Advice from a Divorcee to a New Bride

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My daughter is getting married in two weeks, and I’ve been feeling a tug to share some motherly pearls of wisdom as the big day approaches.

Having a failed marriage behind me, it seems hypocritical to be offering advice (other than don’t marry a duplicitous louse capable of deceiving you for the duration of your marriage, ahem). I know my daughter doesn’t need any no-shit-Sherlock nuggets like “marriage isn’t always 50/50” because she is smart and self-assured and I have no reason to doubt that will continue into her married life.

Still, I’m hoping she can benefit from a bit of what I’ve picked up in my experience. So, instead of marital counsel, I’m simply offering some real-world, been-there-done-that relationship wisdom: woman to woman. Taking a page out of Oprah’s “What I Know For Sure,” here’s what I’ve learned over time about…

Forgiving on a daily basis. Some people think it’s only the big hurts that require the act of forgiveness, but the truth is, it’s the little things that you need to forgive quickly and frequently. I’m talking about the irritants that get under your skin but in the big scheme of things, are merely tiny nuisances resulting from the daily friction of two humans cohabitating. Are there socks on the floor or nail clippings in the sink (again)? Did he eat the last of the leftovers you were saving for lunch? Before it sets you off, take a deep breath and forgive. By all means, mention how it makes you feel, but don’t let it get the best of you, escalate into a fight, or hold it over his head. So let it go, let it goooo. Here’s a tip: instead of focusing on the laundry list of why he bugs you, focus only on his BEST – what you love most about him.

Realizing that resentment has a snowball effect. While the dangers of something small growing into something big might sound contrary to the above, my point is actually about communication. Resentment stems from unmet expectations. If there’s something you want badly but aren’t getting – maybe it’s feeling appreciated, accepted or adored – it can leave you unfulfilled. This is where snowballing resentment picks up steam and leads to feeling hurt, drawing negative conclusions and finally, bitterness and lashing out. Before it reaches that stage, try to think about the source of your resentment and if any (unrealistic, perhaps?) expectations contributed to that snowball.

Owning your emotions. You are responsible for your own happiness. Read and re-read those words. It means that how you respond to situations is completely within your control. It’s no one’s job to make you happy and no one has the total power to make you sad or mad – so stop blaming others (ahem, your significant other) for the way you are feeling. Sometimes you’ll be sad just because you’re feeling sad, and sometimes it’s because you’ve read or heard something depressing, you’re worried about work or family or money, you’re stuck in a dark place in your head, or shark week is in its final approach and the despair, anxiety and chocolate cravings are welling up inside. None of that is your partner’s fault. All emotions have value (remember Inside Out?), but they aren’t merely triggered by another person but how we choose to respond to the situation. When you’re tempted to take your anger or frustration out on your significant other, stop and consider its source before you snap at him.

Putting your partner first* in the bedroom (*most of the time). As we get older, our relationships progress, our bodies change and our lives grow more complex. Sex evolves too, and because the stars will rarely align perfectly and spontaneously the way they used to, you have to make your physical relationship a priority. It won’t always be easy to fall into your lover’s arms, especially when he wants to make love and you are nowhere close to being in the mood, but it’s important to shut the world off and let yourself give in sometimes. Even when (especially when) you don’t feel like it. Here’s something that’s always resonated with me: as much as women need to feel loved to have sex, men need sex to feel loved. So on those days it’s difficult to turn off that busy, multitasking mind, get out of your head and instead, focus on your lover and the sensations of your own body. A few minutes of pleasure will do wonders for your relationship and your personal well being the other 23.5 hours of the day.

Not losing the “me” behind the “we”. Always cherish the things that make you special, including your unique interests. It’s great that you and your beloved share so many things in common and love spending time together, but keep personal space for the hobbies, activities and interests that rejuvenate your love for life. Never let anyone tell you that you’re selfish for wanting to take time for yourself. Separate interests make you more interesting individuals. The only caveat I would add is that your hobbies should bring you joy, enhance your life and your relationship. They should not cause a rift, veer into obsession, be an excuse to get away from one another and worst and most painful of all, used to cover up nefarious activity. Keep doing what you love, and it will help you not to lose sight of who you are. You’re worth it.

Finding your way back to your love story. After eight years together, my daughter and future son-in-law already understand relationships have its ups and downs. But there will be deeper ruts later on; times when you stall out and start to question whether you made the right choice or if you’re with the right person. Heck, you might wonder if you even like that person. That’s the time when you need to make a trip into your mental library and check out the Story of How We Met. Re-read its pages as a reminder of why you chose each other in the first place. There is a reason you have worked hard and invested so much to get to where you are today. Good memories will spark more positive things about one another and those little bricks that laid the groundwork for your relationship. Use it as a path to find your way back together and you’ll realize that you don’t fall in love only once, but in fact, you need to fall in love with each other over and over again.

