Divorce changes the trajectory of your life, but it doesn't have to define it.
Dictionary.com's first definition of failure is "an act or instance of failing or proving unsuccessful; lack of success." According to this definition, divorce is a failure — the failure of the marriage. Yet what I see in each of my clients (and what I experienced when I got divorced) is that going through divorce can make you feel like a failure; like you're less than other people, or have done something fundamentally wrong that deserves punishment. Granted, your divorce may be the result of poor decisions you made, but that's different from believing that you are fundamentally bad because of the failure of your marriage.
Although believing that you are a failure because your marriage has failed is an almost universal experience, what I want you to know is that this is a flawed belief. It feeds into a fundamental misperception that we are what happens to us.
Like so many of my clients, in my first marriage, I let my marriage and all that happened as a result of it define myself and my self-worth. For many years, I thought that I had to make my marriage work — no matter what. The "no matter what" for me was losing the dreams and desires that I had for my life. I decided (albeit unconsciously at the time) they didn't matter as much as what was needed for my husband to be happy, and that if I could fit things in for me around him and the needs of my marriage, then I was lucky. I fell into the trap of abdicating responsibility for me and my life. I stopped making the proactive decisions I needed to make to be fully me.
But here's the thing: I didn't understand any of this until after I was divorced, until I worked through a lot of the pain and misery of the transition, until I knew that I wasn't a failure. It was my marriage that had failed, and that was because of my actions and my ex-husband's actions. What I had from the failure of my marriage was feedback. I had information about what did and didn't work for me in a relationship. Over the years, I have been able to use this information, along with all the other feedback I've gotten along the way, to make new and improved choices for my life — including my new marriage.
I was one of the lucky ones. I was able to figure out that I am separate from what happens to me in addition to what I do and have in my life. Not everyone who divorces understands this separateness. The saddest cases are those people who stay stuck in their divorce. They are on a constant loop of blaming their ex, themselves, or both, for the failure of their marriage and the failure of their life and themselves.
The best lived lives put into action a belief that life is about moving forward, cultivating your best you, and your ideal world around you by living your purpose. This only happens by active participation and the ability to let go of any and all grievances or judgments you hold — including those you have about your divorce.
Is it easy? No, not at first. At first, it's awful. It's one of the hardest things you can do. It requires taking 100 percent responsibility for yourself and accepting that you do have a certain amount of power over what becomes of you. It requires an almost constant awareness that each day is a new day, that each moment is a new moment. We each have the power and the option to make a new start every single moment of every single day. We can make our lives into what we truly want them to be if we are simply willing to make the choices to do what's required to make them that way.
It probably sounds like a lot of hard work, and it is, but the alternative is failure — failure to be wholly, completely and truly you. That is failure. Divorce is just the failure of your marriage, and it can provide invaluable feedback for you to make your life the best it can be.
You have the choice right now to set your sights on what you want for your life. Once you know what you want, you can begin taking steps (even itty-bitty baby steps) every day toward making your life that way. And if things don't immediately go the way you want, you've just gotten more feedback for you to use adjusting the steps you're taking.
Your Functional Divorce Assignment:
On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is absolutely positively yes, and 10 is absolutely positively no, rate the following statements:
- I am a failure because my marriage failed.
- My life will always be a mess because of my divorce.
- My ex is to blame for our divorce.
- My life will never be as good again because of my divorce.
If you gave any of the above statements anything other score than 10, you're just like nearly every other person on the planet, and have some work to do on being able to separate you from what happens to you, what you do, and what you have.
One way to start becoming more aware of this separation is to remember a time when you stubbed your toe. Remember how painful it was? Did it cause you to think that you were a failure because you got hurt? Or, maybe it provided you some feedback so you could pay more attention to where you were going, or maybe to wear closed-toe shoes, or maybe even avoid the area where you stubbed it. This simple example can be expanded to help you look at painful events as inspiration to make new choices.
Dr. Karen Finn is a divorce coach and advisor helping people who are considering divorce make a smart decision about staying or leaving their marriage. You can join her anonymous newsletter group for free advice or email her at Karen@functionaldivorce.com for a free consultation. Don’t let the worry about divorce ruin your life, help is available as soon as you’re ready.