The Do-Over: Making the Most of Divorce

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August 11, 2015

Some people think of divorce as a tragedy. I certainly did when I was in the throes of mine. It is tragic. A family is torn apart and cannot be redeemed, for whatever reason.  Hearts are broken, illusions are shattered, children are wounded. It is awful. I was unprepared for how awful it could be.

I had a few people try to get me to see the bright side. Their comments were well intentioned. They wanted to cheer me up, but I couldn't give them what they wanted.  I was undone, and grief-stricken. There was no way to spin what was happening into something positive. Lemonade be damned, some lemons just stay lemons.

That was when I was IN it. Too close to the mountain to see the mountain.  When your world is falling apart you have no perspective.  It truly feels as though life is over, and it is. The life you knew, anyway. But as sad as that is it can also be an unbelievable gift.  

I know. That's a tough sell. If you'd tried to talk to me about the gifts of divorce a few years ago, I'd likely have thrown something at your head. I totally get it. Nowadays, though, I thank God for those gifts every single day.

The church I attended when my marriage was falling apart had a wonderful Divorce Recovery program. I went through it one and a half times. Long story. Anyway, the pastors who ran it, a married couple both of whom had gone through divorce, had so much wisdom regarding life on the other side of it. 

Divorce is the ultimate do-over. When everything falls apart, you have no choice but to rebuild. That's where it gets really good because the new life you construct is entirely up to you. Maybe there are elements of your old life you want to keep, but maybe you want to start from scratch. Think of it as a pro and con list.  What worked in your former life, your marriage, your family? What might you revisit?  What was a struggle, or could be improved? Divorce affects every single aspect of your life, so why not seize the opportunity to re-evaluate? So many of us get divorced in our 40's, which is a time of enormous growth and self-reflection anyway. Why not put some of that hard-won wisdom to good use?

One of the things they had us do in the recovery program was to make a list of what our non-negotiables were when we got married the first time, and then make a list of what they would be now. I highly recommend doing this.  My list was completely different, which makes absolute sense.  How can you know what you'll be willing to compromise on in a marriage when you've never been married? I think most people agree that marriage turns out to be different than how we envision it when we are very young, for better or for worse.

I brought that new list of non-negotiables into the relationship I'm in now. I know so much more about myself than I did in my twenties, which makes me more able to articulate what I need, advocate for myself and be a stronger individual within a relationship. I think when you are married for a long time, you tend to get stuck in patterns. You assume certain roles, fall into behavioral ruts, take things for granted. Starting over affords you the opportunity to shake things up and configure your new relationships in a way that is healthier and stronger.  

I'm talking big things and small things. I no longer pretend to care about football, when I make lasagna I no longer skimp on the sauce, and when in conflict with my partner now I do not apologize for things that are not my fault just to end the anger.

Another potential gift can be in the career realm. I'd been a stay-at-home mom for thirteen years when my marriage blew up. All of a sudden I was in a position of needing to go back to work.  It led to me getting a job in a special ed classroom that was one of the great joys of my life. Yes, it is unbelievably stressful to HAVE to go back to work when you don't feel ready, or qualified. It can also be an opportunity to re-examine what you want to do professionally.  Maybe turn a passion into a way to make a living. And going back to work helps you to meet people outside the social circle you ran in when you were part of a married couple. Once you are single, it's important to have unmarried friends.

You're now a single parent. Okay, what did you like about the way you and your ex-spouse parented?  Was there anything that drove you crazy, but you went along with? Now is an opportunity to shake that up, try doing things your way in your house. It's still important to have the same main priorities and non-negotiables if possible, but if your ex wanted to eat in front of the tv, and you think the family table is important- make that the house rule.

Change has come to your family, whether you wanted it or not. That is really hard. Change is uncomfortable, but that doesn't mean it's bad.  If you can find a way to stop fighting against the FACT of it, and embrace it as a chance to fine-tune your life, it can be an extraordinary opportunity. Put the pieces back together in a way that is better, healthier, and more joyful for you and your kids. Life is short. Fill those cracks with gold.

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