My divorce was final on September 9. The papers arrived in the mail about a week later… an anxious week of waiting, because I knew it had been around 60 days since the filing. (We didn't have to go to court at all.) So I'm officially a single, independent woman. It feels strange, but it's a big relief to be through the most volatile part of the process. I'm not at the "end" of all this yet, and I don't know when I will be or what will signify that end, but I think the worst is over now.
So I want to share a few things that I've learned through the divorce process, in hopes that it might help someone. Not that I've mastered these things – I have to remind myself of them every day. Please note that my divorce was very "easy" and nonthreatening from a legal standpoint, and that I have no children, so this advice may not apply to more serious or legally complicated situations.
- First of all, it takes two people to save a marriage. It really frustrates me to see literature claiming that you can save your marriage "even if you're the only one who wants to." These (often Christian) articles suggest all kinds of tactics (passive and active) and even specific prayers to turn your wayward spouse a certain way and get God to work in his/her heart. They're well-intentioned and might be helpful and hopeful for certain situations. However, I tried to save my marriage by myself for a long time, and statements like that only piled more guilt, responsibility, and disappointment onto a load that was already smothering me. You, alone, cannot restore your marriage by sheer force of will. You can’t control your spouse. In the long run, both parties have to want it and commit to it – not only outwardly, but also inwardly. If you did the best you could and the marriage still failed, it is not your fault. God is not disappointed in you.
- Take one step at a time. When my ex left me, some people thought I should jump to action immediately, but I was paralyzed with shock. I couldn't wrap my head around getting an actual divorce. Then time passed, and with prayer and serious reflection and good advice, I felt okay enough to start seriously looking for a lawyer. Then I started all over again with calling a lawyer. This applies to a lot of non-legal decisions too. It may feel like you're not making progress quickly enough, but it's worth it because you can face each thing with relative confidence and minimal regrets. So if you're unsure, wait. Give yourself some time and space. Advice from loved ones is great, but in the end, they're not the ones who will be affected by your decisions.
- Similarly, if thinking about the long term overwhelms you, don't. I've blogged about this before, but if you're a natural worrier, planner and achiever like me, it's crucial to remember when the rug's been pulled out from under you. If your basic needs are settled for the near future, there's no need to decide right now what you're going to do with the rest of your life. Or torment yourself by imagining a lifetime of lonely Christmases. It's unproductive and will only rob you of the little joys that are available to you each day. You don't have to have everything figured out. So when the suddenly wide-open future feels so huge that it might swallow you – call a friend. Take a walk. Go to a movie. Eat some ice cream. Pray. When the time is right to do something, you'll know. You also never know when something great will come out of nowhere. You've experienced unexpected bad things, but unexpected good things can happen too.
- But don't stuff down your sadness and grief when it comes. Most of us instinctively slap some sort of Band-Aid on these painful emotions, but I think it's important to the healing process to just sit in them sometimes. Grief is appropriate in a divorce, and it can't be ignored – it has to surface at some point. Low moments are really difficult (to say the least), but personally, I'd rather suffer now than have to "re-break the bone" later.
- Read books. Listen to music. If a song makes you happy or helps you release your emotions, listen to it 20 times a day if you want to.* Make a playlist! Burn a CD! If a book ministers to you, write down your favorite lines and re-read them when you need a lift. I also recommend the book of Isaiah. So many great passages about God's protection and redemption, about rising above crisis, even specific references to abandoned wives (Isaiah 54:1-8).
Those are some highlights. Needless to say, I've been having a lot of breakthroughs.
* = Is there an mp3 version of Beyoncé's "If I Were a Boy/You Oughta Know" mashup? She's performed it at several shows, but I can't find an audio version ANYWHERE.