Perhaps the most crippling emotion I experienced as I went through my divorce was the feeling that I was a terrible failure for getting a divorce and for failing to succeed at one of the most important things a human can do. I was ashamed to face people I knew, people who attended my wedding, who I went to school with, co-workers, and so on because I only imagined all of the judgmental things on their minds. I was devastated that my dreams for a happy marriage were not to be.
What was wrong with me? What did I do wrong?
Why couldn’t I choose a better partner for myself or achieve the lifelong relationship I so desired?
I felt ten times worse about my situation because I had children from my marriage who would also endure the consequences of their parents’ failures. Guilt, grief, shame, sadness all intermixed in an inedible casserole that I couldn’t bear to swallow. That’s when I realized that viewing my failed marriage as a complete failure was a misperception, not only unfair to me but also not entirely correct.
Here are 5 ways I learned to see my divorce as more than just a failure:
1. I hadn’t entirely failed if I tried my best. There are no marriage awards unless you consider making it to your 50th anniversary or succeeding in the promise of “’til death do us part.” These were goals I had every intention of achieving because I valued the institution of marriage and knew that the hard work it required to flourish was worth every bit of effort. Other endeavors in life, such as soccer, do have tangible benchmarks of success.
For instance, if I try really hard and perform well in the sport, I may make the team, help the team win a game, win a trophy, maybe get a scholarship, and if I’m really good maybe I could even make a professional team or the Olympics. In a marriage, success is subjective. What satisfies one wife may not be at all acceptable to another. We all know that a couple may appear to be happy and have the “ideal” marriage only to be miserable behind closed doors.
All I can say is that I believe I tried my hardest. I have no report card from my marriage, but I believe in my heart that I put forth A and B effort across the board. Perhaps my “A effort” succeeded in some disappointing grades, and eventually a divorce, but I could no longer beat myself up for getting an “F” when I turned in all of my metaphorical assignments and showed up for class!
2. A marriage takes two, so I was only responsible for my actions. When I recognized that my relationship was in deep trouble, I tried everything I could think of to save it. I read books, I went to counseling, I tried to reinvigorate our connection to make him more interested in me and our relationship again, I desperately tried to develop some new common interests for us to get involved in, I lost a ton of weight…in every way I could imagine, I put him and our marriage first because I didn’t want it to end.
The thing about a marriage is that it requires full effort from both parties. Not 50/50 effort as some will suggest, but 100/100 effort from both spouses. This realization took me awhile to recognize, but it didn’t seem fair to hang my head in shame over a failed marriage when I knew I had done everything I could. I was on board and he just wasn’t ready to wake up and do his part.
3. I recognized that it didn’t have to last forever to be considered a success. The marital ideal is for a couple to exchange vows and remain together forever. The statistics aren’t in favor of most of us making it to the “forever” finish line.
So, if like me, you find yourself without a partner partway through your journey, it’s tempting to look at this situation as a failure. I haven’t yet met anyone who married with the expectation of only making it a decade or so; but, it happens. So, what about all of the other things in life that only last a season, a few years, a decade? Are you a failure if you only have a certain job for three years? Eight years?
I don’t know, but I don’t think it’s the duration of the experience that matters so much as what you get out of it.
Did you reach some important goals?
Did you learn something new?
Did you experience some interesting things and meet people?
You might classify the three-year job as a raging failure if you were miserable the whole time, were mistreated by your boss and co-workers and came away with no new skills. I would contend that it’s also possible to walk away from such an arrangement after two years, 15 years, or whatever number and say “That was an amazing opportunity! I grew as a person, I made great memories, and now I am prepared for great new things!”
We’ve all had those jobs, homes, friendships, (or other experiences) when we recognize that it has fulfilled its purpose in our life, and now it’s time to move on because staying on would probably diminish the value it had to our lives. Maybe, in some cases, a marriage can also be this way. I matured during my marriage, found my direction and voice as a woman, became a mother, and experienced things both good and bad. I think it had finally fulfilled its place in my life. Fulfillment, not failure!
4. The experience gave me renewed purpose and focus. While a marriage is supposed to be a joint venture, I largely found myself feeling alone. I succumbed to years of depression because of the loneliness and sadness I felt. I certainly felt like a failure!
Eventually, I realized that this was no way to live and that I needed to seriously evaluate where my life was going and what my purpose was. I took this opportunity to further my education, set goals for myself, allow myself to reevaluate my priorities, stand up for my right to be happy and respected, and make a game plan for my life. I was once defeated and not sure if my life was even worth living. My divorce made me face all of my fears and insecurities head on and redefine myself – so not a fail!
5. I learned invaluable lessons that will make me a better person. I know more about who I am, what I need as a person, and what I want from my life as a result of my marriage and divorce. I had to be stronger than I knew possible. I had to figure out so many things about myself and how to get along in the world. I had to overcome immense pain and to stand firm when it would have been so much easier to buckle under the pressure. I am proud of who I have become as a result of my divorce. No failure in that!