I’ve often joked that I feel like some sort of divorce guru. After the end of my marriage, I processed my experience by writing about it. I had decided when I left that I would commit my life to authenticity because I had, for years, been an expert at making everything look fine when it wasn’t. I didn’t want to do that anymore. The people I’ve always admired are real and raw, and they speak out about their struggles. It also helped me to work out my own feelings by talking about what it was like to disappear inside a marriage that I couldn’t see a way out of and how I was able to start over with two small children and virtually no income.
Soon, I began to get messages from friends and readers alike asking me about my experience. If I could be a light to someone else struggling through that darkness, I was happy to do it. I made it a policy never to advise anyone about what they should do in terms of staying in a relationship or leaving it. As a former counselor, I know that it’s not ethical to make that decision for someone else, but I also know that it’s difficult to judge a relationship from outside of it. My primary advice has been this:
- Decide what it is YOU want without factoring in the other person’s wants and needs. This is an important step because, too often, we factor in only what other people in our lives want and fail to consider our own needs. Women, in particular, seem to have this problem. Deciding what we want helps clarify our own needs and boundaries.
- Determine if the other person is willing to make the relationship work. Will they attend (and actually participate in and work for) counseling? Are they willing to save the relationship? Of course, this is a moot point if you are, in fact, done with the relationship and unwilling to put in any more effort.
- Make a plan. To work at it in conjunction with your partner. Or to get out. Decide the next step, but don’t decide it in a rush. Take the time you need.
I’ll never say: just breakup (or get divorced). Unless the relationship involves abuse. In that case, I will always say: get out! Otherwise, the above factors are considerations that should be factored in to whether or not we stay or go. If this makes me some kind of divorce guru, fine. But I am so damn tired of seeing men and women settle for relationships that are so much less than they deserve. And we all deserve love, trust, respect, compassion, and basic consideration. We deserve to love someone who loves us back. Who doesn’t cheat. Who doesn’t lie. Who is a partner in every sense of the word and doesn’t expect us to do all of the work, including in the bedroom.
But if we’ve reached the point where we’ve decided to divorce (or already have), then we may want to find a way to make it our last divorce. Statistically, second marriages have an even higher risk of ending than first ones. And I can’t speak for anyone else, but I didn’t think I had one divorce in me, much less two. A friend recently used the words her second ex-husband when speaking about someone, and I literally got a cold chill. I never want to say those words. But maybe someone reading this has already had a second or even a third. How do we decide to make the last divorce actually the last one? And do we even have the power to dictate it?
The real answer is no. Someone else can always decide to leave us. That’s the cold, hard truth. But it’s not the whole truth. We can decide that we’ll never again settle for less than we deserve. We can decide that we’ll only enter into another marriage if we’ve determined that the partner meets our needs and isn’t raising any major red flags. We can choose to go to counseling before marrying someone or to sit down and discuss the major issues before embarking on a life partnership. So often, we forget to sit down and talk about how we’ll parent, what we’ll do if one of us has to take care of aging parents, what we’ll do if one of us gets a major illness, or how we’ll handle finances. There are so many factors to consider, and so often, we just fly by the seat of our pants and figure it out as we go. Which may not be the wisest course of action when one or both parties has already been through a divorce.
Had me and my ex-husband sat down over a decade ago and talked out these issues, we certainly would never have made vows to each other that we’d later break. We would have realized that there were big differences that couldn’t be navigated around. Had I done that in a past relationship post-divorce, I would not have invested so much time on something that we should have known would end. But we don’t ask those hard questions, often because we don’t really want to know the truth.
But divorces aren’t breakups. Do we really want to get to the point where we treat them so casually that we have a whole string of them littered throughout our lives? No, we can’t guarantee that something won’t change. There are no guarantees when it comes to love. But we can make sure that we do the work beforehand to make sure that we don’t speak vows to someone who doesn’t share our same values and vision for our lives. We can open our eyes and pay attention to red flags rather than making excuses for them. We can stop compromising on the things that are actually deal-breakers. We can even ask our family and friends to give their honest opinions on what they see about our significant other that we might be missing. While that feedback shouldn’t dictate our decision, it should be a factor.
My final divorce decree was one page. One. It came in the mail, and it was so light that I could not believe it could contain such heaviness. I opened it, expecting a notice about my filing and not the decree itself. I thought I would want to celebrate when it came in, especially since I had filed it and felt that it set me free. I even had champagne set aside for when it came in. But I never did open that champagne to celebrate the end. I felt nothing but sorrow for a young woman who walked down the aisle with such hope for that relationship. Now I see that I learned so much from that experience. The woman who opened that decree wasn’t the same one who walked down that aisle.
In the aftermath of my divorce, I first proclaimed that I would never marry again. But the truth is that there’s still hope in me for another marriage. A life partner. A friend once said that our love should carry with it a lightness, an anticipation and not an expectation. It should not feel like another weight we have to bear. And if such a person exists for me, I know that I’m too old and too damn tired to ever speak vows without first knowing exactly what I’m getting into, insomuch as I am able. We can do whatever it takes to make sure the last divorce is truly the last one.
And if there’s not a person like that for me? If all I do is find red flags and deal breakers? Then I hope I’ll be brave enough to choose me. To choose loving myself enough not to ever settle again. Take it from a self-proclaimed divorce guru: a relationship that doesn’t meet our needs just isn’t worth a moment of our precious lives. We deserve so much better than that!