Divorce isn’t just the end of a marriage, it is the end of a relationship that defined, in part, how we related to the world and who we considered yourselves to be. Divorce strikes deep causing emotional ripples that impact every area of our life.
For me, divorce was the conclusion of a 20+ year marriage and I never imagined I would endure the experience. This is how I not only survived, but came out of divorce a better person.
Keep purpose in your life. There is a word in Japanese, “ikigai”, which means, “reason to get out of bed” or “reason to enjoy life”. Within a long-term marriage, especially during those struggling years of young children, it is easy to lose sight of who we are as individuals outside our designated roles as parent and spouse.
Somewhere in there with carpools, soccer games, and making sure everyone is generally maintained, we forget what gets us out of bed. We lose a sense of personal purpose. It can be difficult to regain our ikigai when dealing with the aftermath of divorce what with days, weeks, and months ruminating over what we are lacking that made us unlovable and unacceptable, but it is essential we work towards finding what gives us purpose. It doesn’t have to be and probably shouldn’t be our job. Look beyond that which pays the bills. Revive your outside interests that you likely allowed to fall away with hardly a notice when married. A life without ikigai is lonely and gray.
Seek to find that which brings life color. Always be improving. I once read a story about bush pilots. I don’t remember from where, so I can’t give proper attribution, but I read it at the exact time needed. Bush pilots drop supplies into remote regions. They are taught in their job training that should they ever go down far from civilization that every conscious moment they should seek to better their situation. They should always be looking for a better source of water, food and shelter. Though they shouldn’t neglect the need for rest, they can’t afford idle time if they are to survive. Finding myself often alone minus the social network of support that was mine while married, I was reminded of the lessons taught the bush pilots when the dark moments would come and I couldn’t get out of my head.
Again, we need time to recover and sometimes Netflix is a necessary diversion, but when I found myself idle and seeking to be distracted, I would ask, “What am I doing right now to better my situation?” Asking this question would bring me back to the present. It caused me to consider things I might have been avoiding or just procrastinating getting done. It prompted me to get out of my funk and get to work. The question made me consider what I could be doing to expand my mind and/or body. What activity could I engage with that would make me a better person? It might be reading, getting out and expanding my social skills or writing an article I’d put off. Anything that I could call productive. The effect of this is twofold: it allows you to be satisfied with your personal progress, knowing you have put in the effort, and it engages you in something outside your head.
Don’t be petty. We all have within us the desire to strike back, to be right and/or believe ourselves the martyred party. In the moment, passive-aggressiveness has a siren appeal that can be overwhelming in its compulsion. Resist it. Another question I would frequently ask myself, sometimes twice a minute, is, “Am I being my best, most noble self in this moment?” If the answer was “no”, then I seeked to do better, to think higher thoughts. But, more importantly, it caused me to question what I was about to do or say and to change course. It is a struggle, but this question is one I keep close years after my separation and divorce.
Take up meditation. Everyone seems to be discussing meditation these days. Though meditation has its critics and it is often oversold as a panacea to all the world’s ills, it does help with one thing that was necessary for my survival after the end of my marriage. Meditation moved my thinking processes out of my amygdala (fight-or-flight) and pushed my thoughts upwards toward my pre-frontal cortex, the higher-order center of the brain. With this shift, I became less reactive allowing me to approach situations more thoughtfully versus an emotionally flooded response where my best rarely showed up. It allowed me to get out of survival mode toward a state that was more intentional regarding who I wished to be and where I wanted to go with my life. Every moment brings a choice. When the death spiral that ultimately ended my marriage began, I read countless relationship books. I kept two.
One that was invaluable and I occasionally will reread to remind myself of its message is David Schnarch’s “Passionate Marriage”. The other I have laying around somewhere, its importance contained in a single sentence that I’ve easily memorized, “If you are blaming anyone else for your problems, close this book now because it will do you no good.” This single sentence allowed me to stop looking at my former spouse and caused me to look deeper at myself. I’m reminded of this often in all sorts of situations where I believe I’ve been wronged. Even where the blame is obvious, my first impulse is to seek my own responsibility within a situation and to acknowledge openly where I have transgressed. There are no innocents when a marriage ends, both parties played a part in its dissolution. The way forward is to take the focus off of the “ex” and seek answers in your own soul. Doing so, you will find a greater sense of closure and a path to personal maturity.
My final thoughts on love and relationships. It is easy to become jaded regarding love and relationships. Assuming there wasn’t a father in overalls bearing a shotgun, I’ll assume you were married prompted by a love for your former spouse. I certainly went through a period of downright hatred towards women and the institution of marriage. Love had lost all mystery and appeal and had become nothing more than the source of heartache.
However, working intentionally through the process as described above, today, I am closer to whole and more able to give of myself than I ever could have thought possible before. It is no longer about being guarded and cynical, but open to the full potential life and love could bring. I’ve told my children, “On the otherside of fear is life’s endless possibilities. On this side of fear, there is nothing but that which you already possess.” They won’t know what I mean until they have had their own experiences of loss, but I’m hopeful those words will come to them when the moment is right. We are social creatures. Love and companionship is written into our DNA.
If we allow the death of one marriage to dictate the tenets of the next or if we choose a life which is guarded in order to save ourselves the pain lost love might bring then life loses vitality, vibrant colors, succulent tastes. As for me, I will love again and I will do so more fully, openly, with honesty. I refuse to allow fear to close me from that possibility.