Being vulnerable. My last and maybe most valuable piece of advice comes from what I’ve learned most not in marriage, but divorce and the years that have followed it. True intimacy with your partner comes only by being emotionally vulnerable. No two ways about it, being honest about the way you feel, your fears and your needs is the glue that will hold it all together. On the flip side, shame and secrets are silent saboteurs that close us off from one another and put up the walls that prevent us from closeness.

Looking back, my marriage always lacked true connection, and as a result of missing out on that level of intimacy, I wasted years feeling lonely, inadequate and unfulfilled. You deserve so much better than this. My advice is to work at being vulnerable as a way of connecting with each other. Be brave and put yourself out there first. Start by realizing that inside, we each want to belong and to feel worthy of love and acceptance. If you and your partner can meet somewhere in the middle with the understanding that we all come from the same place, you can create a safe space to open up and let love in.

 

The Ghost Light

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Superstition has long been part of the theatre world. While it’s bad luck for an actor to whistle backstage, it’s good luck to wish them to “break a leg.” And no one dares utter the name “Macbeth” lest they summon a curse on the entire production.

There is yet another supernatural narrative: the ghost light. This lone, bare-bulb lamp is left burning all night in theatres believed to be inhabited by the souls of dead performers, production or building maintenance staff so that the ghosts don’t get mischievous while the theatre is empty. The ghost light’s mythical glow is said to allow spirits to perform onstage in the wee hours, appeasing them and preventing any negative energy from haunting the venue.

This reminds me of the ghosts of the past that haunt us after divorce and what we can do to keep their unwelcome existence at bay.

In the week leading up to my daughter’s recent college graduation, I began having nightly dreams about my ex-husband as a result of feeling anxious about encountering him at the convocation. In some of the dreams, we are still married although something feels “off” about the situation, likely disillusionment simmering just below the surface; in others, I am churning with fury and raw humiliation, openly confrontational about his betrayal and the grief it caused.

While the ghosts of marriage past do not make appearances as often as they once did, they are nevertheless still lurking in my psyche. I found that blogger D.A. Wolf experiences a very similar kind of haunting, as she writes on Divorce Whirlwind:

“The ghost of my ex has reared his (fill-in-the-blank) head once again. Not so much in my conscious daily life, but surprisingly frequently of late – like a shadowy presence trying to steal my happiness – in my dreams,” she writes.

“We delight in scaring ourselves with traditional tales of haunted spaces or, for that matter, haunted hearts. But ghosts in real life – especially when they’re alive – are far less entertaining than a two-hour film or a series of hair-raising stories. Ghosts in real life pop up when we least expect. They frighten us from their shadows. They remind us of harm that was done. To my annoyance, they dare to make their presence felt when I am asleep, and my consciousness puts up fewer barriers to fear.”

One good thing about the bad dreams is that they do not occur as often as they once did, but when they do, I am able to link them to feelings of anxiety or inadequacy in my waking life. It certainly helps to brush them off more quickly.

I don’t think of my ex very much. Our divorce was settled years ago and since our children have reached early adulthood, we have had very little interaction. Personal distance has allowed me to let go of a certain degree of anger and move on. Of course, some things still come up now and then – a memory surfaces or his name is mentioned in passing – but even those moments don’t stab me in the heart the way they used to.

In fact, it didn’t occur to me until three days after it passed that it was just the sixth anniversary of D-Day. The date didn’t loom darkly as it had in previous years, nor did I sink into self-pity on the occasion itself. It simply came and went like any other weekday and I didn’t bat an eye. Yep, I’m pretty proud of myself.

Some subscribe to the idea that only time helps pain to subside, but I think it has to be more purposeful than that. It just might be about what we do to keep our protective ghost light burning. It’s very much within our control to keep our stage lit to chase the apparitions away, and when that light isn’t on, we give whatever creeps in the shadows of our mind permission to haunt.

My ghost light is love. I have a great deal of love flowing through my life, and it powers every aspect of who I am. Whenever possible, I choose to have a positive attitude. I look for the best in people and always try to be kind to others as well as to myself (it’s hard but I’m getting there). Love fuels the pride I have in caring for my family, my home and my business. Love even reminds me to stop now and then to take stock of everything I have to be grateful for – including my divorce.

Yes, I am grateful even for that painful experience because it not only woke me up, it brought new and unexpected gifts into my life. It helped me to discover how resilient and resourceful I am. It brought me greater peace, greater happiness and most importantly, greater love. How can I not be thankful?

The more I focus on all of the good, the stronger I become. I choose to bask in that kind of radiance and keep my ghost light burning day and night, knowing that it is only light that can chase away the darkness.

Find Your Tribe #1: Sharon

I’m excited to introduce a new series called “Find Your Tribe” – a reflection of the amazing people we meet and who resonate with us following divorce. We find a deep connection and sense of acceptance among those who have lived similar emotional experiences as us. By sharing our stories and learning from one another, we are able to heal, grow and be inspired to become better versions of ourselves.

