After years of agonizing over whether to stay or leave, I finally made a decision just five months before my 50th birthday. By the time the scales tipped in favor of leaving, I was just going through the motions of raising three school-age children and working to pay the bills. Hope had left me, and I had nothing to look forward to. I knew if I stayed there would be nothing left of me but a shell.
Deciding to divorce was the hardest decision I’ve had to make (at least so far). But once I broke the news to my then-husband, relief came immediately as the burden of indecision was lifted. I felt the first glimmers of joy and a bit of hope. Those were the first clues that I was moving in the right direction.
The years since haven’t been easy, though they’ve gotten better with time and growth on my part. The freedom from that initial decision to take a stand on my own behalf has propelled me forward. Here are six (of many) ways my divorce and post-divorce experiences have transformed my life in positive ways:
- Making the decision to divorce allowed me to regain my self-respect and reclaim my power. In all the years of agonizing over whether or not to divorce, I wanted someone to tell me what to do. What I discovered was that it didn’t matter if everyone I knew was in favor; it only mattered that I find the confidence to do what was right for me. When I finally saw that leaving a troubled marriage was a choice for life and health for me and my kids, and that it was a loving action for my former husband, too, I was able to act from a place of calm rather than anger. Learning to trust my inner wisdom in that big decision turned my life around.
- Letting go of the plan I had for my life gave me the freedom to enjoy and appreciate the life I have. I come from a family where divorce was unheard of. My parents have been married almost 55 years, and their religious tradition considers divorce a sin. I took seriously “till death do us part.” I felt trapped, yet obligated to stay and honor my marriage commitment. And I thought I should stay for the kids because I didn’t want them to come from a “broken” home. My plan was for him to get sober so we could rebuild our marriage and raise our family together. Once I let go of this fantasy, I was able to see other ways in which life could unfold and that love and support could come from other sources besides a husband.
- Seeing my kids regain health and develop confidence as they grow toward adulthood was an unexpected benefit of divorce. I spent hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars dragging two of my children to doctor after doctor trying to figure out why they were having health problems. Once the divorce was final, many of the physical problems disappeared. Alcoholism was the elephant in the living room, apparently. Over time (and in one case, with some professional help), many of the emotional and social issues also lessened. In the past five years, all three kids have become responsible, trustworthy and mature young adults. (They’re not perfect, but they are delightful and fun to be around). I have great relationships with each of them, and I feel that that they are well-prepared for life on their own.
- Our home is welcoming and peaceful, which makes family and friends want to call or visit. Before my divorce friends and family avoided calling the house for fear of who would answer the phone. The kids rarely had friends over because they never knew how their dad would act. (In fairness, they probably didn’t know whether mom would be angry, resentful, put-upon, busy working, or happy to entertain either.) Without the uncertainty and drama of our pre-divorce relationship, the kids are free to have friends over. For instance, some of my family came over for coffee on my birthday recentlyand wound up staying for most of the afternoon. Over the holidays we’ve had some of the kids’ friends spend the night (or several nights), as well as a few impromptu gatherings for games or movies. I love the laughter and lightness that come with a full house, and I treasure the opportunities to get to know my kids’ friends.
- Being the family breadwinner and primary parent taught me that I have resources, skills and support far beyond what I could have imagined. I’d been the primary breadwinner before divorce, but it was scary to be on my own and solely responsible for the family’s financial well-being (as well as everything else). Being self-employed added to the uncertainty. However, for the past five years, I’ve a kept a roof over our heads, food on the table, and even college for two (so far). In the process I’ve learned to ask for help when I need it and trust that support will come, though not necessarily in ways I expect. I don’t take these material blessings for granted, but I have gained confidence that my kids and I won’t be left out on the street without resources to cope.
- I’m learning to have fun and incorporating fun and joy into my daily life. This is a recent but highly rewarding thing for me. When I was married I tried to enjoy the things my husband liked to do, but most of the time I felt like a stick-in-the-mud because I wasn’t having fun. I’m learning that my ideas of fun are different, and that it’s important to make time for them. I love to hike, for example, and to try challenging (but not technical) trails. This year I took a three-day trip with my daughter, and we hiked every day. I’ve also done several solo hikes on the weekends, including one to an area of Colorado I’d never seen before. Taking time like this for myself renews and refreshes me and allows me to be more present for my family and my clients. I’m also actively looking for small joys in each day; the more I look, the more I find them – whether a hug, a sunrise, or something silly one of the animals does.
I’ve not regretted my decision to divorce – not once since I finally found the courage to move forward. My levels of happiness and satisfaction, not measurable at all before divorce, now register high on the meter. There’s no looking back!