themselves. Because this is a fruitless hunt, they keep looking for the “right” person to make them feel whole and alive. In this case, you can’t be enough for them because nobody is enough for them.

 

2 – They Cheated in Other Relationships

Since you were variable that changed and yet the outcome remained the same, it’s very clear that you were not the cause of the affair. Apparently cheating is their default setting no matter who they promised fidelity to.

 

3 – They Did Not Disclose Any Unhappiness in the Relationship Until They Were Caught

“I haven’t been happy for a long time” is a common phrase uttered by those caught in an affair. There’s often an undercurrent of, “You should have known,” as though you should have been a mind reader. If they were unhappy with some facet of the relationship, it’s THEIR responsibility to bring it up BEFORE they make any decisions to act on their unhappiness. As a side note, often they weren’t unhappy; it’s just another excuse they tell themselves and others in an attempt to justify their behavior.

 

4 – They Use Projection to Make Assumptions About You

Are they accusing you of the very things that they have been doing? It feels horrible – and confusing – to be on the receiving end of this, but if you cut through the gaslighting, you’ll see that they are telling you what they have been up to.

 

5 – They Blame Anyone and Everything Other Than Themselves

Maybe it was a bad childhood. Or the nagging pain of an injury. Or the jerk of a boss that has it out for them. There’s always a reason and it’s never their responsibility.

 

6 – They Have a Pattern of Leaving Jobs or Friendships On Bad Terms

Do they tend to blow things up before they exit or simply walk away without a word? Those that cheat often lack the courage to have difficult conversations in a mature and healthy way.

 

7 – They Criticize Qualities in You That the Affair Partner Shares

They claim that they are not happy with you, yet they select an affair partner that mirrors you in some key ways. Either they are delusional, or those qualities they criticized in you are not really at fault here.

 

8 – They Have Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms

Those that cheat on their partners often exhibit unhealthy coping mechanisms in other areas of their lives. Instead of dealing with a situation head-on, they generally lean towards escapism – using substances, video games, or other people in an attempt to self-regulate.

 

9 – They Are Prone to Falling For “Quick Fixes”

Instead of digging in and having the discipline to see something through, they look for the easy road. They not only jump from one money-making scheme or weight-loss program to another, but also leap from one bed to another.

 

10 – They Have a Drive to Be Admired

They want to be liked because they do not like themselves. They thrive on that early relationship energy where they are more fantasy than reality and the affair partner is blinded by both limerence and bullshit.

 

 

 

How Could They Move On So Quickly?

My ex-husband certainly wasted no time. He didn’t even bother filing for divorce before he married his second (I’m assuming here; there could have been others) wife.

Among all of the myriad thoughts that crashed around my mind in the aftermath of the discovery, one kept popping back up to the surface,

“How could he move on so quickly?”

I just couldn’t understand how he could go from sixteen years with the same person to seemingly head-over-heels within weeks of meeting this new woman. Here he was celebrating his newfound love while I was still struggling to sleep through the night.

Of course, it was apples to oranges trying to equate my mental state at the time with his. For so many reasons, we were at different places when it came to our readiness for moving on.

The following are some of the reasons that your ex may have moved on (or appeared to move on) soon after your breakup:

 

They have pre-grieved the breakup.

In some situations, one person has known (or at least suspected) that the relationship is over long before it is pronounced terminal. In these cases, the one with the prior knowledge often begins grieving the end of the relationship months or even years before it is truly over. They may begin to withdraw, they might start to expand their social circle and hobbies to fill anticipated gaps and they have time to process the loss. They will be ready to move on before you are because they have been attending to the breakup for a longer period of time.

 

They want you to think they’ve moved on.

Sometimes moving on is an illusion, a play put on social media or spread through mutual acquaintances in an attempt to make you jealous or regretful. The urge is understandable, although childlike. It can be driven by a, “I’ll show them that I am desirable” attitude. Others try to appear moved on soon after the end of the relationship because they don’t want to be seen as “weak” by appearing affected by the breakup. These people are motivated by a need to be seen as strong.

 

They are afraid of being alone.

Some people hop from relationship to relationship like life is a rocky river crossing. They cannot stomach the thought of being alone and so they waste no time in lining up the next partner as soon as a relationship implodes. This is less “moving on” and more “grasping on;” they’ll hold onto anyone like a life raft. Learn more about the underlying issues that lead to a fear of being alone.

 

They are able to compartmentalize your relationship and the new one.

For many us, we cannot enter into a new relationship before we have fully dissected and processed the previous one. Others are able to keep those two processes more separate. It may be that your ex seems to be moving quickly because they are doing the often- invisible internal work concurrent with reentry to the dating scene.

 

They are using dating as a distraction.

Let’s face it, divorce sucks. And while you’re going through it, you’d rather think about anything else. For some, this distraction comes in the form of dating. Although this can look like they’re moved on, they’re are really using others as a bandaid to temporarily stop the pain. Early dating can also be motivated by the blow to confidence that often accompanies divorce; it’s good to feel wanted.

 

They started seeing this person before your relationship ended.

If your ex seems to have moved on quickly, it may be that they were having an affair during your relationship and now that your partnership has ended, the love interest is brought to the surface. Of course, this revelation brings with it it’s own set of problems. Betrayal is a uniquely piercing pain with long-ranging repercussions.

 

They met somebody who is a good fit for them at this point in their lives.

And here’s the hard one – maybe they have met somebody that is a good match for them. I know that can be difficult to stomach when you still might be wishing/hoping/believing that you’re that person. It’s important here to remember that not being the right person for them does not mean that you’re a bad person and it certainly does not mean that you’re not the right person for someone else. It simply means that your ex found a better match for them and now you have an opportunity to look for somebody better for you.

 

 

In my ex’s case, he knew that the end was approaching and so had time to process the divorce long before it happened. He was having affairs and so his other wife was lined up and ready to go. And, from what I learned, she was a good fit for him at the time – trusting, nomadic and in possession of a decent credit score.

In time, I no longer questioned how he could move on so quickly. Instead, I got busy with moving on myself with a sense of gratitude that she helped to take him out of my life and far away.

 

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