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I’d like you to meet Sharon, who instantly became one of my favorite people the first time I met her. Sharon is a business owner, IT consultant, Integral Master Coach™, brilliant artist and an all-around inspiring, dynamic lady who embodies the words “feisty” and “fierce.” I truly admire her beautiful heart, resilient spirit and the empowering way Sharon chooses to live her life. I think you will too.     

Can you please share a little bit about your situation?

I’m in the process of divorcing my second husband, who is a really nice guy, but who never really challenged me. He is supportive, but what I really need is someone who can inspire and shake me up from time to time. We were two very different people who met when we both needed some company and we really enjoyed each other for several years. Yet, at least for me, it wasn’t very passionate. I mean I loved him and cared about him, but I felt I was living life doing my own thing alongside someone without any of his own friends or interests. For the past five years, I have been telling him, “You really need a hobby,” and he’d say, “You are my hobby.” That put a tremendous amount of pressure on me. Ultimately, we shared some good times, travelling and having fun together, but there never really was a deep emotional connection between us. Or more accurately, for me.

In what ways is your second divorce different from your first?

My first husband and I had a really incredible love affair. Our relationship resulted in the birth of our daughter and we still have a deep connection mainly because of her. The marriage ended because I found out he was having an affair. Two months later, I moved out of the house and soon after, learned his girlfriend was pregnant. I was devastated and heartbroken and suddenly found myself a single mom to a four-year-old. Emotionally, I wasn’t prepared to deal with the end of my first marriage.

This time around, I knew in my heart that things just weren’t right for me, so my decision feels almost peaceful, though I realize and acknowledge the heartache I caused leaving my second husband.

There are people I know who believed I was lucky to live the life I had – and I really was. I still am. But there’s just no “juice” in that relationship for me. To stay with someone another 30 years just to live a comfortable life makes no sense. I also couldn’t live a lie and look my now 26-year-old daughter in the eye. She knows her mom and knows this relationship wasn’t right for me. I want to show her that love relationships need to be healthy and that people need to be true to themselves.

What has divorce taught you about yourself?

I’ve learned a deeper level of kindness, not only for my partners, but for myself. I’ve also learned that some people change while others, even if they know it’s the one thing that will help you stay together, don’t have the capability, capacity or desire to do so. Some people evolve and some get left behind and I no longer feel responsible for driving and sustaining another person’s happiness or social connections.

I’ve realized that I have been deeply loved in my life, but only when I started to connect to self-love did I really “know” what I am all about at the core and what type of partner will feed that.

Where are you at this point in your life?

I think I’m at a place of transition as there’s really a major shift happening. I feel more honest with myself. I feel lighter. I’m also feeling embodied in self-realization: this is who I am and these are the things I want to do. From now on, I can pick what to do with my time and choose who I spend that time with. As I get older, I realize that my sensibilities and the list of things I refuse to compromise on gets shorter but becomes more critical. In the past two and a half months, I’ve had three people in my life pass away. It sounds so cliché, but life really is short, and that’s why I want to wake up every morning and feel that my heart is full. There’s a lot of people and situations you cannot change, but you can choose your attitude and choose how you get through them.

Fill in the blanks: “Divorce has made me less ____ and more _____.”

Divorce has made me less bitchy (laughs) and also less manic, as I reached a point where I was trying to keep myself busy to avoid emotional or physical interaction in my marriage. And I would say that divorce has made me more grounded and certainly, more peaceful.

Do you think you’ll ever get married again?

I’m not in that head space yet. While I’m not putting my energy into finding a new relationship in the immediate future, I am looking forward to building more connections with people, including men, but not necessarily in the romantic sense.

What do you do to lift your spirits when you’re feeling sad or alone?

It’s funny, but I think for the first time, I’m embracing the solitude. Even when I spent time alone before, I always felt this tug of obligation that I should be doing something with my husband instead. This cloud was always hovering. But now when I come home, I feel more relaxed. Don’t get me wrong, solitude has its downsides too, but what keeps me going is the tenderness of the people who really care about me. I honestly did not realize how big and sincere of a fan club I had, and I’m really buoyed and energized by them. It’s almost like they’re holding me up in some way. Even when I’m by myself, I feel them and know they’ve always got my back.

What are you looking forward to in the year ahead?

I’m in the process of opening a new studio with an office for my coaching clients as well as an inspiring art space where I can paint and create and invite my friends to do the same. I’m looking forward to having a warm, welcoming space where people can feel safe and comfortable to express themselves in ways they’re not accustomed to. I have some travel plans in the year ahead, too – a road trip with my daughter as well as some getaways with friends to Florida, New York and Cancun for a yoga retreat.

But I think the thing I’m looking forward to most is the unknown and to the possibility of things. I have no idea what’s around the corner. I’m one of these people who doesn’t fear change or surprises. There really are no guarantees so you have to keep moving forward.

What three pieces of advice would you give to others going through divorce?

One: Make space and time to rest and just “be” in the emotions that you’re experiencing because they’re all valid. You need an opportunity to connect to them and own them.

