I recently had lunch with a freshly-divorced friend. We hadn't spoken in awhile, so throughout the meal I got the typical rundown of Things-That-Went-Wrong, Qualities-My-Next-Partner-Must-Have (typically, everything his ex-wife was NOT) and How-Could-I-Have-Been-So-Blind realizations. I understood; I've certainly been in that place, and know many divorced friends who've similarly dealt with these same issues. Change is hard, divorce is a major transition and emotions are not always logical.
With the benefit of time on my side, however, the lessons I learned in my marriage and subsequent divorce are far more positive. I recently wrote about how there's no such thing as a 'failed marriage'; you've either worked things through or learned a lesson. Here are 5 positive lessons I took from my own divorce and successfully applied to post-divorce relationships.
How to speak my truth
Throughout years of my marriage I hesitated to speak my truth. While my intentions were honorable -- I wanted to keep the peace, I didn't want to introduce conflict, I was trying so hard to be a "good wife" -- my execution came up short because I was not being authentic with myself or my spouse. By hiding my truth, trying to ignore hurt feelings, "sucking it up," I was doing myself and my ex-husband a great disservice. While nothing could have patched the holes my marriage, I have taken that lesson into subsequent relationships and done my best to communicate in a genuine, honest and authentic manner.
How difficult long-term relationships can be, sometimes
I truly believe people's intentions are good when they tell you, pre-marriage, how wonderful life will be with your new spouse. The truth, however, can be a little different. Marriage can be really wonderful, and with enough hard work the good outweighs the bad. But marriage also includes some dark times when you question your decision, wonder if it has to be so hard, and feel jealous of your other married friends who seem to have their sh*t together. Every long-term relationship has struggles and rough spots. The relationships that are worth it will endure the rough spots and focus on the silver linings. The grass is greener where you water it.
The answer to my relationship problems often resides in me
When things get rough and I'm frustrated with my partner's behavior, it's easy for me to focus on what he needs to fix or change. It's not as easy to focus on myself, my own words and actions, and how they're, similarly, lacking. Divorce has taught me to focus on what I can do to ease my own frustration when things slip sideways. When my partner is crabby and stressed out he tends to lash out... but it's amazing how quickly his attitude changes when he has a good meal and some gentle words of support from me. As a result he's generally kinder and gentler with me. Instead of reacting in frustration and anger, myself, I've learned to switch perspective and see the problem from his point of view, then amend my reaction. Similarly, when I'm stressed and lashing out, it's notable how quickly my anger is diffused when he brings me flowers, takes over dinner prep or simply gives me a hug. If you're dealing with a difficult time in your relationship, take a moment and look inside to see what you can do to improve things.
I genuinely love being half of a couple, even when it's hard
No relationship can maintain the terrific, swoony feeling you get in the beginning. At some point life and reality take over and you find yourself folding his socks and huffing because he left the toilet seat up again. But at the end of the day, my solid relationship -- even with all of its quirks -- is far preferable to not having him in my life. He provides strength, fortitude, humor and security when I can't find these things on my own. Being half of a partnership means difficulty sometimes, but it also means you have someone in your corner at the end of the day, every day.
Loving someone is a choice
All relationships have their storms along with their rainbows. Long-term successful couples make the choice to love each other, through good and bad, forever. Loving someone is a choice to make your partner a priority, even when s/he's being grumpy because there's nothing in the house to eat but individually-wrapped cheese slices and neither of you wants to go to the grocery store. It's a choice you make, when the world is falling out from under you and you're on two different planets and it feels like things may never get better (but you know, you have that intrinsic sense of security in knowing that things can get better, that you're well-matched). Loving someone is a choice, weekly, daily, sometimes hourly, to remember that the person beside you is the person you chose, of your own free will, both in the skin-tingling highs and the dark, drudging lows. Love is a choice to see the best in that person instead of succumbing to viewing their weaknesses through a gritty filter of disappointment. Successful couples are successful because of their commitment to leaning inward instead of away when things get hard.
Though divorce can be terrible and life-altering, if you can shift your perspective a bit, you may learn some invaluable lessons to make moving forward a little easier.
Kasey Ferris is a freelance writer and mother-of-five. She eats too many Oreos and thinks life is much better when you're laughing. Find her at facebook.com/KaseyFerrisWrites.