Lessons I Learned When I Got Divorced

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.

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OMG this means AJ is my Kanye…yesss

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.

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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.

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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.

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My dad used to say “I am my ideal, and I envy myself.” I still think it’s ridiculous, but maybe it’s not such a bad idea to try and live up to your own ideal of what a person should be.

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? 

 

22 thoughts on “Lessons I Learned When I Got Divorced

  1. I always enjoy your open and honest posts Danielle. I actually had no idea you had been divorced beforehand but thank you for sharing that part of your life with us.

    1. I don’t talk about it all that often (it doesn’t come up much when I’m writing about running, haha!) but I wrote a post about Why I Run from July 2012 that discusses it, if you’re interested 🙂

  2. OMG so well said!…and I’m just talking about Hulu picking up The Mindy Project and fixing it!!! But seriously, YES to all of these things especially only controlling your behavior. After being married almost 10 years I can say that is probably my saving grace. There are arguments and raging fights but I absolutely know who my husband is and, when he disappears for a while I just wait it out… 🙂 When you have kids, is when the real fights start. hahahaha

    1. Seriously, I’ll die if I don’t find out what happens to baby Castellano. DIE. This cannot happen!!

      Hahaahhaha you are NOT encouraging me to have kids, Allie! As if I need any more convincing.

  3. Divorce is one of those events in life that, regardless of how amicable it might be, totally upends everything that you thought you knew and makes you question everything. So much confusion, but so much clarity. Similar thoughts regarding my diagnosis–and the additional thought of “sometimes, things happen, and they are nobody’s and everybody’s fault.” I had to come to grips with the fact that I was sick, and it wasn’t my fault that I was dealing with a hard time, but if we picked hairs we might pin point. People will always want to find a way to assign blame, but what is more important is moving forward in a beneficial way for everyone. At least, in my mind.

    1. It’s nice to think that everything is within our control, isn’t it? It makes the world seem less scary. Assigning blame for a situation does the same thing, but sometimes it’s not anyone’s fault and sometimes it’s everyone’s, just like you said.

  4. I can so relate to so many of these. My ex and I have struggled, but we are doing a lot to get along…not just for the sake of our son, but also because we genuinely care about each other. Marriage didn’t work for us, but we can be friends.

    1. That’s great, Stephanie! Not only for your son, but for you and your ex, too. Life is so much easier when you aren’t moving through it while holding on to a ton of anger.

  5. I have been married now for six months. All through my 20’s I was in 2+ year relationships and I lived with every guy I dated. I actually found my husband on Match. I liked the idea of window shopping before trying a guy out so to speak. We are both strong willed, hard headed , self reliant individuals which means our fights can get down right nasty. But we both have been working on it and at the end of the day we now we are in this together…..we have each other’s backs. His parents have been married 40+ years and mine 30+m so we both come from strong family ties like that. I would say for me learning to let things go, forgive, and move on have been key to our relationship. Apologizing when you know your wrong and really trying to have fun together when you can. He works in the oilfield here in South Texas so he is gone, right now, 2 weeks at a time.

    1. Two hard headed people can make for a tough match, but it is definitely possible! AJ and I are fortunate in that we are both pretty mellow people in the sense that we don’t ever get riled up enough to actually fight/yell, we just disagree sometimes. I’m so glad to hear you are working through things and learning to communicate, forgive, and move on. That stuff is hard! It sounds like you’re figuring it out. Good luck!!

  6. “…their bad behavior is not necessarily reflective of the effort I am putting in.” THIS was exactly what I needed to read this morning. Thank you.

    1. You’re welcome! It’s a VERY tough lesson to learn for those of us who are particularly hard on ourselves.

  7. This topic aligns with my interests. 🙂

    A lot of these ring true to me. I feel that the scarlet letter of being divorced never really leaves you – at least it hasn’t me yet. Which, is interesting, given that someone can be in a long term relationship for years that ends but as soon as you get legally married – BOOM, they are yours for life.

    That said, I also completely agree about it forcing changes for the better. I am currently in a lovely relationship with excellent communication – something that I have never had before which is making all the difference!

    1. It’s really funny that you mention the “scarlet letter” aspect, because that’s something I initially wrote about and deleted, mostly because I find it depressing. But people really do judge you for being divorced, and I think it’s even worse when you get divorced young, because there is the underlying assumption that you’re selfish and just didn’t try hard enough to make it work. I totally understand how you feel!