Two: Relationships are hard; we all do our best every day, but sometimes things still fall apart. Don’t blame yourself. A lot of people fall into the “woe is me” trap, but that doesn’t help anyone. You’ve got to move forward. You’ve got to get up in the morning, wash your face, have a cup of coffee and get on with your day. At the same time, if you need to cry, even in front of your kids, that’s okay too. They will see that you’re human and that life isn’t always easy. There’s an authenticity that comes from being true to yourself and to your feelings.

Three: Lastly, I’d say be kind to yourself. It’s one of the hardest things for us to do, but it’s so important to remember that you are enough and that you are worthy.

A Letter to My Son on his 19th Birthday

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Nineteen years ago, we had a moment together, you and I. There was a gentle hush of pre-dawn silence in the hospital nursery and we slowly glided back and forth in a rocking chair in the corner of the room. I spoke softly as I nursed you, marveling at your sweet, tiny perfection. Your blue eyes widened with a sparkle as you looked up at me, and then suddenly stopped suckling to smile. Hi Mommy.

My heart clenched. Time stood still in that precious moment of soul-to-soul connection – the two of us gazing upon one other with awe, adoration and love. I remember feeling blanketed by this warm, haloed glow of joy, knowing with every fibre of my being that you were an extraordinary gift.

You have celebrated 19 birthdays since that morning, and I can’t help but think back on the journey we have been on together. It has not been easy, not by a long shot, and you and I were given more to handle than I ever dreamed we could manage. But we never had to manage alone; we always had each other to get through it.

We’ve faced our share of challenges from the very beginning, starting when they whisked you away to the neonatal intensive care unit on your birth day. All the medical professionals reassured me you’d be fine, yet the only thing I could comprehend was that I couldn’t hold you. And then, three years later, delving head first into an autism diagnosis. No medical professional would reassure me that you’d be fine, yet the only thing I could comprehend was that I would move heaven and earth to give you everything you needed to thrive and succeed.

That included giving you a home you could feel safe and secure in. I tried my best, I really did. When Dad left, my primary concern was for you and your sister and how we would get through the heartbreak. One day, our family was intact and the next, the only life we’d known was shattered. It was so unfair. In that first year, I did everything to the best of my ability to reassure your stability, but I know that I am not your father. Boys need their dads, and as much as he disappointed you when you needed him the most, I know you looked up to yours. I am sorry I could not protect you from experiencing that kind of confusion and pain. I am sorry that I could not give you the family you deserved.

I’m not sure you fully comprehend what happened that day or understand why your whole world was suddenly turned upside down, and that’s okay. In a way, that may have safeguarded your good-heartedness. Whether or not you know it, your innocence and your resilience in that time gave me strength too.

All you knew was that I was very sad for a time (you still don’t like to see me cry, even if only happy tears) and you gave me extra love, care and protection. You amazed me with your capacity for compassion and for that I am ever grateful. When I was in my darkest place, imagining horrible means of retaliation to express how much hurt your dad caused, it was thinking of you that brought me back from those depths. I would remember the two of us in that nursery rocking chair, your gurgly smile and shining eyes looking up at me, and I immediately knew I couldn’t possibly do anything to myself that would cause you additional pain.

Children are the anchors that hold a mother to life wrote the Greek playwright Sophocles. It’s so true. Being reminded of the special connection that tethers us has saved me and kept me grounded on many occasions. It is a testament to the gift you are.

You may no longer be the curly-haired little boy who wanted to bring a mountain of stuffed animals into my bed to watch cartoons and snuggle, but I love that from time to time, you still choose to go someplace or do something with me. Just the two of us. I cherish these days more than you realize.

I see you growing in confidence and braving newfound independence while remaining the remarkably kind, considerate person you were born to be. You are so helpful, thoughtful and witty, and nothing makes you happier than making others smile. While we will have more challenges ahead, know that I will be by your side to help you get through them.

You have made me laugh and you have made me think, but most of all, you have made me proud and grateful to be your mom. Surely, it’s no coincidence that your birthday and Mother’s Day fall in the same week.

You are simply awesome to me in every way, my bright, beautiful son. I still marvel in awe, adoration and love when I look at you, and you will always fill my heart with joy.

Happy Birthday with Love, 

Mom

What’s a Name Got to Do With It?

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His dress shirts are gone. His golf clubs are history. Any remnants of my ex have long been removed and yet, there is one thing I can’t seem to get rid of: his name.

I’ve never been particularly fond of my married name. It’s only a short word and yet, most people find it impossible to pronounce correctly. Nearly everyone who reads it asks from what nationality it is derived as if they’ve never come across such a curious arrangement of letters before. And because it’s so uncommon, I’ve been asked twice by new acquaintances if I happen to know so-and-so. And then I have to explain that, yes, I do. I used to be married to him.

Add to that a layer of embarrassment of having the same name as the person you divorced under humiliating circumstances. When we got married 26 years ago, I was thrilled to take his name and to pass it on to our children when we started a family. But immediately after our separation, all I wanted was to distance myself from it and from him as fast and as far as possible. How was I ever going to get a fresh start when I was reminded of this colossal failure every time I signed a check?

