Towards the end of my marriage I felt like every day I was waking up, about ready to be run over by a freight train. I’m not even talking about all of the logistics that I knew would be waiting for me once my husband and I decided to call it quits. The lawyers and fights over finances and to-do lists of taking names of credit cards and bank accounts were waiting around the corner, but what made the whole process even more hellish were the emotions.
I had no idea one person could experience so much crazy in the matter of 24 hours, let alone the months of getting dragged through the process. Looking back, I sometimes think, “Well, if I had only known what to expect, maybe it would have been less terrible.”
So, for those of you out there who are petrified about what’s in store for as you agonize over whether to leave your marriage at this time in your life, here’s a sneak peek at what range of the feels you will experience. Do not fear them, but merely accept, and prepare yourself for the journey.
What To Expect When Divorcing Your Partner
1. You will doubt and lie to yourself all the time, especially at the beginning. You’ll be so afraid of the unknown that you’ll start to play the bargaining game. You know it well because you’ve played it before. It goes along the lines of “Yes, I’m miserable. And it’s been a while since I’ve been happy. But at least I’m comfortable. And we really shouldn’t split—what would happen to the kids, the finances, our way of life?”
You will try to convince yourself that you can keep living like this, although in your heart of hearts you know it isn’t true. Know that you are bargaining with yourself and lying to yourself because you are scared. Know this is normal, but it is not an excuse to stay miserable.
2. The rollercoaster you feel when the decision is made to separate is unlike anything you have experienced: the regret, the grief, the pain, the confusion, the overwhelm, the fear, the desperation of wanting to be loved after your spouse is gone. Do not despair. The emotional rollercoaster may make you want to vomit, but it will not harm you. Even if you don’t know it yet, there is a weight that will slowly start to ease from your shoulders—the same weight that you denied was crushing you all this time when you tried to convince yourself that nothing was wrong.
3. Get ready for your self-esteem to shatter. Be prepared for the desperation for love and validation to keep you up at night. You will convince yourself that nobody will ever love or want you again. As a result, the temptation to latch on to the first person who pays attention to you will be great. Resist this trap, even if it’s been ages since you’ve felt romance and intimacy. Trying to fill that void with another relationship robs you. You must work on yourself first. You need to find a way to be okay with being alone to give yourself a chance to heal.
4. Putting on the happy and strong face will exhaust you. You’ll be tired of telling yourself that you’re fine. You need a support system: a therapist, a group, good friends, the non-judgmental anonymity of online forums. Whatever combination of systems you choose, make sure they accomplish two things for you: creating a safe place for venting, while also teaching you how to cope with the grieving and stress in a healthy manner.
5. Get ready to feel like you’re getting sprayed with an industrial firehose. Your list of obligations regarding emotions, finances, legal issues, custody, and other logistics will bury you and you will feel paralyzed and unable to act.
Understand that splitting is a process, and you don’t have to do everything at once. Like any process, there are things that need your immediate attention, things that can wait until a little bit later, and things that you don’t have to address until further down the road. Not everything needs to be done right now and putting that pressure on yourself will make you feel worse.
Divorce is a marathon that will require patience and persistence. Save yourself ahead of time by accepting that this may take a while. And that’s okay.
6. You will have no control over your spouse’s behavior, no matter how angry they make you. For serious offenses (threatening your safety and well-being), you must absolutely take action. Yet, there will be other things that won’t endanger you, but will enrage you. It may seem like the ex-to-be is doing whatever they can to make you miserable. Don’t play the game, or you may find yourself in a long, drawn-out, expensive, soul-sucking divorce.
Remember that although you cannot control their behavior, you can control how you react to it. Your decision to take the high road despite how they act is entirely up to you. Like many actions during the divorce, remember this will be easier said than done.
7. You may try to make decisions based on emotion rather than logic. But you must remember that divorce is a business transaction. You’re dividing assets and debts and then continuing with your life as an individual. Your head will understand, but the part of you that is hurt and angry and sad may spend months fighting over things that have nothing to do with business at all.
When the time comes to fight, choose your battles wisely. You will need to learn when to fight for the things that are rightfully yours, but also when to let things go. Remember that nobody wins in divorce. Otherwise, you will find yourself robbed of time, money, and emotional energy—assets that are put to better use in your post-divorce life.
8. You may find yourself in unfamiliar, uncomfortable situations. Perhaps you are re-entering the workforce. Your budget may be tight. The children may have trouble adjusting. If your social life revolved around other married couples, you may now feel out-of-place. Friends and family may treat you differently. Understand that you are not alone in these struggles, and that whatever supports you need are out there. Career help, financial advice, counseling, new opportunities for socialization, you owe it to yourself to research those options. Do not allow this discomfort to make you bitter, or drive you into hiding.
9. There will be times that you wallow in self-pity and despair. You will say to yourself, “my life was not supposed to be like this.” You will feel ashamed. Understand that this is part of the grieving process, and you will need to learn how to balance it all. You will accept that circumstances changed, and you will learn how to heal and move on. You must learn that you are not a prisoner to those circumstances, and that you have the opportunity to emerge from this split a stronger, more compassionate person.
10. You will learn that your divorce presents you with a choice. You can choose to let anger and fear control you, or you can choose the path that takes more work. You can choose to ask for assistance and support, educate yourself about the divorce process, and give yourself credit for having the ability to get through this, which you will. The choice is yours.
Martha is a divorce coach who writes regularly over at Surviving Your Split. Another version of this piece was originally featured there.