About to separate or are recently separated? Here are eleven expectations to demystify the crazy train you are about to board and help you navigate the process. Good luck!
1. You will be so afraid of the unknown that you will reason with yourself that even though you are miserable, you at least are comfortable enough that you can endure your unhappy marriage. You will try to convince yourself of this, although in your heart of hearts you know that it isn't true. You will tell yourself lies and convince yourself that you shouldn't split -- for the kids, for financial reasons, etc. You will bargain with yourself because you are scared. Know that this is normal.
2. The rollercoaster and complexity of emotions you will feel when the decision is made to separate is unlike anything you have ever experienced. The grief, the pain, the confusion, the fear, the desperation of wanting to be loved after your spouse is gone. But even though you don't know it, there is a weight that will slowly start to ease from your shoulders -- the same weight that you denied all this time when you told yourself nothing was wrong.
3. Your self-esteem may shatter, and you will be desperate for love and validation. You will think that nobody will ever love you or want you again, and you may be tempted to to date immediately and latch on to the first person who pays attention to you. Resist this urge to attach yourself, even if you have not had that romantic touch or intimacy for a long time. Trying to fill that void with another relationship robs you of the chance to heal.
4. Although you may tell yourself that you're fine, you will need a support system: a therapist, a support group, good friends, the non-judgmental anonymity of online forums. Whatever combination of systems you choose should help you attain two objectives--creating a safe place for venting, while also helping you find constructive ways to cope with the divorce in a healthy manner.
5. Once you and your spouse decide to split, you will feel like you are getting sprayed with an industrial fire hose. The number of "to-do's" and "should-do's" regarding emotions, finances, legal issues, custody, and other logistics will come at you with incredible urgency; you will feel paralyzed and overwhelmed. Understand that splitting is a process. Like any process, there are things to address immediately (safety, shelter, income), things to address a little bit later (understanding legal and custody issues, finding an emotional support system) and there are things to address longer-term (ensuring your separation agreement is something you can live with, making sure you and your children are adjusting). You will need to remind yourself that divorce is like a marathon and it requires patience and persistence. Save yourself the stress by accepting that not everything has to be done right now.
6. You will have no control over your spouse's behavior. For serious offenses (threatening harm, cleaning out your savings account or wracking up debt on a joint credit card), you will absolutely need to take action. But there will also be annoyances that may not endanger you, but will anger you. It may seem like they are trying to make your life as miserable as they possibly can, which could result in a long, drawn-out, expensive, soul-sucking divorce for you if you let it. You will need to remember that although you can't control their behavior, you can control how you react to it. Your decision to take the high road despite how they act is entirely up to you. Like most things during the split, it will be easier said than done.
7. You will be tempted to make certain divorce decisions that are driven by emotion, rather than driven by logic and handled in a business-like manner. You will constantly forget that divorce, boiled down, is a business transaction -- a splitting of assets and incomes. The logical part of you will understand this, but the part of you that is hurt may spend months fighting over things that have nothing to do with business at all. During the legal process of divorce, you will be forced to choose your battles. Choose wisely. You will need to learn when to fight for the things that are rightfully yours, but also when to let other things go. You will need to learn that nobody wins in divorce. Otherwise, you will find yourself robbed of years of your life fighting in court, having spent tens of thousands of dollars on legal fees that could have been put to better use in your post-divorce life, and so emotionally distraught that moving on will be extremely difficult.
8. You will find yourself in new situations that make you uncomfortable. There are too many to mention here. You may be re-entering the workforce. Your budget may be tight.
9. Your children could have trouble adjusting. If your social life revolved around other married couples, this dynamic may seem miserable for you. You may find friends treating you differently, thinking for some reason your split means that their relationship is in jeopardy. Understand that you are not alone in all of these struggles, and that whatever you need -- career help, financial advice, counseling, new opportunities for socialization -- are out there. You owe it to yourself to research those resources. Do not allow any of this discomfort to make you bitter, or drive you into hiding.
10. In your times of despair, you will wallow in self-pity. You will break down frequently at the most inconvenient times and say to yourself, "My life was not supposed to be like this. I thought my marriage was perfect and we'd be together forever." You will feel ashamed and feel like you are a failure. This is part of the grieving process, and you will need to learn how to balance it all: accepting that your circumstances changed, learning how to deal with those changed circumstances, and also learning how to heal and move on. You will need to learn that you are not a prisoner to those circumstances, and it is you who has the power to come out of this whole ordeal a stronger person.
11. You will learn that the split with your spouse has presented you with a choice and it is your decision alone how you handle it. You can choose to look at this split as a trauma from which you will never recover, and to be guided by anger and fear and not knowing what to do, or you can choose the path that takes more work -- the path where you ask for assistance, get the support you need, educate yourself about every aspect of the divorce (and there are many), and understand that you will have the power to get through it all. The choice is yours.