Of course, I’ve thought long and hard about going back to my pre-marital name, but the problem is, my married name has been associated with me for more years than not. I graduated college and started working only a year before I got hitched – so nearly every person I have ever met professionally over the past quarter century knows me only by this name. Changing it now could be career suicide.

My kids and I share the same last name. Keeping this consistency seems to mean the most to my son, who once flopped on the floor in tears worrying that he too would have to change his last name if I remarried the person I was dating at the time. I didn’t.

To complicate matters, my name is inextricably linked to my business. Twelve years ago, I was advised that using my unique name would ensure that my company would not get confused with  others. Today, my brand is well established; if I change it, I risk losing clients – not to mention that my business name will no longer makes sense.

Like a legal tattoo, it’s the name that appears on my driver’s license, mortgage and passport. It’s the only name that banking institutions, utility companies, health services and all levels of government identify me by. It would be a huge tangle of red tape to change it this point; I already went through enough hassle convincing the cable company to extract my ex and print my name alone on the monthly bill.

So, thinking that since I’m stuck with it, I figured I might as well try to relate to this name in a new way.

I did some research and found a whole list of incredible women who chose to keep their married names after divorce (and often plural remarriages) and went on to accomplish some pretty fabulous things after they were no longer Mrs. So-and-So.

  • Tina Turner (divorced Ike Turner in 1978; remarried in 2013)
  • Susan Sarandon (divorced Chris Sarandon in 1979)
  • Demi Moore (divorced Freddy Moore in 1985; remarried twice)
  • Suzanne Somers (divorced Bruce Somers in 1968; remarried to Alan Hamel since 1977)
  • Pat Benatar (divorced Dennis Benatar; remarried to Neil Giraldo since 1982)
  • Ivana Trump (divorced The Donald in 1992; remarried twice)
  • Joy Behar (divorced Joe Behar in 1981; remarried in 2011)
  • Raquel Welch (divorced James Welch in 1964; remarried three times)
  • Camille Grammer (divorced Kelsey Grammer in 2011)
  • Faith Hill (divorced Daniel Hill in 1994; remarried to Tim McGraw since 1996)
  • Joni Mitchell (divorced Chuck Mitchell in 1967; remarried in 1982)

A few names on the list really jumped out at me, especially the tough mamas who went through famously contentious divorces. Tina Turner, for instance. Drug abuse, bloody fights and financial disputes plagued her 18-year relationship with Ike and in the end, she parted ways with him with little more than her name. It was the name she had built a career and staked her reputation on. After all she’d been through, Tina kept her married name knowing it belonged to no one else but her. There is only one Tina Turner.

And there is only one me. While it can’t open doors with its star power, the name I have (like it or not) is the one I am known by. It no longer means I am someone’s wife, but it does reflect the identity of a remarkable woman. A survivor of hardship and heartbreak. A professional with a strong worth ethic and keen sense of integrity. A mother who is joyful and generous with her love. A human being who always tries her best to be kind.

Like Tina and Susan and Demi and the rest, I intend to continue doing great things with my life after divorce too. And like them, I know my name does not give me value; I choose to add value to my name.

Other People’s Husbands

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Image from “Barbie Wedding” by TheKristenGabs

“I finally married my own husband,” said thrice-wed Maya Angelou in 1975. “My mother has a theory that most people marry other people’s husbands. But I finally have my own.”

What did she mean by “other people’s husbands?” Are 50 percent of marriages doomed to fail before they even start? Are these unions meant to be nothing more than temporary arrangements because the person vowing “til death do us part” is merely borrowed until the real thing comes along?

The more I thought about it, the more I realized the idea of marrying “other people’s husbands” could either be an admonishment or a message of acceptance.

On one hand, it could mean that I should’ve recognized inconsistency or incompatibility before getting married (shame on me); that perhaps we rushed into things out of immaturity, foolish love and blind optimism. On the other, it could signal that I must let go of what was never rightfully mine to keep in the first place. Maybe it’s a little of both. Maybe…

Falling in love does not equal finding the right person. (Wow. That’s huge.)

I believe that regret is a waste of time. There’s no point spending valuable energy dwelling on what could’ve happened if I’d only zigged instead of zagged. I also believe that some people come into your life as blessings and others come into your life as lessons. If I reflect on my divorce with this in mind, it helps to put more distance between me and negative feelings of bitterness-slash-resentment.

And by accepting that my ex and I were never meant to last, it helps release the pain of saying goodbye to the dream of how I thought my life would play out. No, I am not getting what I thought was in store for me or even what I may have believed I deserved.

When I go one step further and put him into a nameless, faceless category of “other people’s husbands,” it doesn’t dismiss what he did, but it does take power away from my own victim narrative of “my husband/wife cheated on me” or “my husband/wife left me.” The truth is, if he never truly belonged to me, I must stop leaning on the crutch of having been robbed of something. And by removing the possessive, I can start working on not taking divorce personally. Girl, he just wasn’t meant for you.

