Even when ending your marriage is the right choice, it’s still hard — and not always in the way that you expect it to be. We all know that about half of marriages end in divorce, but not a single one of us ever thinks it will happen to us — which is why it can feel all the more unreal and heartbreaking when it does. In those early days, especially, it’s easy to feel like you won’t get through the next hour — let alone the whole day. Here’s what we wish we’d known.
1. You’re Braver Than You Know
You’re going to hear a lot of people telling you that you’re taking the easy way out and that you should suck up all the hurt and sadness because you took vows or because it’s better for the kids. Ignore them. It takes a huge amount of courage to stand up and demand a better life for yourself, your kids, and, yes, even your ex. Making a change is always harder than sticking with the status quo, so be proud of yourself. As for the kids: They deserve to have happy parents who can actually be present for them — and they deserve the chance to see what a healthy relationship looks like so they have a shot at having one someday, too.
2. Telling the Kids Will Be One of the Hardest Moments in Your Life…and You’ll Have to Explain It More Than Once
When it’s time to tell the kids, share the news together. Try not to demean or blame each other. And if it’s within your means, get advice ahead of time from a therapist. How the children react will, of course, depend on their age and temperament, but be prepared for anger, tears, screaming or even silence. They may blame one of you outright (rightly or wrongly). They may blame themselves (the hardest). And if they’re older toddlers or young preschoolers, there’s a good chance they’re not going to get it right away. Which means you’ll have some version of this conversation again and again.
3. Once News is Out, People Will Tell You They’ve Had a Bad Feeling About Him for Eons
You’ll ask them why they never said anything before. They’ll say, “Oh, you know, I didn’t feel like it was my place,” or “I didn’t think it would change anything…you were so in love with him.” Both may be perfectly true, but having this information now isn’t helpful or supportive. Feel free to say as much.
4. Friends Will Disappear and/or Take Sides
Obviously, you enter every relationship with your friends and his friends, and when you split, your people go with you. What’s harder is dealing with friendships you genuinely shared. For a while, you may still see each other solo, but as time goes on, some of those relationships will fade. Divorce makes people uncomfortable, and sometimes, it’s easier for them not to be around it. As unfair as that is and as hard as it may be to let go, it may be for the best. Surround yourself with people can see you for you — divorce and all.
5. You May Cry Spontaneously (And That’s Okay)
The trigger could be anything: A family walking down the street. A pregnant woman. A co-worker announcing her engagement. Or the fact that the dumb cable people are three hours late and why can’t something just go right?! Go ahead and let it out. You’ll feel better. And look, there are some things you might just not feel like doing for a while, especially if it involves celebrating someone’s marriage or baby. Try to go anyway. Yes, you’ll need to put your game face on but your friends, who’ve been there for you, still need you there for them.
6. You Must Find Ways to Be Kind to Yourself
Divorce comes with a tremendous amount of guilt, and it’s going to be very, very easy to blame yourself for, well, pretty much everything. Number one: It’s not all your fault. Nobody chooses to end a marriage unless they’ve wrung their heart dry with trying. So as you move forward and try to take care of everything and everyone else, remember to take care of yourself. Spend time with friends. Go for walks. Splurge on a spa day. And if you’re really struggling, don’t hesitate to see a therapist. Getting a totally objective point of view can be incredibly validating and reassuring.
7. Seeing Your Kids on a Schedule Will Feel Completely Wrong
And then you’ll all get used to the new normal. Whether you opt for 50/50 custody or a more traditional see-Dad-on-the-weekend schedule, there are going to be days in your week when you don’t get to put your child to bed or be there to wake him up. (Some clueless people will say, “Oh, but at least you get a built-in break!” Once again, ignore them. This is not the way you hoped to get a break from your kids.) You’ll miss them and the house will feel empty, but after a while the schedule simply becomes life.
8. You Will Eventually Want to Date. And It Will Be Weird, But Insanely Fun
Without even realizing it, your vibe is going to change. You may be out with a few friends and suddenly find yourself talking with a guy. And flirting. And depending on how many drinks you’ve had, perhaps making out like a couple of college kids. Yes, you of the two kids and minivan and “broken marriage.” And why not?! Be a kissing bandit for while. Go out on lots of dates. Be responsible and safe, but have tons of fun and enjoy the attention.
9. Divorce Is a Thousand Little Goodbyes
You’ll get through all the big stuff — telling the kids, someone moving out, taking off your rings, packing away the wedding pictures, signing the papers (each their own kind of hell) — and think, “Okay, it’s finally over.” But then you miss the first family event with your former in-laws or your child spends his first holiday without you. You’ll have to catch your breath all over again. When you marry someone, you can’t help but imagine decades of events and moments that you’ll share together and as a family. So it’s only natural that you’ll mourn them when they’re gone. Give yourself a little space to take it in and then let it go. You’re already creating new memories and new traditions — and this new branch of your family history will be just as rich and full as you’d hoped.
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