10 Surprises of Divorce

Even if you had no experience with divorce prior to your own, you probably had some pretty clear ideas about what it would be like to go through one. You might have assumed it’s always easier if you’re the initiator, or that you’d be so angry there wouldn’t be time or space to feel hurt and lonely. When I’m working with clients transitioning through divorce, we often spend a lot of time dealing with “But I never thought…” Which is why learning to let go of your expectations of what divorce is “supposed” to be is one of the very first steps toward healing. In the meantime, though, I thought I’d share some of my patients’ biggest divorce surprises in the hopes of making your journey just a little easier:

1) “I didn’t realize how many of my own values I had sacrificed during my marriage. We had different parenting styles and our values about family time, work/life balance, spending time with friends outside of the marriage were ultimately very different. I learned that I needed to find a way to use my voice and have a greater role in other relationships moving forward. ‘Going along to get along’ is a disservice to both people. I had to ask myself, ‘Why I was so quick no to say something or not share why certain things were so important to me? What was I afraid of?’ I know this kind of examination will help me going forward.”

2) “I am more sad for my children than I am for myself. We no longer have an intact family. I realize I cannot fix that and that really bothers me—I’ve always been the ‘fixer,’ believing that if I just worked hard enough, I could save my marriage and keep us together. I I know first-hand what it’s like to have your parents divorce and so wanted to spare my children that pain. But at the same time, I know staying together for the kids is not the answer—especially when the marriage is beyond repair.”

3) “My soon-to-be ex has come undone during the divorce, and it’s difficult to watch at times. I’m challenged by his behaviors and in some ways fearful about how this will play out as we co-parent. As long as I was at home taking care of our children, I was less aware of some of his more aberrant behaviors because I was the one in control and I knew I could pick up the slack. Now that he has the kids part-time, I worry I won’t be able to protect them. I feel stuck in some of this fear like I cannot move forward with my own life. It’s as if I now have a third child!”

4) “I wasn’t aware of the significant impact my own upbringing had on my marriage, my decisions, and my values. I was surprised by this revelation. I used to ask, ‘Why did I do that?’ But now things make more sense to me: Through therapy, I’ve learned how to really examine how my childhood has affected my decisions and values as an adult. I am the middle child and, by and large, I have always been a people pleaser, often putting myself and my needs last on the list. But after awhile, resentment towards my spouse ensued. I became the doormat. Not any more!”

5) “Divorce is much harder than I had anticipated. I don’t even know what that means, only that it feels much harder. I wasn’t prepared for the roller coaster of emotions—the constant ups and downs and re-examination of issues I thought I’d addressed and left behind. And since I was the one who initiated the divorce, I thought the process would be less difficult. But I really struggled when my ex started dating again. I honestly thought I wouldn’t care.”

6) “I have always been really independent, and I thought I could get through this all on my own. However, I found myself relying more on my family and friends than I had anticipated. I am glad I did that. I am much more grateful for them than I was in the past.”

7) “I had many more lonely nights than I thought I would have. I thought the feelings of freedom would be there right from the start.”

8) “I felt like a failure for a very long time. There are no divorces in my family, so my failed marriage only seemed magnified. The holidays were particularly hard. I was the one that had to juggle schedules while I co-parented with my ex-husband. The constant ‘let me check my schedule’ made me feel like the odd man out.”

9) “I thought because I initiated the divorce, I would be able to move on faster. That didn’t happen! I’d gone through a lot before I even told my husband so I figured the rest would be easier. Yes, I was further along than my husband but because the divorce dragged on for quite a bit of time, the initial euphoria of making such a huge decision wore off.”

10) “I had this idea that after several months, I would be over it and would had moved on. It’s not that easy. Some days I feel like I am in same place. When I was going through my divorce, I felt like I should be on some sort of schedule. I am not sure where I got this notion from, but believing this got me caught in a negative mindset. As time went on, I found it easier to be critical of myself for not being further along the process. Only after therapy, talking with others, and giving myself more time to heal, have I learned that there is no specific time frame for recovering from divorce. Everyone has their own journey and allowing ourselves to heal is part of that process—no matter how long it takes.”