A few days ago marked four years since my ex moved out of the house.
“Just you wait,” he said, “You’ll miss how much I do around here.”
What did we miss after he moved out?
No swearing in the mornings.
No breaking toys or plates or dishes or throwing remote controls or balls at bookshelves.
No screaming at the children until they cried so hard they threw up.
No flicks to the head while happily eating cereal at the dinner table and watching cartoons, simply because he was in a bad mood.
No shoving or kicking or pushing or yelling.
No freezing at the table when one of the girls dropped a grain of rice on the floor, waiting to see what he would do.
No choking the dog and throwing him across the room (I found a new home for our dog just a few months prior to his departure.)
No threats to murder us in our sleep or put a bullet through our head.
The list could go on. Yet as time has marched on, the memories have faded, but I think I’ll always remember the calm in the house in the aftermath of his departure. I didn’t miss his anger and threats of violence. He continued to show anger and make threats even after he moved out but, he wasn’t doing it inside my home. Once I decided to file for divorce I knew that, in light of his anger, the fear for our safety and the stress of how I would handle everything and take care of the girls and me—I still had to figure out how to “divorce” with “dignity.”
Below are 5 things I did to help me hold onto my sanity during divorce
1. I used therapy: My therapist was instrumental in getting me out of my abusive situation. But she also helped me work through the negative emotions and stress I felt after he moved out in therapy—to work through them as best I could, so that during the divorce process I could concentrate on the facts.
2. I stuck to the Facts: This was hard to do upfront, my ex would try and engage me with accusations and bullying, and I had to learn to not fall for his nasty comments, name calling and flat out lies about my personality. I had to learn to disengage and communicate only on the facts—i.e. childcare, healthcare, pick-ups, drop-offs. I had to read through pages and pages of needling commentary and criticisms of my poor parenting, to decipher what I actually needed to respond to. If it didn’t have to do with the children, it was just noise. Like when the cable goes out and all you see is the black and white dots on your TV screen.
3. I took the high road: Once I disengaged from the battle and/or contest of whatever he is trying to make you participate in I regained parts of myself that I thought I’d lost. I regained pieces of my self-respect. I began to trust my instincts again. And having done that, I felt empowered. And that meant that no matter how nasty his litigation, I didn’t have to stoop down to his level. The mud-slinging was indicative of his personality, not mine. While it still sucks to have the mud slung at you, it doesn’t mean you have to be like the one who slings it. Preserving your self-respect in the midst of mud-slinging is empowering. But that doesn’t mean you become a doormat.
4. I picked my Battles: I knew my truth. I knew what happened in my home. And I knew that if I didn’t protect my boundaries and my children, no one would. I tried to take the high road, I tried to settle with him, (four times!), but when it became clear he would not settle and was pushing us to trial, I called witnesses who could testify to his anger problems. Later, when a retired play therapist fell for my ex’s “poor me, I’m the victim” message, started planting in my daughter’s head that she should ask for more time with her father and questioning the judge’s ruling and fitness of the court order, I consulted with my attorney. I worked for months to remove her from my case. We got a new play therapist. It was exhausting, but a battle worth fighting in order to ensure my daughters’ well-being.
5. I treated myself gently. If this world were a perfect place, no one would get divorced. You would be married to your ex and living the happily ever after that’s fed to us from before we could walk. But we aren’t perfect, people aren’t perfect. Some do their best, some do their worst. We can only do our best, and try harder for our sake and our children. Every day is a new journey, one that you can choose to walk with gentleness, or one you can hold onto your anger and bitterness. Not to say I wasn’t angry and bitter, I definitely was. But it’s not permanent, life moves forward. It’s hard enough to be getting a divorce, it’s hard enough to divorce and become a single parent, without the judgment that can come—internally or externally. If you find people in your life who are critical of your position, that’s a sign that those people do not need to be in your life (or if they’re family—maybe move them to the OUTER circle). You’ll be surprised by the people who love and support you—and your children. Remember—you are not alone, and you will get through this.
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