Have you ever been emotionally sucker punched over your decision to divorce, not just by your ex or his family but by someone you considered a friend?
Two months after filing divorce paperwork, I was still living with my ex in our home. I had never felt so alone in my life. My husband was playing the victim at the church and made me the bad guy, even though he had directed me in no uncertain terms to file divorce rather than separation in order to set him free. Fine. He took my four little ones on a previously planned family trip to Hawaii without me, all the while advertising publicly how hard he was trying to keep our family together. Ok, I get it. Gotta play the church’s game. Eye roll. He packed condoms in his suitcase. On a family vacation. Whatever. Bye, loser. Painful enough, right??
While they were gone, I received a fat envelope in the mail. It was addressed to me in scrolling black ink with more stamps than necessary, but no return address.
Inside was a handwritten note and a stack of photocopies, which were of the pages of a book. The note said that they were a friend from church and they felt led by God to send me this book excerpt in hopes that it might inspire me not to break up my family. The note was signed, “In Christian Love,” but no name.
The photocopied pages were from a book about a Christian woman who was a good, submissive, turn-the-other-cheek-even-when-you’re-getting-punched kind of wife and everyone loved her and she lived happily ever after. This book was FICTIONAL, mind you.
I was the unwilling recipient of 4 more of these anonymous book chapters. Even the last three, which I did not open, succeeded in making me feel like there was something horribly wrong with me… and that everyone else thought so, too.
The idea of marriage seems so positive, so traditional, so RIGHT.
And in many relationships, it is absolutely a life-long wonderful thing for both partners and their offspring. But goodness, we sure did exert a lot of pressure on our young selves to find that perfect partner with whom to live that perfect life, raise those perfect kids, grow perfectly gray and travel the country in that perfect RV during our perfectly planned retirement.
How many of us had a realistic idea of what marriage truly was like before we were in one? The answer is easy: ZERO. Because 1. no two marriages are exactly the same, and 2. no matter how close we were to married people growing up (our parents, for example), their story began before we came along, and for the majority of our formative years, we lacked the maturity to make real sense of what they allowed us to see. If anything was observably awful in our parents’ marriages, we either decided we would never get married or we would simply not repeat their mistakes. None of us looked at a toxic relationship and said, “This is what it’s really like. I can’t wait!”
If the romantic notion of the perfect marriage is so darn naïve, why in the world do we idealize it the way we do? And knowing that we can’t possibly know what it’s like to walk a mile in another person’s shoes, why do people feel free to lay such deep guilt upon those of us who make the deeply personal decision to end a marriage?
Note to the divorcing person: My worry for you is that you are internalizing the criticism you might be receiving from others. When someone you love or respect suggests that you are wrong or bad, it produces what is called a Peak Emotional Experience. Those experiences affect our self-concept and our self-esteem at a subconscious level, even as adults. So while I can’t protect you from the misguided harsh judgements of others, I can arm you with perspective. When friends let their arrows fly, remember that people don’t know better until they know better. Here are six fundamental reasons you will be judged for your divorce – and they have nothing to do with you. Keep calm and divorce on…
They truly believe you or your children will be better off if you stay in your situation. They have read that men, women, and/or children suffer after divorce and they don’t want that for you. It’s coming from a good place, but you are a mature adult and you can do your own research and make your own plans. You have the power to change your situation, no matter how bleak. Assure those people that you appreciate their love, however if they can’t offer support as you now walk this path of fire, you’re going to need them to kindly leave you alone.
Sometimes, friends or family members secretly want to be in your shoes but don’t have the courage to pull the plug on their own relationship. They don’t have the life skills, the confidence, or the support they need to change their lives for the better. They believe that they made their bed and it’s their fate to now have to lie in it till they die. Or (fingers crossed) their spouse goes first!
It’s not you, it’s them… or their parents… or their parents’ parents… They have been hurt by events or people in their past that have nothing to do with you or your actual current situation. That’s neither your fault, nor your business. Shake the dust off your feet and carry on. They have their own work to do, and so do you!
I cannot emphasize enough that unless people have experienced toxicity in relationships themselves, they might not be able to match your level of commitment to your divorce, no matter how many stories you tell. Don’t lose sight of the fact that you cannot possibly explain your experience enough to some people. Stop over-explaining to try to make it ok for them. If it’s what you need, that’s all they should need to know.
“Never judge someone until you’ve walked a mile in their moccasins.” Sometimes when a friend has been through a divorce, they feel they’re in a unique position to judge you and make you feel bad about divorcing since they “know what you’re going through.” The problem is that they don’t, actually. We all see life through our own filters and no one but you has ever worn your moccasins. That’s the point of the proverb!
FEAR OF UPSETTING THEIR PARADIGM OF YOU
They can’t possibly imagine what your relationship with them will be like if you are no longer in your own changing relationship. They are afraid to lose you or your partner or both of you. You exist as a big part of the institution of their own marriage and the idea of change is scary and sad for them. Take this one as a compliment, if you can. You might still choose to walk away, or possibly engage in the work to remain friends.
If you are feeling unsupported or still confused about what you should do, I encourage you to stop leaning on people who cannot relate. It’s hard enough to go through divorce without losing your friends in the process, but I can tell you that it might be for the best. You can’t always predict who will stick by your side until that friendship goes through the litmus test of your divorce. And though the result can be painful, isn’t it better to know than to continue pouring energy into people who don’t love you unconditionally? Leave them behind if they won’t love you as a divorced person. There are people out there who will. If you want proof, I invite you to join my divorced community, made up of people who will support you in a way that makes your life better and doesn’t keep you trapped.
Infinity Dawn is the founder and CEO of The Infinity Shift: the only divorce coaching resource that helps men and women over 40 harness the power of their own subconscious minds in order to heal fully from their divorces and dive into their next adventure without years of struggle or therapy. To find more info about her powerful coaching programs and innovative divorce workshop membership, find her at www.theinfinityshift.com.
Revolutionizing the conversation around Divorce, one internal narrative at a time.
DISCLAIMER: The commentary, advice, and opinions from Gabrielle Hartley are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice or mental health services. You should contact an attorney and/or mental health professional in your state to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem.
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