It goes without saying that divorces are intricately complicated and intensely personal. They can be necessary or unwanted; devastating or invigorating. Regardless of the reasons why a couple elects to divorce, or the range of emotions it can produce, it’s a life changing experience that alters our mental, emotional, and spiritual landscape for a good, long time.
I should know. I’ve been divorced twice. And while both divorces were beneficial in the long run, they were agonizing.
While in the throes of the process, it’s difficult—if not impossible—to realize the lessons we might learn from enduring a divorce. However, they are there for the taking if we allow ourselves to open our hearts and learn. Here are five lessons I’ve discovered from divorce:
1) Every Person Comes Into Our Life for a Reason. Studies have shown that the dissolution of a marriage is akin to the death of a family member. The loss one feels in the wake of a divorce is often absolutely crushing. It is not just the loss of a partner; it’s the loss of shared dreams, of a certain way of life, of the future we had envisioned—all of which can create overwhelming sadness and resentment. But if we are able to take a step back and try to learn from the loss, we realize what we’ve gained, and that is the lessons we learned from our former spouse. Every person comes into our life for a reason, and it is to teach us something. From my first husband, I learned pluck and savviness and the power of maintaining an optimistic attitude; from my second, I acquired the confidence I needed to navigate an existence in a new country. If we tune into why a person came into our life by focusing not on what was lost but what was found, we can move forward with grace and gratitude.
2) We Have More Strength Than We Thought We Did. It takes a tremendous amount of courage to rock the proverbial boat, let alone allow it to capsize and fall flat-face in the water. Yet once there we realize that we do in fact know how to swim. The pain of divorce can feel terminal, but during those moments of excruciating grief, we are in fact gathering fortitude to take on more of life’s challenges in the future. After my divorces, there were weeks and even months when the simple act of getting out of bed and facing the day was almost too much to bear. The adage is of course true: Time does heal, and when we emerge from the shock and pain, we have greater resilience and an easier time handling crises because we’ve already proven to ourselves that we are capable of managing profound heartache and change.
3) Self-Care is Critical. It’s easy to forget to take care of yourself when you’re married and your top priority is ensuring the health and happiness of your spouse. Likewise, it’s easy to forget to take care of ourselves during a divorce because we’re overwhelmed with anxiety and misery. Cooking for one seems pointless; shaving our legs or putting on lipstick seems irrational. But loving yourself and expressing so through large and small acts of self-care is essential during this complicated time. Learning the importance of showing yourself compassion now will only build up your reserves for whatever complications you might face in the future.
4) Our Options are Limitless. To find yourself suddenly single—especially if you are childless, as I was after my two divorces—is terrifying. Your future stretches out in front of you, bleak and unexpectedly indeterminate. Yet after the initial shock subsides, you’ll arrive at the beautiful realization that you’re now unencumbered and your future is completely up to you. You can take up hobbies that failed to interest your spouse but have long intrigued you. You can return to school. You can move to a new city or a new country. You can adopt a pet, now that your ex with his allergies, is out of the picture. You can redecorate to your pleasing. You can dedicate time and energy to learning a new language. You can dye your hair, date a surfer, spend a weekend blissfully alone with a book, sing as you clean. Embrace all of the possibilities open to you, and you’ll realize how fortunate you are to have so much freedom.
5) Our True Priorities Become Clear. Divorces are ruthless, but they are also eye-opening—and I mean that in an entirely positive way. By coming to terms with what went wrong in your marriage, you’ll determine what will be important to you in a partner, ensuring you’ll find the happiness you desire—and deserve—in your next relationship.
Anger, resentment, sorrow so intense that it’s blinding—all of these negative emotions are a large part of divorce. But divorce can also serve as an incredible learning experience that ultimately fosters self-examination, growth, and reinvention. From its shadows we can emerge whole; we can emerge triumphant. And once we’re out in the sun again? We can start having a whole lot of fun.
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