Maya Angelou had her share of hurt. Before she married her third husband, she’d had two previous marriages that ended so badly she refused to publicly discuss her first two husbands in interviews. And yet, she knew that a broken heart made you into the person you were meant to be and that it was important to move forward with that heart wide open, trusting that life had something better in mind.

That was the attitude I chose to take when I started dating again after my divorce. It took some time, but eventually, it led me to finding my partner. The first time we met, there was a connection, a familiarity, a realization that our lives were meant to intersect. I can’t explain it other than to say my heart knew that this was the tender, generous, good-humored love I was always meant to have.

So you’re the one I’ve been looking for.

Early in our relationship, I found myself lamenting how unfair it was that we’d met in our 40s and not our 20s. He gently reminded me that had the opportunity presented itself, we wouldn’t have been ready for it. We would not have been able to recognize what we see and appreciate in one another now. We would’ve been the right people at the wrong time.

Instead, we needed to go through our own ups and downs and learn from our relationships with others to really understand ourselves and what we were looking for. The twists and turns of my past, including marrying someone else’s husband, has brought me exactly to the person and to the place where I was always meant to be.  I finally have my own.

In all the world, there is no heart for me like yours. 

In all the world, there is no love for you like mine.  

(Maya Angelou)

What I’m Made Of

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Art inspiration from http://www.stonestories.org

“I hope you understand that I’m not leaving you for someone else,” he said with a straight face, even though we both knew it was a lie.

Perhaps it was his attempt at self-preservation, as in, don’t go run and tell your lawyer I’m leaving you for another woman so you can bleed me dry. Maybe it was to protect his still-married mistress from whatever shenanigans I, the betrayed and scorned, might try to pull. And then there was the off chance it was actually for the sake of my dignity, as if, in some twisted way, that revelation was supposed to bring me some comfort. It didn’t.

Just a week earlier, he spilled his guts about that affair plus all the ones he’d had before. Then he packed up and left. Later, he said he’d be willing to come back and give our marriage another try if I wanted save our family. He gave me another week to think it over. Then he tacked an ultimatum onto it. If I didn’t take him back before the allotted time was up, he just might be tempted to fall back into bed with her next time she was in town.

They say you don’t really know a man until you’ve divorced him. They’re so right. I never learned so much about the person I was married to for 20 years as I did in those first few days.

But truthfully, I also didn’t really know who I was until I was divorced either. In fact, here are a few things I learned about myself:

I deserve better. As someone who had her entire life planned out and fall neatly into place since high school, the unexpected end of my marriage was not only painful, it was hard to let go of a dream that would never be fully realized. However, I immediately recognized that I was deserving of a much better marriage and a much better husband than one who’d threaten me with even more cheating if I didn’t take him back by his deadline. Thanks to his unacceptable bad behavior, I was able to redraw my boundaries and told myself that “I want what I deserve and I deserve what I want.” In divorce, I reclaimed my worth.

I am not afraid anymore. While most people rank public speaking and death as their greatest fears, for me, discovering my husband’s infidelity (nightmares had plagued me for years – go figure) and subsequent divorce was at the top of my list. But then my marriage ended and I managed to survive the worst thing I could have possibly imagined. Oh, it was a dark and scary time for sure, but it was also a chance for me to grow and to gain a new perspective. I became braver and more independent because of it. If I could face what I’d been most fearful of, there really was little left to fear.

It’s okay to take time for me. The first time my kids left to visit their father, I wasn’t able to hold back tears. I couldn’t believe our life had come to this. The silence at home was deafening and I dreaded not knowing what to do with myself. I couldn’t concentrate long enough to read. I didn’t have the energy to go outside. But at the same time, I felt guilty just wasting this precious time when I had the world at my disposal. I soon realized that after 16 years of being a mom, spending time alone would take practice and that it was healthy for me and the kids to be apart. While I’ve never been great at self-care, I tried to look forward to opportunities to relearn what I enjoy and get reacquainted with who Barb is. By starting to “date” myself, I realized just what a great catch I am!

I have a resilient heart. Despite the pain and sadness enveloping it, my heart has never lost its flicker of hope and compassion. Just 48 hours after he left, my ex returned home to see the kids after work. Knowing he’d be hungry, I whipped up a sandwich for him. It might have been wifely instinct, but the gesture came from a surprising place of kindness and empathy knowing we were both hurting. That is just who I am. I am grateful that my heart never gave out or gave up on me. Even while healing, it demonstrated more compassion toward others and an even greater capacity to love those who mean the most to me. My heart never once stopped believing that I would someday love and trust again.

I am my mother’s daughter. I can’t overstate how much my parents did to support me and my kids in that first year of divorce. My mother was everything. Even though she was hurting too, she scooped us up, hugged us, fed us and comforted us;  offering gentle counsel or a listening ear, holding us together and presenting us with a welcome distraction or a helping hand. She had a calming effect on me in the midst of total chaos. I have always looked up to the women in my family as remarkably strong and wise individuals and at a time I felt my weakest, it lifted me to know that I was cut from the same cloth. The love, faith, compassion and strength of my mother helped me to rediscover my own.

