I’ll never forget the loan specialist who congratulated me on my divorce.
I was getting a cashier’s check from her to bring to the closing on my townhouse, and she asked why I was selling.
“Moving to the suburbs?” she inquired cheerfully.
Nope, I told her. Getting divorced.
That was a first. From friends and acquaintances I had heard plenty of, “Oh, I’m so sorry!” And, “I had no idea!” And, “How are the kids holding up?” I had not one single time been congratulated. I told her as much.
“It usually means a better life is ahead,” she assured me.
She was right, of course. But you rarely hear that. Or read that. Or find an expert who will tell you that.
Divorce is messy and painful and expensive and not to be glorified nor entered into lightly. But it can also be the beginning of a more tranquil, authentic, happier — indeed, better — life. And that’s worth telling people.
“The gifts of divorce may take some time to reveal themselves, but there are gifts,” says psychotherapist Abby Rodman, author of “Without This Ring: A Woman’s Guide to Successfully Living Through and Beyond Midlife Divorce” (Lulu). “One day you wake up and it hits you that you no longer have to manage an unhappy marriage. You no longer have to manage your spouse’s unhappiness. That clears the way for more of your own happiness.”
Rodman, who surveyed hundreds of women about their divorces for her book, said very often divorcees rediscover passions they shelved, friends they ignored and talents they allowed to atrophy. This goes for men too, of course.
“A bad marriage corrupts your entire existence,” she said. “Once you’ve extracted yourself from that, you have the opportunity to think about the things in your marriage that didn’t work for you. We all make sacrifices in marriage — and we should. But did you make really big ones that you can now revisit? Do you want to go back to school or become a writer or go to church every Sunday? Things maybe your ex-spouse wasn’t supportive of? In some ways it’s an opportunity for reinvention.”
Maryjane Fahey, co-author of “Dumped: A Guide to Getting Over a Breakup and Your Ex in Record Time!” (Sellers Publishing), said it took becoming single for her to focus her energy on her own work.
“My ex, whom I loved deeply, was a brilliant man,” Fahey said. “But he didn’t live up to his potential as an artist and a writer and I was constantly on him, pushing him. When he dumped me I realized I needed to become the person I was telling him to become. And that’s exactly what I’ve done.”
Fahey, who runs her own design and branding firm, included the following quote, credited to author Joseph Campbell, in her book: “The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.”
“I moved my life goal from being a good wife to saying, ‘Hey, what about those projects I’ve been sitting on?'” she said. “Now that I don’t have a man to push, I can push myself. And that’s been a really beautiful ride for me.”
Creating your next act
A clear-eyed focus on what you want your post-divorce life to look like can help you through the toughest parts of the breakup process, says family attorney Angie Hallier, author of “The Wiser Divorce: Positive Strategies for Your Next Best Life” (Megeve Press).
“It is so important for people to start planning what they want their after-divorce life to look like as they go through the divorce and to make every decision during their divorce through the lens of how it will impact their next life,” Hallier said. “This includes being very clear about what their budget will look like, but also focusing on things that will change for the good that cannot be measured — the lack of conflict, the lack of emotional intimacy, pursuing dreams and activities that were set aside during the marriage.
“Creating a vision for your new life is actually easier than staying in a soul-killing marriage,” she said. “And your attorney should help you create this vision.”
Wise, clear-headed counsel can also help you prioritize your kids’ needs, if you’re a parent.
“Every part of (your kids’) lives will be disrupted to a greater or lesser degree by this decision to change the only life they’ve known,” Hallier writes in her book. “This isn’t a reason not to divorce, if divorce is the only way to create a happy, healthy future for yourself and your children. … This is simply a call for you to place your children’s needs first in your thoughts, your words and your actions throughout the process. If you can do this, your children will come through divorce in a better place than they were in during a miserable marriage.”
Keeping it positive
An eye toward the happier future can also keep you from getting bogged down in revenge fantasies and other toxic energy expenditures.
“Accept who your ex-spouse is and isn’t and move forward without wanting revenge and without anger,” Hallier said. “Get rid of the notion that this divorce will somehow vindicate you as the one in the right. Certainly there are emotions that have to be dealt with, but if you focus these negative energies on the process of divorce you lose this golden opportunity to reshape your life for the better.”
That will likely mean setting aside some old habits and, equally important, embracing some new ones.
“To anyone divorcing, I would tell her or him, ‘Dig a little deeper and engage yourself in activities you never thought you’d do,'” Fahey said. “Maybe do a little meditation. Maybe go on a trip on your own. Start to feel your power and the beauty of taking care of yourself inside and out and embrace the wonderful, happy, fabulous, sexy things that can happen when you’re alone.”
And keep in mind that you’re not all that alone.
“There are all kinds of groups and clubs and travel organizations that cater to people who are single or divorced,” Rodman said. “We’ve moved away from the old paradigm to a culture in which nearly 50 percent of people are divorced, and society at large has had to make room for that.”
Happiness, after all, can take up a lot of space.