I'm sitting here almost 10 years after my separation/divorce and thinking about what I wish my family and friends knew early on about things I was going through. So this is for all of you out there going through divorce or separation or big relationship breakup -- to validate and maybe even to put a voice to things you may be feeling but haven't yet been able to fully acknowledge or figure out.
Here are 3 things I wish people knew early on - things I wish I had the courage to say and share with them.
1. Your Expectations Sometimes Made Things Harder.
I know you aren't doing this intentionally, and I know that you just want to have conversation with me and try to acknowledge my divorce through conversation. But sometimes questions you ask, or statements you make drove me to put space between us. When you ask me if I'm dating, or if I wanted to get married again, that made me feel like I wasn't good enough on my own. Like being single wasn't acceptable. I also felt like when I wasn't feeling much like dating, that somehow you felt I should be. It was hard to answer those questions without being defensive (actually, I probably was defensive most of the time). Sometimes this also felt like you thought I should be further along in my healing process than I was. And healing isn't linear. There isn't a point when you are "healed" and the path ends. It keeps going. It's a lifelong journey that incorporates more than just the relationships that ended. I'm trying to figure myself out after years of being a "couple" and that takes a lot of time. Especially when I'm parenting and trying to navigate their healing with them too.
Oh, and when I did start to date, and you started asking me when you could meet the person, or when we might get married/introduce our kids/move in together... those are your expectations of what comes next in my relationship. And I'd appreciate you being more mindful of how that could come across. I know, you're trying to engage in conversation and show interest in my life and the person I was dating, but sometimes that made it feel more difficult to explain. And made me realize how much you don't understand. Dating is hard. It's not like when we were in our 20's and didn't have kids or a history of hurts from relationships and life. Finding time together with that person where we can explore getting to know each other is a struggle (logistically) -- including you in my relationship with that person - that will be even more of a challenge (again, logistically speaking - finding a time when we are all available and wanting to go out and do the same things). And I might just want to take it really slow and add you in when it feels right for everyone. So understand I know you're excited about it, but your expectations might make me pull back from you because it inadvertently puts expectations in my mind for my own situation, and I've learned that any sort of expectations can be damaging and lead to boatloads of disappointment.
All of this being said, at this point in my divorce journey, you can say these things as I'm more secure in myself and my own path for it to affect me too greatly. But it's good if you understand these things anyway. :) I am still dealing with certain things that trigger me and will do my best to have the difficult conversations with you if something hits me the wrong way. And I appreciate your love and support. Please know that.
2. Divorce Is About More Than Just The Couple
This is more complicated but I wish I had been more honest with you about some of these things, although in retrospect I am not sure how I would have vocalized this. I know I was just trying to figure it all out myself (still am), but this might have been helpful for you. And please let me acknowledge that my divorce was hard on you too. You lost someone too. And you lost a way of interacting with me (with us) that took some time to figure out again. That was the case for me too. I know that I wasn't happy in my marriage and that it was a weight off my shoulders in many respects when we finally separated, but that didn't mean it was easy. I still questioned it all the time. The decision was about more than just he and I - it was about our kids, our extended families, and our lifestyle. Now truly those things did not hold enough weight to keep a marriage together, but they were all factors of grief I went through when it was over. I missed the things we had together. I missed the feeling of being married to someone and the good parts were a lot easier to miss when the bad parts were no longer there. No, I didn't want to change my mind or take it all back, but please recognize there was a lot of emotional chaos to work through. And again, there isn't a linear path from messy to healed. If I was happy and having fun with you socially one week, and the next week withdrawn and reserved... that was my way of protecting my energy just to have enough to make it through my own stuff. And this is a practice I've kept - I will continue to do things that protect my energy. I will say no more often, stay home more often, and not answer your calls. I still love you and appreciate you, but when you are parenting and navigating life alone - without that person at the end of the day to partner through it with you - it's hard. And exhausting. I need rest. I need time alone. I need space to process and understand what I am going through myself.
I didn't necessarily have a hugely active in-law life (ie: we didn't gather together with his side of the family more than just at holidays), but I know that for a lot of my friends going through divorce, this is a major factor. So I'm speaking up on their behalf. They miss you. They miss the family stuff they had with their partner's family and friends. And maybe you still want them involved, but they are still trying to figure out how they fit again. And feelings and emotions are complicated. So please still extend the invitations and reach out to be involved, but also don't feel hurt when it takes a little time (or a few years) to find the new way of fitting together. Divorce affects everyone. We know that. But ultimately we are the ones going through the toughest part, so please throw us a little more grace.
3. You Don't Understand, and That's Ok.
Most of you (my friends and family) didn't go through divorce or a marriage breakdown. I know you may have had your fights and almost-divorces... but it's not the same. We all have different situations that nobody but us truly "gets". And that's ok. You can support me without trying to relate to me. I sometimes just wanted you to listen. And know that it was ok if you didn't fully understand. Sometimes when you said things like "I know what single parenting is like - my spouse was away for a week" or variations of this -- it made me feel like building a wall. I know you were just trying to connect with me, but it made me realize how very little you understood and made me feel even more alone. You didn't understand what it was like to be "on" as a parent no matter what on mom-days, and then to have no co-parent with you at the end of the day (even if it's by phone call or text if they are away) to walk through your day or troubleshoot a child's issue of the day, or soundboard when you are dealing with a work issue, a house issue, a friend issue. You aren't trying to do all of this on 1 income with all the same bills as you have adding heaps more stress, you aren't trying to do it all while working full-time and trying to shut off the home stress while carrying out your employee role all day. I know you are going through things too. And I wanted to understand and be there for you, but I didn't have the capacity for more than just me and my kids for a lot of years. I hope you can try to understand that now.
I didn't ever want you to fully understand, I just wanted you to listen. And try, maybe. But mostly just be there beside me as I cried, or had a tough moment. It's ok to just say "that sucks", or "I can't imagine what you are dealing with". And I know that I cried over the same things many times over, and over-discussed some parts of what I was going through. To those of you who were able to listen endlessly and support me through this phase, thank you! I know I lost a lot of friends who just didn't understand or couldn't figure out how we could "fit" together after I became un-coupled. That was sad. That sucked. But I'm ok. And I now understand that it was hard for you too. So reach out again if you want to! Although I have to say I'm not the same person I was 10 years ago. I'd like to think I'm more me than I've ever been... and I love me more now too.
There are a lot more things I wish you knew about what I was going through that might have been helpful for all of us, but those are my big 3. I hope that being open and vulnerable about this helps someone else understand what they are experiencing. Sometimes we don't recognize what's happening at the time. It takes a good amount of self-reflecting.
If you're going through this - you aren't alone. It's ok to feel all the feelings you're having. And if you need a friend, here I am. Sending love and good vibes. You've got this.