      I have also loved insta-stalking you and Laura because you guys seem so happy and it warms my heart of stone. Communication really DOES make all the difference, and I’m in the same boat. I’m glad to see you happy!

      1. I would love to say that I have always been a big and mature person and never judged people who were divorced … that would be a lie. (and as we learned in Harry Potter – one must not tell lies). One site owner for a place I did reviews for used to say that she was divorced … but hide that she was *twice* divorced, because she found that there were enough divorced people out there that saying ‘I’m divorced’ wasn’t necessarily so bad … but saying *twice* tended to send people into ‘WTF is WRONG with you’ mode pretty quickly 🙂

        1. Part of me understands that, because in a way, each person in the relationship IS part of the problem. But sometimes the problem is more that the person is a hopeless romantic, naive, or a bad decision maker than it is that they are hard to live with or something like that. Being divorced has definitely helped me to judge others less, especially when it comes to relationships.

      2. I don’t really have anything to contribute about divorce, but it makes me excited that you insta-stalk us… now we all need to get together in person sometime soon 🙂

  8. I lost my parents 364 days apart. That was a really rough time. What I learned more than anything then is that life is too short to let other people make me miserable. I learned to prioritize my own happiness.

    I can’t really contribute much to the happiness of others if I’m unhappy myself, unless they’re a jerk who gets off on that sort of thing.

    1. I’m so sorry to hear that, Joni! That must have been so awful. You learned a valuable lesson, though – life is so short. We never know how much time we have and it’s important to spend it being as happy as possible. You have to cut out the people and things that are bringing you down!

  9. I know that I am incredibly fortunate to be approaching a quarter century of marriage and still look at the last week filled with deck resurfacing, college tuition prep, yard work, and grocery shopping – all together, and we had a blast. We genuinely love being together and always find things to do and enjoy them. Oh sure we annoy the crap out of each other on occasion and have fights from time to time … but that is life.

    For me the biggest three things are communication, love and respect.

    Love is a key, and I honestly think that it is sometimes assumed (of COURSE I love him/her) when the reality isn’t so clear. I sometimes think there is *something* there, but then everything gets swept up in a sea of habit and external expectations. I see that with my brother’s (failed) marriage. Sometimes I also think that people want to stop the train, but don’t know how … and wind up married.

    Communication to me is key – when you are annoyed, there is a choice to be made: is it about me, or the other person. Somedays I have a crappy day and no one can do anything right, so I just have to swallow my annoyance – because it isn’t fair to anyone else. But I tell them. Like in your example – sure we all do stuff that annoys our partners (and having 17 and 18 year old boys, we can now fully annoy our kids as well!) – but it is important to not let it build too much, but also make sure it is addressed. Make sure the bulk of your communication is affirming and positive – but always be honest. My wife likes shopping with me because I am always honest … gently honest, but honest. And I love shopping 🙂

    Respect is a key – you have to respect the other person’s choices, abilities, boundaries, life, past, desires, and sense of space and personal items. I see many issues with this – involving third parties in arguments, seeking alliances, isolating them from friends and family either directly or through manipulation and so on.

    I say I am ‘lucky’ … but I also know it is more than luck: it is hard work all the time. Sure most of the time I am lucky to have my best friend by my side. But there are other times when it isn’t so great, because things like infertility and multiple miscarriages really suck, that dealing with disfunctional parental relationships and manipulative siblings are terrible, and so on. But the key is to weather storms together, and you will find that you come out the other side BETTER and STRONGER.

    I grew up when divorce was (seemed) less common, but in reality it also wasn’t talked about as much. So people who were divorced did carry a stigma (thus why it was kept quiet). Now that it is more common it is a reality of so many different people’s lives – I’d say at least half of my kids’ friends either have separate parent situations or deal withstep-parents. It doesn’t cause them to bat an eye – but it remains really hard for the kids … but THAT is a different story 🙂

    1. Well, I think you’re definitely lucky. I consider myself very lucky with AJ, too! Many of the relationships around us seem to deal with a lot of communication issues that we don’t have, but you’re right – it’s incredibly hard work as well. I can only imagine how much more difficult it is magnified over decades! It’s so wonderful to see your great relationship with Lisa, and the boys are lucky to have such dedicated parents. Keep doing what you are doing, because it’s clearly working!

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