A few weeks ago, I met with a gentleman who was about to begin the divorce process. After countless years of unhappiness and frustration, he decided this was the best decision for himself. After watching videos on social media, and speaking with co-workers and friends, he couldn’t understand why he was feeling hopeful and relieved rather than doom and gloom. He found a beautiful condo to rent, was enjoying picking out new furniture, and was excited about trying new hobbies such as cooking and tennis. In the meantime, his family expressed their opinions on how being happy about divorce was “wrong” and “hurtful.”
As a divorce coach, I’ve listened to countless stories and experiences of men who find themselves looking forward to becoming divorced. Each time I hear someone share this, I notice they tend to follow up by saying how “guilty” they feel about not feeling sorrowful or depressed! I not only explain to them our society that has painted the picture of divorce needing to be sad and tragic and that it’s ok to give themselves permission to look forward to closing a chapter that is no longer serving them.
Let me share my story of why I did not mourn my divorce. I was married for nearly twenty years, and for nineteen of them, I was very unhappy. Yep, nineteen out twenty is a very long time to be in what I refer to as an emotional prison. As the years went by, I had been mourning my relationship. I found myself looking for any excuse to sleep my weekends away, therefore, avoiding having to spend time with my husband. I was so miserable; I was deep into the valley of resigned apathy. I had fully resigned myself to never loving my spouse and was willing to stay married just to avoid the fear of the unknown. Yet deep down I knew I was not going to grow old with him or at least I had hoped this would not be the case.
Many describe their divorce as losing a limb without anesthesia. I can see how that would be the case when losing a “partner.” My spouse was not a partner to me. He operated from a place of “we,” however, I seemed to always operate from an “I” perspective due to the constant disappointments and emotional labor I had endured. For me, my marriage was an extraneous limb whose amputation only served to free my movement. Our relationship was more akin to a heavy tumor I was carrying around, hurting all the time. It impeded my ability to be the best version of myself until finally I made the “diagnosis” and the surgery began. Here’s what I asked myself; “Would I cry as that tumor was removed and thrown away?” Of course not! I would be grateful it was removed and not left alone to further metastasize and destroy me. I was more inconvenienced by the prep and the process, than the actual incision.
I could have mourned the life of expensive trips abroad, or the ability to live in a zip code most people will never experience living in. But for me, these were only the benefits of my continued unhappiness. I look at it as the sweat equity I had put into my marriage.
I had succumbed to the loss of hope and chosen to accept what appeared to be my destiny. My ambitions had shrunk to “maybe I can get him to stop drinking for just a month,” however, any intelligent person will tell you that you cannot change a person, they must want to change for themselves. I had already mourned that he was not going to give up alcohol. I had already mourned that I would not enjoy events such as weddings due to knowing I would have the burden of dealing with a highly intoxicated spouse.
Mourning is for losses. The death of a loved one. The end of an era. The loss of a beloved treasure. What am I losing? A home on the water, or the ability to take lavish trips to Europe each year. Sure, those are nice things but is it worth losing myself or destined to give up what may be a bright, beautiful future? No, it wasn’t and it took me nineteen years to realize this. During my struggle to finally plan my divorce, I mourned the time I wasted futilely trying to make it work, trying to sift crumbs of happiness out of the dense sand ballast of my mournful life. I was certainly very sad then, but then I was sad because I knew what needed doing, and I couldn’t do it yet. I was sad for myself, enduring further when I could be leaving. I was sad because I knew this would disrupt the status quo. I was also sad because I knew of the impact this would have on my son. I was so far down the path of being unhappy, that I was not sad to make the move of ending my marriage.
When I finally told him, he cried, felt guilty, and then wanted to talk about it. Correction: he wanted to bargain and talk me out of it. There was no talking me out of it. I knew it needed doing for years and had been holding it in as it swelled inside me, suffocating me. He wanted me to be so sad that I would change my mind. He still wanted me to go through the emotional wringer to maintain the status quo. He wanted me to be afraid of the point of no return like he was.
I did take responsibility for my part in everything. I acknowledged first and foremost that it was my fault for trying to convince him why giving up drinking would be the answer. I forgave too many things, which is my crime to atone for. But I was the one gifted with emotional intelligence and I should have realized what was wrong, why this wasn’t smooth, why I was sadder and sadder. I fell out of love with him within the first year of our marriage— no, I fell out of hope. I chose to convince myself “maybe this will be better.” I could not have been more wrong.
I fell into a lonely, frustrating, and suddenly very permanent feeling of sadness. This was my life now, and I chose not to diagnose the problem and for that, I only have myself to blame. We had many distractions such as raising my son and countless adventures abroad. However, with each passing year, I willfully ignored my needs and that is truly something I mourn. During my divorce, I could not attach any form of sadness to ending my marriage. It was a painful burden that I was finally ridding myself of. Instead, I would celebrate the potential of living a life of peace and happiness with my son. I welcomed the endless possibilities of having meaningful relationships in my life without having to sacrifice my needs. If you are like me, and not sad about your divorce, I say congratulations! Isn’t it invigorating to free oneself?
Hayley Lisa, The Divorce Coach for Men