The topics of love and marriage have come up a lot in many of the conversations I’ve had with friends and coworkers lately – more so than usual, although I’m not sure why. Some are finding love for the first time, others are struggling to deal with a divorce, and others are just navigating the daily battles that sometimes happen to the best of couples. For some reason, I guess because I got divorced young and went from a lot of really bad relationships to one really good one, people ask my advice a lot. I’ve found myself reflecting on the lessons I’ve learned on the journey from being someone’s ex-wife (how I used to define myself) to being Danielle, who happens to be married, and how my perspective has changed as a result. And so, if for no other reason than I don’t really feel about writing about running today (not because it’s going badly, just because I write about it a lot), here are some of the lessons I’ve learned from my divorce, brought to you by Dr. Mindy Lahiri from The Mindy Project. Unrelated, but you’ll have to hold me back if Hulu doesn’t pick it up for another season now that it’s been cancelled. Fix it, Jesus. ANYWAY.
1) Relationship issues are never one-sided. Although I will never talk about the circumstances of my marriage and divorce on the blog, everyone – including my ex-husband – who knows the situation would agree that what happened was pretty traumatic and unfair to me. My ex is not a bad person, but he did a lot of bad things at one time in his life. But just because those things are pretty egregious doesn’t mean that our divorce was entirely his “fault,” or that my behavior had nothing to do with it and was always perfect. I personally think that one of the best things about divorce is it forces us to examine ourselves and how we can improve as people and partners. No one is perfect, and no one is blameless. We all have room to improve and every divorce or break-up is a glaring reminder of ways we can be better. Learning to accept some of the blame allowed me to release the anger I felt and move forward with my life.
2) I only have control over my own behavior. As a person with major control issues and a rather naive world view (especially at 23), I believed that I could control my ex-husband by being a “better” wife. More successful, more beautiful, more thin, more whatever – if I made myself better, he would have to change his behavior, right? Wrong. My divorce taught me that I only have control over my actions and my reactions. I cannot control the behavior of others, and their bad behavior is not necessarily reflective of the effort I am putting in. Also, their good behavior is not my reward for being perfect. This has been immensely helpful in stopping my compulsive need to “fix” people and work on “fixing” myself instead.
3) Most things are not worth arguing over. A couple weeks ago, AJ did something that kind of annoyed me. It wasn’t a big deal at all, nor was it intentional on his part. I was a little frustrated, so I spoke to a couple of friends about it, more to get it off my chest than anything else. They both responded with “OMG! I can’t BELIEVE he did that! He owes you a serious apology.” Both are in new relationships that are pretty up and down, and when they said that, I couldn’t help but laugh. All I could think was about all of the other stuff that has happened to me in my past relationships. My sweet, heart-of-gold husband unintentionally annoying me is not something to get worked up over. Is it something to address? Sure, but not something to get mad about. And when it comes down to it, most of the things that couples argue about are just not that important. I’ve learned to pick my battles and choose to focus on the positive. After all, the positive is why I married AJ, and it so greatly outweighs the negative – as it should.
4) I must remember that I know my partner. When you’ve been in a relationship for a long time, you know the other person. You know why they do things and what their motivations are. I know AJ is a truly good person who would never, ever do anything to hurt me on purpose. He has proved that every day for our entire relationship. When he upsets me, I approach it from that perspective (that he is a good person) and try to understand where the miscommunication occurred, because that is all it is – a miscommunication. It makes issues a lot easier to recover from if you remember your partner’s heart. By contrast, if you are in a bad relationship with a person who is careless with your feelings, you probably know that too. Making excuses for the other person while you wait for their behavior to change will only lead to heartbreak. Listen to your gut – you know who you’re with.
5) It’s ok to be sad, regardless of the circumstances. Despite the reasons my first marriage ended and all of the pain that it brought me, I was very sad when it was over for a very long time. That didn’t make sense to most people, who couldn’t believe I loved my ex in the first place. They expected me to be angry or happy or something else – anything but sad over the loss of something I had tried so hard to hold on to. I felt like I was letting my family and friends down when I was sad. But divorce is hard, and no matter how bad things were, sometimes, you miss the familiar and the person. After all, you loved them for a reason. It’s possible to have mixed emotions – relief, sadness, anger, and happiness – about the same situation at the same time. It gets better.
6) Life goes on, no matter what. The world didn’t stop when I got divorced, and thank God for that! I had to reestablish myself and my identity while dealing with all of the things that we all do every day – bills, job, family, friends, etc. Stitching my life back together while experiencing such deep emotional pain made me realize that I was capable of overcoming anything. I’ve taken a lot of risks that I would never have taken before simply because I believed that I was capable of making it work in the end, and it’s working out just fine so far.
I don’t pretend to know everything about relationships. I’m no marriage guru. All I know is what I’ve learned, and I live my life with intention every day. I guess my point in all of this is to say that divorce sucks, but it’s not a death sentence. It’s an opportunity for incredible personal and emotional growth if that’s what you choose to make it. I’m grateful, and I feel fortunate that my ex was/is in my life. So if you’re going through a hard time in your relationship, a breakup, a broken engagement, or a divorce – just know that you will come out better for it on the other side. And when you get here, I’ll be waiting to greet you.
What lesson have you learned as the result of a hard time?