For those of you who know me or have been following my journey, you know that I have been through a lot of transitions in my life, including divorce—twice. As I look back on those times I realize the life lessons learned from divorce have served me well.
They came in handy as I faced the loss of my parents (I considered my Mom to be my best friend and I was definitely Pop’s little girl), the loss of a dear friend (whom I considered to be my oldest brother) and two of my three real brothers within a few months of each other.
I relied on my lessons again when I was unexpectedly laid off from a long-time career position, forcing me to dig deep and re-evaluate. They came in handy when I chose to reinvent myself for the next chapter in my life, too.
I thought, if I write about these lessons from divorce, they will serve as a reminder when I face my next major transition. They may also help you in your personal journey through a divorce or some other life transition.
It is clear to me now that many of these lessons from divorce are common sense. As I was going through my own personal traumas, though, none of these lessons were in my consciousness—some were not even in the realm of possibility at the time.
Lesson 1 — We are not designed to suffer major life-events alone.
The last thing I wanted when I was going through a divorce was the company of friends and family and I certainly did not want to reach out for professional help. I actually kept the news of my separation from husband number one from my family for 6 months!
All I could do was cry and feel really bad about myself. I didn’t want to share my grief and despair with anyone. If I kept to myself maybe I could deny what was happening. I didn’t want to talk about it because I would have to face the reality of my situation.
So I buried myself in my career every day, pretending to be fine, then came straight home to the emptiness of the apartment and my lonely, broken heart. The same questions repeated in my head: What did I do wrong? How could I have saved my marriage? What is wrong with me? How will I ever be able to trust anyone again?
I finally realized that I was getting nowhere trying to answer those questions on my own. Have you ever felt tired of being tired? That’s how it was for me. I also was tired of lying to myself and those who cared about me. It was at that point I had to open up to receive help.
That was hard and it took me to the brink of depression but, I finally reached out. First to a mentor who helped me figure out how to break the news to my family. Next, I shared the news with my family (most of whom were very supportive). My friends became my safety net. And finally, I found a professional coach/therapist who helped me realize there was nothing wrong with me and that I was not alone—that lots of people have gone through a divorce and survived, even thrived.
I felt an enormous weight lifted from my heart as I got the support I needed. As I began to sort through my feelings of inadequacy and hopelessness, I found more people to talk with who knew what I was experiencing and who assured me it would not last forever. I began to believe I was not alone. This life lesson learned from divorce is the most profound and useful lesson of them all.
Lesson 2 — There is no shame in divorce.
Being divorced once was bad enough to admit. The last thing I wanted was to tell people I was divorced twice. Consequently, I stayed in an abusive second marriage for five years longer than was best for me.
It was difficult enough to come to terms with the infidelity of my first husband. Facing the truth that I was an abused woman by my second husband was impossible, at first.
To start, I endured verbal and emotional abuse. I knew it was wrong and it hurt to the core but I just did not have enough self-esteem to believe that I could make it without him. There are a lot of things that went on in that relationship which make no sense to me now. In fact, I can’t even really explain what I saw in him.
But, he was there when I was bouncing back from my first divorce, he made me feel worthy of love again and he wined and dined me and bought me nice things. Pretty heady stuff for a late 20-something living alone in New York City.
Then things changed for him. His career took several turns for the worse. He became depressed. I was making more money. My career was taking off and I was starting to travel. Over the next several years the relationship turned very turbulent. He was jealous and started acting out.
That’s when the physical abuse started. First with our pets—which stirred me to action immediately. No one can hurt my “kids” and get away with it. Then he turned on me—more than once.
At first, I blamed myself. Finally, I realized it was all him. I do not know where I found the courage to call the police when he confronted me with a knife. That was my turning point.
There was no going back. I recognized that I was living in a toxic relationship, totally devoid of respect and common decency. For my own well-being, I had to make a change.
Whether you spend too long in a bad situation or it has just started—if it is not going to get any better and you KNOW this in your heart—get out.
It took a long time for me to learn this life lesson from divorce. My friends wonder how I was able to stay under those conditions for so long. I learned the hard way that there is no shame in divorce. The shame is in not having enough self-respect and self-worth that you continue to live a life that you do not deserve.
You deserve the best this life has to offer. And it is time that you start to believe that.
Lesson 3 — “What makes you think you can turn an apple into an orange?”
I’m not proud of this but, I spent years trying to change things in my life that were not in my power to change. And, what’s worse, I didn’t even realize I was doing it.
I tried so hard to change things to get a different reaction or outcome and nothing changed. He didn’t have any more respect for me no matter what I did. I didn’t matter how nice I was to him, or how far out of my way I went to do something that I thought he would appreciate, or how much money I spent trying. Ultimately, the final outcome was always the same.
In an effort to save the second marriage, we agreed to go to counseling. Sometimes together, which was a disaster—he either lied or said what he thought the therapist wanted to hear. The therapy really helped me when I went alone. It was in one of those sessions that my therapist said to me, “What makes you think you can turn an apple into an orange?”
WOW. That hit home—hard. I realized I was trying to make him and our life together into something that it could never become. It was a waste of my time and energy spent on a fruitless mission. And, I was losing myself in the process.
Today I like to remember a prayer my grandmother taught me when I was a little girl. I wish I had remembered this while I was so busy trying to change things so my second marriage would not end in divorce. Here is the prayer; perhaps you recognize it:
God, grant me
the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can, and
Wisdom to know the difference.
My wish for you: May you live your life from this moment forward in Serenity, Courage, and Wisdom.
If you are struggling with a decision to divorce or have already made that decision, or there is another major life transition that is weighing heavily on you, remember that you are not alone. You don’t have to go through this difficult journey alone—reach out for the support you need.
Do not feel shame because you deserve better. No matter what your story is, you deserve to be happy. Only you can make the choice to live that way.
And, if you are working yourself to the bone trying to change things that are not in your power to change, let it go. Find your own Serenity, Courage, and Wisdom and decide to live your life on your terms and by your own core values, not someone else’s.
I’ve put these life lessons learned from divorce into my Treasure Chest so I can take them out anytime I need to be reminded that I hold the keys to unlocking my own joy and happiness. When life events knock you off your foundation, what lessons have you learned that can support you now. If you’re not sure what they are, or that you have any tools in your Treasure Chest to rely on, ask for help so you can unlock your inner wisdom.
Stepping onto Your Bridge
When life-changing moments flip the world upside down, I create a bridge for women so they can turn chaos into calm, build resilience and learn to live a life guided by their own values and vision. If you’re ready to take the first step onto your bridge and explore how change can impact you and how to move through it with more dignity and grace, get my free ebook From Darkness to Light: Learning to Adapt to Change and Move Through Transition.