A bad marriage is a breeding ground for many of life’s lessons. Adversity is a teacher and the wisdom gained from it enriches many areas of our lives. Just getting through my marriage and acrimonious divorce without a breakdown indicated that I could survive anything that life could throw at me.
When asking women, “what specifically did you learn from your divorce?” the main answer was, “Strength.” Like me, they discovered hidden internal reservoirs of strength, and dipped into these to get through difficult marriages. I mistakenly thought it was best for my sons to have a father in the house, since he was active in scouts and their other activities. It took Herculean effort just to be in my husband’s presence and keep up the happy family façade. Developing this strength enabled me to find a house during my divorce and hang in there when three mortgage companies turned down my application, due to not knowing what my alimony amount would be. Finally, closing on it during divorce when dividing personal assets, and doing the custody evaluation, reaffirmed my strength. “When we meet real tragedy in life, we can react in two ways, either by losing hope and falling into self-destructive habits, or by using the challenge to find our inner strength.” The Dalai Lama
The lesson of keeping life “normal” for my two sons during a toxic marriage was later invaluable during the divorce. We had a weekly pizza night in front of the TV and would go to a coffee shop for hot chocolates. When my now college age sons talk about life pre-divorce, they recall these little rituals fondly and do not dwell upon the unpleasantness. In the midst of turmoil, going to the park and other routines kept my sanity intact and laid the foundation for post-divorce life. It is the small things, like homemade cookies, which make it more endurable in that crazy pre-divorce period.
I received inspiration from movies and fables which I then applied to my awful marriage situation. In the movie Casablanca, a line really resonated with me: “…but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.” My problems seemed overwhelming, but put into perspective, they did not “amount to a hill of beans” compared to others. Some are caught up in the calamity of war, refugee camps, or slavery. I was told this Asian fable which extolled the positive aspect of struggle. A caterpillar had built a cocoon (chrysalis) and was ready to metamorphosize from pupa to butterfly. It started breaking a hole and frantically flapping its wings. A tender-hearted person wanted to help this struggling creature, so he enlarged the hole of the chrysalis. He did not realize that butterflies pump blood into the wings to increase strength for flight. The wings did not get the proper circulation, due to his intervention, and were distorted. The butterfly was unable to fly and soon died. Realizing that struggle increases strength gave me the visualization that I too metaphorically, was changing into a lovely butterfly.
Being in a bad marriage helped me to rely on my intuition instead of on well-meaning people’s advice. A woman who was in a rocky marriage to a surgeon, underwent outpatient surgery herself. She was shaky and vomiting and asked her husband to make two quick calls out of state to family members regarding her procedure. He refused. When asked for tea and toast, he yelled “I am not your slave.” Several well-meaning older friends said to let it go. One replied, ”It’s just that you are like the shoemaker’s wife who has no shoes.” The wife was thinking of separating, but thought that she was overreacting after hearing these women’s advice. She delayed the divorce for too many years. Trust your gut instinct.
I learned to vent and share from being in a bad marriage. I felt better and my friends were not that surprised when we got divorced. Expressing feelings instead of keeping them bottled up can avoid a big explosion down the road. Jogging and other physical activity helped to blow off steam. It was important to have an appropriate outlet for the anxiety and anger that I was experiencing before and during my divorce. Learning how to survive in an unfortunate marriage gave me the tools to get through a contentious divorce and beyond. Hearing how others left these marriages or survived life’s traumas reassured me that I would too.