You're Divorced, Not Broken

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Dear Recent/Non-Recent Divorcees,

Divorce is one of the most destructive, emotionally traumatic experiences a human being can go through, no matter if you're the instigator or the recipient. It's hard, and it hurts, and it takes a long time to feel normal again.

But if no one's told you this before, please hear me: You are not broken.

I don't mean to imply that everyone feels broken at the end of a marriage, certainly not, but people do. And to you, I say it again- you are not broken, you are not "damaged goods", you are merely a human being who was in a relationship that ended.

In my professional and personal life, when I meet people who feel broken after a divorce, they can usually be divided into two categories: those who truly believe there's something wrong with them, and those that are using their status as armor. You can argue that both types of people truly feel there's something wrong with them, but they manifest in different ways. I call those ways Inward and Outward.

Some divorcees turn their pain inward. They brood, and they grieve for a long time, always wondering if they could have done something differently to keep this from happening. They make every problem in their relationship into something they could have prevented. They are terrified to try dating again because they wonder how they'll ever be able to keep from ruining another relationship. Plus they're so busy constantly going over the events of their divorce in their heads, looking for new clues, that they don't have time to think of anything else.

To you I say that it takes two to make a divorce. Every single time, even if one person betrayed the other. I am a big believer in sifting through the rubble, taking ownership of how you contributed to the crash, and getting rid of the rest. Examine the pieces that belong to you and learn lessons from them, and then move on, confident with your new knowledge. If you're an Inward, you need to go through this process, and it's best to do it with a therapist. Mourn your relationship, but your mourning should not turn into a full time job. It's a long temp gig, and it'll taper off over time. You made mistakes. So did your ex. But one relationship failing doesn't meant that every relationship will fail.

Other divorcees turn their pain outward, or at least so it faces outward. They make their status into a suit of armor that they wear to protect them, and they aren't afraid to tell you that they're divorced. In fact, they can seem oddly proud. The failure of a past relationship becomes their excuse to not form new relationships, and if you'll pardon the overused expression, becomes their baggage. When someone is interested in dating them, they hold up the bags in their hands and go "Sorry, too much stuff to carry already." They may even romanticize how "unloveable" they are, secretly relieved that they don't have to make themselves vulnerable again. A breakup in the past should never be the reason that a relationship in the present doesn't work.

To you Outward folk out there, I say to you: it's time to put down the damned bags. Put them down, unpack them, go through the stuff in there to figure out why it's easier for you to cling to a past failure than to move onto a future full of opportunities (again, here's where a therapist would be helpful), and move on, lighter. No more armor, no more excuses, just a person who has had life experiences- some positive, some negative- and who isn't afraid to get back to living.

You're not a victim of your divorce. What you decide to do with yourself and your personal life after your marriage ends is your decision, and completely under your control. After so many things may have happened in your marriage that felt beyond you, let that information comfort you. This is your ship, you're driving it. The fact that you're divorced should never be your defining characteristic- that's doing you a disservice. Grieve, mourn, be a mess for a while, and then learn your lessons and move on. You have a lot of life left.

Let me say it again: You're divorced, not broken. Let's never equate the two.