Our brain tells us hindsight is 20/20. Yet emotion often gets the best of us. Particularly after a divorce, it is tempting to beat ourselves up as we contemplate what we could have done differently were we able to change the past. It is easy to point a finger at others, blaming someone else for why our lives did not turn out the way we had hoped or expected. But such thinking fails to take into account that the decisions we made at the time were the right ones for the simple reason that we made them.
In retrospect we tend to forget, but at the time we weighed our choices, considered the outcomes, and determined what was best for us then. And though some decisions may not have worked out in the long run, it is important to remember the times when they did, and the lasting effect and opportunity such choices created for our present and future.
My marriage may have ended, may have caused me indescribable pain at different times over the years, but calling it a failure is not entirely accurate. Even if I could to do it all again, I would not change a thing. Here is why.
1. My children. I cannot imagine my life without my children. Even as a young girl, as I pretended to feed my dolls, bathe them, and change their miniature diapers, I always dreamed of being a mother. I love each of my children for their individuality, creativity, and their ability to love. They are the unique product of my husband and myself, and I could not imagine them, nor would I want to, any other way.
2. The good times. Though my marriage is over, and ended for good reason, there are plenty of wonderful memories to be savored. We shared joyous occasions, as well as unremarkable moments of contentment and bliss. No marriage is perfect. It is only when those bad moments overtake the good that we struggle to remember the bond that united us in the first place. Peacefulness and healing only comes when we are able to recall, acknowledge, and appreciate the happiness we once brought to each other’s lives. When we do, somehow the bitterness miraculously falls away, and we realize the years spent married was not time wasted.
3. The bad times. Periods of hardship and tragedy are the universal marks of life and cannot be escaped. It is during such times we see our partner’s strengths and weaknesses, and they ours. Bad days are informational—they grant us an opportunity to self-reflect, informing us where we need improvement, as well as how grateful we should be for the treasure we have in our spouse. When support from our spouse during a crisis is lacking, we evaluate if our relationship can be improved or whether it is appropriate to part ways. Knowledge is power, and without those bad days to guide us we are unable to trust in and enjoy our good days, the sanctity of our marriage, and its likelihood of survival. As I reflect on the bad periods during my own marriage, I recognize where we each fell short, how I can do better in my next relationship, and what I hope to achieve from it.
4. Fabulous firsts. We shared many firsts during our marriage—the renting of our first apartment, the purchase of our first home, and the birth of our first child, to name only a few. Our many firsts together are experiences I will cherish forever. Though we will no longer enjoy firsts as husband and wife, the beauty of life is the endless possibility of more firsts in the future. With fondness I will remember the experiences we shared, while looking forward to those that will emanate from the ties we maintain through our children, and the joy I know awaits me in my new life as a single woman.
5. Self-discovery. It is very easy to become lost in a marriage. Married young, I had not yet fully come into my own. With the passage of time, I recognized those areas in my life where my dreams had not been realized, and the goals I still wanted to reach. Equipped with this knowledge, today I have a newfound confidence that with hard work I can achieve the goals I set for myself.
6. Living in the moment. Marriage was where I needed to be when I needed to be there. Living for the present, and neither wallowing in the past nor living for what may or may not happen in the future, can never be a wrong choice. To do otherwise is to not live at all.
7. Following my heart. Making the decision to marry was admittedly made with more heart than head, and that is a good thing. If we do not follow our emotions, and marry for reasons apart from love such as money, status, or time pressures, we put ourselves at a disadvantage. Any marriage lacking love and passion is at risk for ultimately failing apart as one or both parties either cheats or someone finally leaves permanently to search elsewhere for what they are missing.
8. Forgiveness. The deterioration of my marriage taught me that both parties contribute to a marriage’s demise, even in cases where one spouse cheated. By accepting my own part in my marriage’s end and forgiving my spouse for his, I freed myself to move on and find happiness. Forgiving my ex-husband and myself for the mistakes we both made has empowered me to pursue the relationship I want. Only after forgiving my ex-husband and myself am I finally in a position to love again.
9. I am older and wiser. Through experience comes wisdom. The last few years of my marriage were extremely draining. I was lonely, depressed, and angry. Today I know if I ever find myself in a bad relationship, I will remove myself from that situation and change my scenery for the better. No one should ever feel such unhappiness, including me, and I will never allow myself to feel trapped ever again.
10. I grew into the person I am today. We are each the sum total of our experiences. Because of the vows I took, I know what it means to fully commit—to put another’s needs before my own and to love someone else unconditionally. Marriage has not only taught me the joy of loving and caring for another, but in later years the importance of also loving and caring for myself. I know what I want in my next relationship, and because of the lessons I have learned I will not settle for anything less.
This article appeared on the Huffington Post June 1, 2014.