Getting divorced is incredibly hard. Most people only ever do it once, and for that reason never get to apply the lessons they learned from the experience to their own lives. The best they can do is take these hard won nuggets of wisdom and share them with others who may find themselves on the cusp of getting divorced themselves one day. With that in mind, here are 30 such things that only divorced people know.
If you want the marriage to survive, you soon realize that regardless of how hard you work to right the ship, you simply can’t do it alone. Though it’s hard to walk away from your marriage, sooner or later all divorced people realize that if one of you doesn’t want to be there, the relationship as you know it has run its course.
Yes, that’s obvious—as obvious as uttering a phrase like “war is ghastly business.” But just as the vast majority of us have no clue what it’s truly like to engage in real combat, no one but the divorcée or divorcé truly knows how profoundly difficult a divorce is—emotionally, spiritually, or financially. That’s why you need to do your research and prepare yourself as best you can and try to make it as painless as possible.
When you’re in the throes of divorce—whether it’s amicable or acrimonious—you find yourself very, very alone. And those who have gone through the process come away with a much deeper appreciation of a simple hug and a heart-to-heart conversation with any close family member or friend.
Fact: Anyone who has gone through a divorce never planned on going through a divorce, which is exactly why divorced people know better than anyone not to judge anyone else’s relationship. They know that no marriage is immune to the sorts of pressures and external factors that can bring things to an unexpected end.
It’s all too easy to conflate divorce with failure and try to stay in a marriage that isn’t working. Divorced people know that real failure means dragging out something that is clearly doomed. After all, they know that life is short and spending any more of it in a bad marital situation is a losing proposition.
Divorced people know that if you commit to being civil—and know when to compromise and let things go—there’s a very good chance of getting through the whole process without harboring any ill-will toward the person you’d intended to grow old with. They know it’ll be less financially ruinous if you can be mature about it all, too.
Until you experience getting divorced, you wouldn’t imagine that, at various points, it can make you feel outrageously happy. Getting a divorce may be scary, but you’ll also find it profoundly satisfying at time, and you’ll unexpectedly feel nothing short of pure joy at the thought that you’re moving forward in life and no longer treading water.
Only those who have been through divorce know how difficult it is to wake up in the morning in an empty bed you’d been sharing for years with someone else. But those who have been divorced will tell you that the feeling subsides over time.
You and your soon-to-be-ex-spouse probably have a lot of friends in common. From birthday parties to weddings, what were once perfunctory social engagements now produce anxiety that you’ll see your ex. Worse, that you’ll have to see your ex with his or her new partner.
It’s disorienting to commit yourself for life to someone else and then find yourself single. Only divorced people know how sad, tiring, lonely, invigorating, exciting, and scary this time can feel from minute-to-minute.
People who have gone through a divorce will suddenly be clearer and more assertive in expressing their wants and needs in all other areas of their lives. This is likely because they can pinpoint a few key points in their marriage in which more honest, earnest, frank exchange of thoughts and feelings would have been useful and possibly even resulted in a different outcome.
Every marriage is different, and so is every divorce. For some people, they grieve at the beginning. For others, it takes months or even years before they can really confront their feelings. Divorced people know that while there are plenty of common themes across divorce—whether it’s irreconcilable differences or infidelity—exactly how the end of a marriage hits someone is affected by a multitude of factors seen and unseen.
Love and hate are two sides of the same coin. (The opposite of both of them is indifference.) Divorced people know that they can hate someone with the same vigor with which they once loved them… Particularly when a contested divorce forces them to go head-to-head over child custody, assets, alimony, and a host of other issues.
Never have truer words ever been spoken, and divorced people can attest to that.
In a movie that depicts a divorce, there’s often a scene in which one person grabs their things while the other person looks on. That’s in there because this part of a divorce is one of the most visceral and dramatic—the literal separation of things that once lived together, the picking apart of a life together. The finality of it all is something nobody—except people who’ve been through it—can know.
Yes, time heals all wounds—whether it takes ten hours, ten days, ten months, or ten years. You will feel happier.
When your children are with you after your divorce, you feel as though you are doing the jobs of two people. Which, of course, you are.
Are people talking about your divorce again? People who have been through a divorce know how the aftermath can feel a little like high school.
Every seemingly insignificant thing all of a sudden feels like an artifact from a different time in your life. An old CD? A favorite coffee mug? The painting your spouse used to have in the bathroom? Divorced people know that usually the smallest trinkets take on the most outsize value during a breakup.
Before you’ve gone through a divorce, it’s easy to convince yourself that you’d shrivel up and die without your partner by your side. But people who have been through it know that, while it might take a while, you will love again and when you do, your next relationship will be impacted—in ways both positive and negative—by what you’ve been through.
Divorced people know that it makes no difference how much advice you’ve sought in how to tell your children, that you’re never going to feel prepared. Also, you come to realize just how they are going to be affected by your news won’t be fully apparent for months, years, or even decades to come.
After you’ve suffered through the trials and tribulations of divorce, you realize that you may not need another marriage in order to be happy. You can fall in love, be monogamous, and ultimately faithful to another person and still find that the institution of marriage isn’t necessarily for you.
It sounds like therapy 101, but divorced people will immediately get what this means. Whether they were the party who was trying to make the other person happy or the party who was unmoved by their spouse’s efforts, they know that feeling happy has to come from within—and any efforts from elsewhere are ultimately going to fail.
A divorce isn’t all just annoying paperwork and minutiae. There’s often a lot of hurt and blame and distrust when two people are ending a marriage, which means that the process of unraveling two lives can become fraught—and people will be tempted to hurt each other unnecessarily.
Losing that amazing espresso machine you shared can be a bummer, but losing a living thing that love can be devastating. If, however, you were never a fan of the capricious cat he or she insisted you adopt, taking it away may be one of the better outcomes of your divorce.
Divorced people often leave their marriages with a list of things the would have done differently had they only listened to their gut. They’ll start the next chapter of their lives more attuned to subtleties that signal that something is not quite right.
Trust me: All of a sudden you feel like a child again when you tell your parents about your split-up. You realize that you probably haven’t felt this vulnerable and powerless since they used to ground you in high-school.
If you’ve had a partner for a while, you may have divided up duties and played to your strengths. Divorced people know that it pays big to build up the “muscles” that may have atrophied over time. It’s time to get up to speed on those things you haven’t had to deal with in years, whether it’s a career, a hobby, or anything else. You may surprise yourself with how quickly you can pick something up after many years.
After you’ve been in a monogamous marriage, being intimate with someone new can provoke a slurry of emotions. Divorced people are all too familiar with the feelings brought up by being with someone new for the first time. It’s strange, wonderful, awkward, and exciting all at the same time.
Yes, getting divorced is scary, but only people who have gone through it know that starting over can be one of the most terrifying things you ever do in your entire life. They also know that despite the risk and uncertainty, it’s so much better than any untenable status quo.