Looking Back on Moving Forward

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Recently, I was asked how someone is ever supposed to move forward when they keep getting sucked back into the heartache following betrayal and divorce.

I wish I knew what to say; I’m certainly no expert. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like I’ve moved forward until something happens that would have, at one time, caused me to downward spiral – and I realize that it doesn’t anymore. Oh, I still get sucked back in too. I feel anger and resentment. There are still times my self-confidence is shaky at best; there are still times I convince myself that I’m unlovable. But they are only temporary emotional ruts and I know I can gradually work myself out. These times come less frequently and to a far lesser degree than they once did.

But the truth is, I don’t really know how I got here – or even where “here” is.

There is no roadmap to healing after heartbreak, no marker that will let you know when you’ve finally reached your destination (“Ding! You’re now all better and ready for a new life!”). Thankfully, there are things like the five stages of grief that you can check yourself against – until you realize that you will pinball between denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance for years to come, if not the rest of your life.

I think the misnomer about “moving forward” is that you will eventually step over some magical invisible line and never have to feel it anymore. As if once you get past it, the hurt won’t catch up to you and the person who crushed your soul will never cross your mind. Wouldn’t that be nice? Instead, it’s more accurate to say that the pain never quite disappears, although it does dull into a manageable ache over time.

I was grateful to catch a TV interview with Vikki Stark, a marriage counsellor and therapist. Vikki was married more than 21 years when she was blindsided by her husband leaving her for another woman and has since turned her experience into helping women recover from similar situations. Vikki’s book Runaway Husbands: The Abandoned Wife’s Guide to Recovery and Renewal offers the following, spot-on ways to free yourself from the darkest, loneliest days and start moving forward.

So to my friend reaching out for a lifeline of advice, I really couldn’t say it any better than this – in fact, Vikki’s list might be the most solid bit of post-divorce advice I have read yet, and looking back, I can see my own journey in her valid, valuable points. So take a deep breath and…

  • Recognize that the chaos won’t last forever.
  • Accept that the marriage is really over.
  • Integrate the fact that your partner has changed irrevocably and is beyond caring for your welfare.
  • Understand why he/she needs to justify their actions any way possible – including rewriting history, lying or attacking you.
  • Give up trying to get the acknowledgement and apology that you deserve.
  • Revise your beliefs in human nature. You now have learned that some people are capable of deception.
  • Believe in your self-worth. You must stop feeling discarded, empty and less valuable than the woman (or man) who has taken your place or than married women in general.
  • Get accustomed to being self-reliant and independent.
  • Expect good things in your future. Don’t assume that you will always be alone or miserable.
  • Stay positive! Stop yourself from becoming bitter or developing a victim mentality.

Incidentally, Vikki is happy, successful and enjoying a new healthy, long-term relationship. She has moved forward. And so will you.

3 Transformational Effects of Divorce

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Recently, I spent an evening with a group of friends who have all experienced divorce – in fact, it was our divorces that first brought us together and connected us for life. At the time we met, we were at various stages of licking our wounds and wondering how we were ever going to get through the heaviness, the heartache and the hardship. Five years later, our conversation had changed.

Everyone around the table had survived that dark period and we now had brighter new lives to discuss. One gave birth to a sweet baby boy within the past year. One is selling their marital home so that they can finally wash their hands of this last shared asset. Another is entering the uncharted waters of making a blended family work. All of us have moved on to healthier, happier long-term relationships.

I was immensely proud of the way we’d all come through the biggest trial of our lives feeling stronger, wiser, more compassionate and grateful. Not everyone can say that, so how did we get so lucky?

It made me think of the old analogy of the potato and the egg. If you take two pots of boiling water and place raw potatoes in one pot and uncooked eggs in the other, what happens? The same boiling water that softens the potato until it’s mushy and malleable will harden the egg, fortifying its thin shell and stabilizing its delicate center.

Despite having faced the same adversity, the potato and the egg react differently. The meaning is simple: it’s not about the circumstances you’re in, it’s about your response to it – not to mention the stuff you’re really made of – that makes all the difference.

At one time, each of us had been in over our heads in circumstances beyond our control. But we didn’t sink for long, and we never let the situation poach us to the point of becoming weak, causing us to yield to the pain or give up all hope of something better. Instead, we all endured to became stronger, more resilient and more certain of ourselves and about the life we want and deserve.

Maria Shriver writes that divorce can positively change the trajectory of your life and ultimately help you regain yourself; you can choose to transform the person you are into the person you were meant to become. I definitely see that in myself and in my friends.

Here are Maria’s three transformational effects of divorce:

1. It can increase your empathy for humanity.

Divorce can be the most painful experience of your life and it can pour salt onto the old wounds from past traumatic experiences. It has the potential to cause an extreme level of despair, yet it also has the ability to teach us important lessons about the human condition and our perceptions. When we experience great loss, we can relate to others who have also experienced loss. It often takes a personal setback of great magnitude to make us sensitive to the pain that others are experiencing around us. Divorce can increase your awareness of human suffering, foster humaneness and improve your overall treatment of yourself and others.

