I encountered it again and again, from family, friends, co-workers, acquaintances.
I didn’t see that coming!
Have you tried counseling?
What about the kids?! (My least favorite.)
Does (ex-husband) know? (The most offensive.)
I had no appreciation of how interested or even invested other people (apparently) felt in our marriage or family until they found out it was ending.
My ex-husband and I used to joke that we didn’t believe in divorce; it was something for other people, not us. We weren’t the type of people who gave up. We weren’t the type of people who would force our children to have parents in two households with split birthdays and holidays. We were better than that. Divorce was a choice—and not one we would make. It was for quitters, people not committed to their union. Love was a choice, not just a feeling, and we were bound to wake up and “keep trying” every day until forever.
All of this was easy to believe when life was good and our marriage felt strong. We were a safe distance away from ever being those people.
The judgmental, ivory-tower superiority we encountered as we were going through it, however, was something I had to admit that I had bought into before I found myself staring down the barrel of an unfulfilled marriage. The mantra of if someone else’s grass is greener, then water your own was something I thought about often. It implied that if we just tried hard enough, we could fix it. And certainly, it felt like others felt that way about us.
And so, the well-meaning platitudes, the prodding for what happened, the forceful suggestion that we should just go to counseling, that all couples hit rough patches, or that marriage is a marathon, not a sprint were wholly unhelpful, and moreover, they were hurtful.
They implied we had not already considered any of this. That our problems were minor. That we didn’t appreciate the gravity of the decision divorce would have on our children. That we didn’t love our children enough, were selfish, wanted an easy way out (?!), or were not committed to our marriage in the first place. They negated what had been my truth for months or years and minimized the existence that had become our life together.
This began a cycle of resentment toward others who were well-meaning but seemed out of touch and condescending, and as a result, I turned inward and self-isolated while I waited out the storm. Compartmentalizing has long been one of my strong suits, and I leaned into it, hard. This was reinforced by the fact that many believe sharing stories in this space is often viewed as taboo.
From the outside looking in, things are almost never as they appear.
People around us weren’t sure what our status was. After all, we weren’t celebrities releasing a statement about an amicable split or a conscious uncoupling. We were two people who they may or may not have heard were divorcing, but who sometimes still arrived in one car to places with their kids, without wedding rings, and then didn’t sit together at a given event.
My ex was on a dating app during our divorce and someone at work approached me to let me know he was “cheating.” I was dipping my toe into potential relationships and accused of the same. All of it was false, but people didn’t realize we were divorcing, didn’t know we had jointly filed paperwork, and I didn’t feel it was anyone’s business. Cue the Nosey Rosies and Bitter Betties who live to share lascivious gossip. We didn’t update our entire circle of family and friends each time our status changed; we were too exhausted by it ourselves to want to talk about it any further, let alone answer the litany of questions that constantly ensued.
And so, my advice to you if you’re living it: I promise it does end eventually.
The in-between is awful and painful and feels topsy-turvy and can even make you consider turning back to a bad relationship just for a sense of normalcy and relief from the chaos—it is far too easy to do that.
Follow your heart and gut to do what is best for you in your situation and life. I’ve often found I know how I feel about something long before I understand why I feel that way, and it almost always leads to the right answer for me. Lean into how you feel about your decisions. Relief, dread, guilt, even just feeling heavy . . . those are all data points.
If you’re watching someone you love go through it, please offer support . . . and advice only when asked. You may never know the details of someone’s marriage or divorce—we rarely have a full picture of what happens behind closed doors—and we are not entitled to the dissection of someone’s life or relationship as fodder or so that we may “better understand”—we have no such right to that. Let’s show up and offer love and support. We cannot truly know the courage it took for someone to be willing to start over fresh in search of happiness, and the hurt that drove them to do so.
Originally published on the author’s blog