It has been more than 4 years since I left my ex, and I've been thinking of what I would go back in time and say to myself then if I could. Divorce is so disorienting. The ground is shifting under your feet, and it's hard to know what to believe. In the end, all you have is your instincts, and mine told me to swim for the shore.
Yes, divorce sucks. But in my case, it was also a blessed chance at a better life, and I'm so glad I took it. I look at my ex and realize that while I loved him, and we tried to make a go of it, he was never right for me. I tolerated so many things in our relationship that I will never again tolerate from anyone. I was living on someone else's terms, and it was killing me. Also, my ex was not getting me at my best. My heart wasn't in the marriage anymore, and he didn't deserve that, though at the time he didn't see it that way.
When I was neck-deep in the suck, it was hard to see things getting better. While I got encouragement from my real friends (and discovered who my real friends were), most books and websites about divorce didn't have much to say to my situation. I wasn't being cheated on or beaten. I didn't want to fight for the marriage because the marriage was slowly dissolving me from the inside. While I didn't want to be selfish and ruin my children's lives, nobody explained how proceeding with my gradual nervous breakdown was supposed to be helping anyone. As an added bonus, I got a guilt sandwich for contributing to the downfall of the family and society.
Now that I am on the other side of all that, here is my advice, for anyone who may need it.
- First things first. If you are worried about your or your children's safety, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (TTY 1-800-787-3224). They can help you plan, which will help you stay safe.
- The messages of guilt are a load of crap. The only person who can make the right decision for you and your children is you. Maybe that means you stay; maybe it means you go. You're the one who has to live with the choice, so screw anyone who tries to make your situation about their baggage.
- If you leave, it's going to suck in a pretty profound way, at least for awhile. Being in a dying marriage sucks, too, but leaving injects a lot of uncertainty into your life, so it's a whole new level of special. Be prepared to feel like you've done 10 rounds with a cement mixer.
- Things will get better. The more you are invested in charting a positive course for your life, the better they will get.
- You are not going to screw up your kids IF you and your ex act like grownups and don't put them in the middle of the situation. Unfortunately, the only person in that equation you can control is you, but taking the moral high ground is always, always worth it. Yes, you will have to have some unpleasant conversations and be told on numerous occasions that your child wishes s/he were with the other parent (where, according to your child, there are no rules, and your child has a pet unicorn). But keep in mind that if they didn't have your divorce to bitch about, it would be something else. My parents stayed married to each other, and I still feel like they screwed me up. You can't win. This is parenting.
- Get into therapy. You're going to need it, not only to get through the immediate firestorm, but to figure out how not to make the same mistakes again.
- Once you make your decision, be committed, even if you hit roadblocks. This is your one life we're talking about. For example, I wanted my ex to move out of our house, and he wouldn't. I wasted a lot of time agonizing over how to convince him to move out. My lawyer (a Jewish grandmother with a delightful potty mouth) sat me down and said, "Do you want to be miserable, or do you want to have a happy life? Fuck the house. You don't need it. If you want out of this marriage, the only way that's going to happen is if you move out. If this is what you really want, you'll do what it takes." She was right.
- When you can't see the way ahead, just put one foot in front of the other. Do the first thing you can do (e.g., open a bank account, start looking at rental listings, see a lawyer for an initial consult, talk to a therapist or a friend about how you're feeling), and then do the next thing. With each step, you'll start to know what the next step should be. Before you know it, you'll be in a much better place.