I felt like I'd been punched in the gut. The body-numbing, time-stopping, paralyzing feeling of hearing your spouse say they are no longer in love with you. It seemed my worst fears had come true; he'd fallen in love with someone else and wanted a divorce.
I remember that day like it was yesterday, and yet is was 19 years ago, the same day Princess Diana died. I had just returned home from a solo trip to attend a cousin's wedding. It was the first time I'd been back to my childhood stomping grounds since my own wedding there a few years earlier.
He met me at the airport, smile on his face. He seemed happy, but distant. I remember thinking he should be happier to see me; after all, I was gone for three weeks. We spent the afternoon together, shopping, grabbing a bite to eat and talking about my trip and what he'd been up to while I was gone. After a relaxing weekend together, we fell back into our routine of work and life, but he seemed different. I suggested a change of pace. "Let's get away for a romantic weekend together," I hinted. I thought the time together and change of scenery would be good for us. So, we booked a few nights into a cute boutique hotel over Labor Day weekend.
The trip started our perfectly! We strolled carelessly around town, had a beautiful lunch outside and walked along the beach before settling into our room. The next moment changed me forever.
He sat down on the bed, looked at me and without emotion said, "I think we need to take a break." I was stunned. I couldn't even process what he was saying. He continued talking, saying something about how we'd become very different people and that our marriage didn't serve his needs.
I don't remember a lot of what he said after that. My world seemed to stop; the minutes passed by like hours. But then he said her name, and a flood of emotions came over me. All I could do was stare at him. He blindsided me, as this woman was also in my very close circle of friends, and he was now telling me that the two of them had been "in a relationship" for quite some time. So, by his definition of "the marriage is not serving his needs," he meant, he'd fallen in love with someone else. I remember looking over at the TV and hearing the news anchor say Princess Diana has just passed away.
The following months were a blur. The roller coaster ride of emotions, the grief of losing my best friend, the betrayal of being deceived by not only my husband, but also by a woman whom I thought was my friend.
So what did I learn? More than I had chosen or wanted to, and for that, I am very thankful.
It won't kill you. Being dumped hurts - it hurts like hell, but it won't kill you. Rejection activates the same pathways in our brain as physical pain. It affects our ability to think rationally and make decisions. So, when we are rejected we feel the emotion deeply. It's heartbreaking and distressing. But growing through this pain helps make us stronger. I know I am far more emotionally equipped to handle distressing situations now that I've been through a divorce.
You find your REAL friends. I was 27 when my husband left, and we had no children, and our social circle was similar. We often went to dinner parties, nightclubs, concerts and movies together with our friends. But after our split, everything changed. Almost immediately he introduced "the other woman," it was like I had been replaced. I was so hurt. Hurt he could move on so quickly and hurt my friends didn't protest more and allowed it to happen. I continued to nurture the relationships I felt most connected to, but when you feel broken and alone it's hard to maintain the strength. The friends who lifted me up, held my hand and guided me out of that dark place remain as some of my best friends today.
Forgiveness. During my divorce, I played Garth Brooks' "Unanswered Prayers," repeatedly. I prayed every day my ex would call to tell me he'd made a mistake. But as days turned into weeks and into months, I realized that wasn't going to happen. I was grieving for my loss, but also internalizing everything and struggling to put it in perspective. My ex and I always had fun and we accomplished a lot together. We moved across the country together, we bought our first home together, we bought our first new car together and we adopted a puppy. We accomplished a lot and I was incredibly proud of those moments and milestones, and I felt robbed that he took those, and future moments like those, away from me. I felt for the longest time that he owed me. He owed me an explanation and he owed me an apology. It took some time, but eventually I realized, by holding on to this need for closure, I was preventing myself from moving forward. He wasn't willing or capable of accepting or admitting how deeply he hurt me. So, by letting go and forgiving him, I was able to find my peace and move forward. As Garth Brooks said, "Some of God's greatest gifts, are unanswered prayers."
It's ok to ask for help. I spent many hours curled up on the sofa at my therapist's office. Sometimes I was sad, sometimes I was angry, occasionally I smiled, but I never missed an appointment. He helped me find my path, my strength and my inner child. He also gave me tools so I could honor myself. I clearly remember one day as we were wrapping up a particularly good session, he asked me if the same time next week would work, and I looked at him and said, "I'm good. I'll give you a call if I need to talk," and I left, knowing in my heart I was going to be ok.
You live passionately and with less fear. As similar as we were, we did have our stark differences. As my healing progressed, I found the courage to pursue my passions, alone, the ones I wouldn't have pursued had we stayed together. Before the third anniversary of our divorce, I had eaten in a public restaurant by myself (this was a bigger obstacle than I realized), travelled to three different countries, went back to school and started my own business.
You will find love. As earth shattering as the news had been, and as life altering the path to recover was, I can honestly say, I wouldn't change a thing. I wouldn't be who I am today - and for that I am thankful. Fear of the unknown can alter our choices. By learning to accept what you can and can't control, being open and receptive and choosing to take calculated risks, you can live your life with purpose and passion. So far I've been blessed with beautiful family and a fulfilling and rewarding life full of friends, adventures and moments to treasure. Life will always throw challenges our way, embrace those moments, find your strength and take a deep breath. Then choose to live out loud, and remember love ALWAYS wins.
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