2. It can give you the skills to love at a capacity that you never would have known was possible.

Some admit that the end of their marriage was the worst thing they could have ever imagined happening to them. But, once the worst has happened, there is nothing left to fear. Our expectations of life start to shift, we start to grow and we begin to open ourselves up to experiences that we never would have considered before. Divorce changes the way that we perceive and relate to others and the way that others perceive and relate to us. As a consequence, it encourages us to want to pursue friendships and romantic relationships that have greater substance. Learning the extent of our own resilience and reconnecting with ourselves through the divorce process can aid in the restoration of self-esteem and lead to a more authentic way of honoring others and honoring ourselves in the context of a relationship.

3. It can lead to self-actualization.

By forcing you to dig deep for inner strength that you never knew existed, identify your hidden strengths and channel your resources for survival, divorce can lead to previously unexplored opportunities. Whether you are a stay-at-home mom forced to enter the workforce to make a living for yourself and your children, a woman re-entering the workforce, or a working professional needing to compensate for a sudden change in lifestyle, divorce can be the catalyst for major change. Divorce provides an opportunity to reset your life and start on the path of pursuing your personal interests. It can even promote spirituality, by prompting you to do some soul-searching in order to learn how to cope and define your greater purpose.

As I looked around the room in admiration, it was obvious that we each determined our positive outcomes by the choices we made – not only for ourselves, but for our children and for our futures. Sometimes that meant going to court and fighting for what we believed was right, sometimes that meant keeping lips zipped and taking the high road for the sake of peace and civility. It always meant putting one foot in front of the other and making a purposeful decision to move forward.

Here we were, living proof that you can get dunked into abysmal circumstances and still come out okay. I’m sure that’s because we each learned how you react to adversity defines who you become. In letting the boiling water of divorce act as the catalyst for change, we allowed the water to transform us.

Life Outside the Cocoon

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When my marriage capsized, I felt a wide range of emotion. Shock that it ended abruptly and so heartlessly. Anger at the hand I had been unfairly dealt. Humiliation that I had no control over what was happening, why it happened and that it had been happening for so long. And there was sadness, great sadness – not over losing him, but over losing the dream.

Yet, along with the darkness, there was an undeniable sense of relief. It sounds weird to say, but part of me was actually glad it was over.

In fact, I wanted to rush through the five stages of grief as quickly as possible. Why devote my energy to mourning (heaven knows he wasn’t grief-stricken so why should I have to be) when it could instead be used to hurry up and get on with rebuilding my life? My heart would surely repair itself with time. I had much better things to do.

I told my counselor that I resented needing to take the time to heal. I just wanted to rip off the emotional Band-Aid and move on.

“You remind me of a butterfly,” she said. “Have you ever really stopped to watch a butterfly?” Well, of course I had, suppressing the urge to roll my eyes as I awaited the follow-up cliché about personal transformation.

“Butterflies move very quickly and don’t stay in one spot for very long. They are always on the go. But every once in a while, they need to land in a safe spot where they can rest their wings and renew their energy.”

Okay I get it, I thought as I prepared for a reprimand to slow down. It didn’t come. Fortunately, my counselor was never one to lay on a guilt trip.

“Did you also realize that if a butterfly doesn’t break out of its cocoon, it will die?” she asked. “Perhaps on some deeper level this is how you felt in your marriage – trapped, holding your breath, unable to leave for any number of reasons. And maybe this explains the sense of relief you now feel.”

That was a breakthrough moment for me. I had never even considered that the reason I was now so eager to move forward was because I’d felt restricted over the years. My 20-year relationship had become a cocoon that prevented me from growing into my true self even as I’d continued to evolve from within it. My ex, on the other hand, had not changed. He was still the self-seeking man child he had always been. I was exhausted from trying to grow for the both of us.

And now that I was free, I wanted to shake out my new wings and get on with flight. (“O exquisite relief! She had not known the weight until she felt the freedom.”)

My homework that week was to be aware of and to watch for butterflies as they appeared around me. I was to think about everything they went through to transform themselves from caterpillar to a winged creature. How they risk everything to become butterflies. How amazing it must feel to discover their destiny – that they have the power to fly.

Coming to terms with my own transformation was liberating. It also released me from a great deal of hurt. Knowing that I had been ready to undergo a metamorphosis for years but that I needed to shed my marriage if I was ever going to fly helped me to find gratitude in reaching the end of that relationship.

Now when I catch a glimpse of a fluttering butterfly, it is a reminder of my own wings. A symbol of change, yes, but also unfettered joy.

“Time is growing short. There are unexplored adventures ahead of you.

You can’t live the rest of your life worried about what other people think.

You were born worthy of love and belonging.

Courage and daring are coursing through you.

You were made to live and love with your whole heart.

It’s time to show up and be seen.”   

(Brené Brown)