When my parents separated, one of the first things my mother did was get a dog. Not just any dog.
She had always wanted a dog. My father had always refused. He was of the view that dogs were She got the breed of dog she wanted. Goldie just happened to be the cutest, most gorgeous and loving, yet most stupid, dog known to mankind. That dog was my mother’s favourite child.
Even if my father had agreed to a pet canine, there would have been a compromise to be made by my mother on the breed of dog and the rules as to how it lived within the family. So, my mother marked the occasion of ending her marriage with my father by getting the dog she had always wanted and letting it live as though it were royalty.
One of the perks of divorce
I often think of my mother and Goldie when clients come into my office and tell me about a choice they have made, just for them, after their separation. I call it their new Choice Zone (as opposed to the Compromise Zone they had been living in). When women separate, they get to experience a completely expanded Choice Zone. It can be terrifying. It can be exhilarating. Your enlarged choice zone can also contain a wealth of lessons that can serve you as you move forward in your post-separation life.
Your new Choice Zone
Some of the new decisions in your choice zone may be small and appear inconsequential to others but are significant to you. I had one client who told me she felt joy every time she reached for an unhealthy cereal she loved but which her ex never allowed her to purchase. Another client very gladly gave her ex all their camping equipment, happily swearing she was NEVER camping again, in favour of choosing cities she always had wanted to holiday in.
Other decisions in your choice zone may feel nerve-wracking to make alone. One of my clients felt so proud about bravely negotiating the purchase of her new car as this was something her ex had always done. The cherry on top for her was that she got free rein over choosing the colour of her car.
A consistent favourite new choice after a separation is that of a new hairstyle. Have you ever noticed how life changes call for a new haircut? I have had countless clients come to see me after their separations, looking fabulous with a new hairstyle. When I compliment them on their fabulous new look, they invariably grin, touch their new hairstyle proudly and say “My ex always liked my hair the way it used to be so I never changed it before”.
Another popular way of exercising your new choice zone is creating a bedroom space that is all about you. You can stamp your personality all over your bedroom without compromise. Want 20 throw cushions on your bed? Go for it. Want a massive floral wall mural? Go for it. Want a calm, minimalist haven with a to-die-for wardrobe space all for yourself? Go for it!
The choices you embrace and celebrate your independence with will depend on your unique tastes, your values and the areas you have been long living deep in the compromise zone on. This will be different for everyone. For my mother, it was getting a dog. If I were to find myself single again, I would be dusting off my glass collection and amassing more and more pieces, even if it meant kids in the street talked about me in slightly scared, hushed tones as “that crazy glass lady”! Probably not the choice for you but you will have your own version. The beauty is that it is all your own choice.
Timing is Everything
Making these new, self-directed, moves in your life can feel naughty, possibly self-indulgent or selfish. It can be a heady mix of exhilarating and terrifying when you realise the expansiveness of your new choice zone and begin stretching into it. If you and your ex had been together a long time, it likely will feel daunting and uncomfortable to suddenly be in sole charge of a whole world of life decisions. You may even find yourself craving a more limited, decision-making world. You may wish someone else could make some of these choices for you.
Once you start venturing into your enlarged choice zone, perhaps with some smaller decisions to begin with, you will garner a taste for it. Before long, you will be making bigger and bigger choices that are all yours and you will do so with increasing gusto.
However, word of caution: timing is crucial. If you are only a short time into being separated and still weathering the emotional fallout of this experience, take your time. Recognise that decisions made while the brain is under emotional stress may not be your soundest decisions. In other words, no matter how much you loved “Eat Pray Love”, now may not be the right time to make a decision as big as selling your worldly possessions and uprooting your life to go and live in a remote village in Indonesia.
The Lessons in Your New Choice Zone
As you start experiencing your wider choice zone, there is value in reflecting on:
- what can you now choose to do without compromise that you were not able to in your former relationship?
- why, when you were in your relationship, did you not make the choices you are now able to make?
Consultation and compromise are a vital part of every relationship. This is particularly so for big purchases or decisions that impact on the relationship and family unit but also for the smaller, daily choices that affect the way we share our lives (those 20 throw cushions that have to be removed from the bed each night, for example).
There are also the things you voluntarily may have chosen to do out of love for your partner. These are the things that you did not really mind doing, even if they were not your favourite choice (those Friday-night-burger rituals he looked forward to when you really preferred Tex-Mex!).
Perhaps you always, consciously, or subconsciously, prioritised the needs of your partner or your children to your own detriment? It can be very alluring to be “needed” and to be incredibly busy attending to all that “need” in just the perfect way only you can do. However, this can be at the cost of resentment building as you stop feeding yourself what you need to feel satisfied and content in your own life.
Were there times when your choice zone was limited in a more controlling way? In a way where the concessions you made were not really concessions but, rather, were dictated to you? Were some of your decisions bourne out of apprehension of the negative and damaging repercussions there would be if you did as you truly wanted to?
I remember complimenting a gorgeous client, Annemarie, on how she always dressed so stylishly and uniquely in bold colours and patterns. She smiled broadly as she told me her favourite time of day was when she chose what to wear because she could finally wear what she wanted. She shared that during her long marriage, her husband had always criticised and belittled her if she tried to dress in the individual and colourful way she preferred. As a result, she stopped trying to express herself through her clothing and played small and dull in her dress choices. This smallness and dullness extended beyond just her clothing and, until she separated, became her approach to her life choices generally.
Examining the reasons behind why you made the concessions you did during your marriage, are there aspects of the choices you now make that you won’t want to relinquish in a future relationship?
Are there feelings you experience in your current decision making that you would want to carry forward in life, irrespective of your relationship status?
What does this tell you about the type of person you are looking for in a future partner? Annemarie told me that she now knew that if she ever chose to have a life partner in the future, it was important to her that her partner respected her style of dress as being her choice and recognised that it was an embodiment of her personality. She shared that, regardless of whether she was in a relationship, she could never give up the newfound fun and confidence that making bolder life decisions ultimately gave her.
So, how have you celebrated your newly expanded choice zone? What lessons are there in this for you?