Divorce

How to Write a Happy Ending to Your Divorce Story

Human beings have been telling stories for thousands of years. We tell stories to each other, and we tell stories to ourselves. What's more, as the creator of our stories, we have the power to write them as we choose.
09/10/2015 12:59pm ET | Updated September 10, 2016
Concept image with What's Your Story printed on an old typewriter.

We are all storytellers. Every human being has told stories in different ways, to different people. We tell stories all the time. Whether we are telling bedtime stories to our children, gossiping about office politics or recounting the outrageous antics of the friend we went to the bar with the other night who was a bit over-served, we all tell stories. What we don't realize, is that we also tell stories about ourselves, to ourselves -- and we do it all the time.

What?! Surely I'm not suggesting that telling yourself that your spouse is a despicable, good-for-nothing, pathetic excuse for a human being because you just found out that s/he has been having an affair behind your back with the neighbor for the last three years is a story?!

Actually, yes. That is exactly what I'm saying... sort of.

Creating Your Story

As human beings, when we tell stories about ourselves, whether we tell them to ourselves or to other people, we don't tend to think of them as "stories." We think of them as "the truth." We are not "telling a story," we are "relating the facts." But, as any politician, trial lawyer or other good story-teller will tell you (if you can get them to be honest, that is!) the "facts" are often far less "factual" than they seem.

Did your spouse cheat? Assuming the answer is "yes," then that is a fact. Is your spouse a #@%#! (insert appropriate negative swear word)? While you may believe that, too, is a fact, it is actually a matter of opinion. If you add that opinion (and others) into a sprinkling of facts, and order those opinions and facts in a way that makes the point you want, you have... a story.

Am I saying that your divorce story is a lie? That you made it up? That it doesn't matter? No. Not at all. It is absolutely true. Horribly true. Gut-wrenchingly true. And it matters a lot. But, even though the story is true, the game-changer is realizing that stories are written. They are created. You are the author of your own story, and, as the author, you have the power to write your own ending.

The Human Brain

Before you dismiss the idea that you have the power to write the ending of your choice to your divorce story as just another Disney dream or crazy New Age idea, consider this: the human brain is wired to connect with stories. As Dr. Jim Loehr, author of The Power of Story: Rewrite Your Destiny in Business and in Life, has said:

Stories impose meaning on the chaos; they organize and give context to our sensory experiences, which might otherwise seem like a fairly colorless sequences of facts. Facts are meaningless until you create a story around them. For example, losing your wallet or being in a car accident is what factually happened, but the meaning or significance that you give to the lost wallet or the car accident is the theme of your story, for example, 'I'm a careless person,' or 'Bad things happen to me.'

Human beings have been telling stories for thousands of years. We tell stories to each other, and we tell stories to ourselves. What's more, as the creator of our stories, we have the power to write them as we choose.

The Power of Choice

At this point, you may be thinking, "But that's not true! I can't control what happens in my divorce." To a certain extent, of course, you are right. You can't control your spouse, or the judge, or your lawyer, or any of the other people involved in your divorce... except for one person: you.

You have the power to choose which divorce process you use. Choosing wisely makes all the difference in the world. Choose to mediate, and you may be able to divorce amicably. Choose to litigate, and you may be fighting all the way through the end of your divorce case and beyond.

You have the power to choose which divorce lawyer you use. If you hire a gladiator, you are going to get a fight. If you hire a mild-mannered negotiator, you are more likely to make a deal. But, if your spouse has hired a gladiator, while you chose a peace-loving negotiator, at the end of your divorce you are going to wish you got the license plate of the truck that ran over you!

The bottom line is that the choices you make, in large part, control the experience you are going to get. Even those experiences that you can't control, you can (and do!) interpret. So, while you may not be able to change "the facts" that occur, you absolutely can decide what those facts mean. In other words, you create your story based upon the meaning you give to the facts that happen.

Who Are You in Your Story?

Most people believe they are the hero in their story - or, at least, that's who they want to be. Many people going through a divorce fall into seeing themselves as the victim in their story - the person whose spouse ran away, or whose family was destroyed, or whose life got turned inside out by their villain spouse. But reclaiming your power, your real power, lies not in being the victim or the hero. It lies in recognizing that you are the author.

In her new book, Rising Strong, social scientist Brene Brown explains:

If we're going to put ourselves out there and love with our whole hearts, we're going to experience heartbreak. ... If we can learn how to feel our way through these experiences and own our stories of struggle, we can write our own brave endings. When we own our stories, we avoid being trapped as characters in stories someone else is telling.

Viewing your divorce through the lens of a story does not diminish your experience, or what you are feeling, in any way. Divorce is still painful and heartbreaking no matter how you look at it. It is, and probably always will be, a struggle. Sometimes it is a struggle of epic proportions. But, once you understand that your divorce is, in some respects, a story, and you realize that you are the author, you are in a position to reclaim an enormous amount of your own power.

Don't want to be a victim any more? Rewrite the ending of your story so that you become the winner. Don't think that's possible? What do you define as a "win"? Change the definition, and you change whether you are the winner in your story. Change your story, and you will change how you feel about it. That will change your life.

Tired of being angry? Use your divorce story as fuel to burn through your anger and start your new life in peace. See your divorce as a failure? Revise your story so that from that failure you rise up to create a better life than you ever dreamed. The facts in all of these situations are the same. But the interpretation of those facts, the "story" you tell, has changed. Do that, and your experience changes too.

No matter how you look at divorce, it will never be easy. It will never be fun. It will never be something anyone aspires to do. But, does your divorce story have to be ugly? You're the author. You decide.

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