No-one considers, on their wedding day, that their marriage will one day end in divorce. But that is the reality for 40-50% of all marriages in the U.S.A (source). Starting over after divorce is therefore something many of us have to come to terms with, however painful it is at the time.
This post is part of My Sweet Home Life’s Overcomers’ series – where we look at women whose lives haven’t turned out quite how they expected.
We feature women who have struggled with abuse, addictions, unexpected loss, and challenging circumstances.
Each of these women have come through their experiences with lessons learned – lessons that can help us all as we navigate this crazy thing called life.
Today we share the story of Sara and her experience of starting over after divorce.
Tell Me About Yourself
My name is Sara and I’m a coach, mentor, and encourager of people.
By day I work in a college as an academic success coach. Online, I am a blogger who writes about how to have a healthy life—inside and out.
The greatest joys in my life are my grown children and my little tribe of granddaughters.
All of that above keeps me busy but I also love to walk outside, hike, ride my bike, and hang out in coffee shops with my computer.
About a year after my divorce, I started my blog, My Think Big Life. My life was anything but BIG, but I did have aspirations.
It took me a few months to get into the groove of writing good posts, but I stuck with it and three years later, it continues to be a source of pride for me.
Through my blog, I began putting good habits into practice.
I practiced gratitude and forgiveness.
I learned to beat procrastination.
I let go of the toxic people in my life.
I really began taking care of my body, mind & spirit.
I wrote about what was working for me and shared it with thousands of people all over the world.
When I first was asked about sharing my story, I thought, “Sure, no problem—I’ve come out on the other side and have my happy-ever-after.”
But writing about that time turned out to be more difficult than I thought it would be.
This is not a “How to Have a Great Divorce” kind of post. I made so many mistakes that I could never advise others; but I also did some things right.
This is a “Divorce Sucks but You Can Not Only Survive but Thrive” post.
Now for the divorce part.
HOW DID YOUR MARRIAGE END?
I was married to an engineer and we were married for over 30 years. We had reached what I thought was the finish line: our house was paid off, our kids out of college, and our money situation looked great.
I was looking forward to cutting back on work and spending more time with my ill father and helping my two girls with their weddings.
My husband had other ideas. He asked for a divorce.
I didn’t know it, but I was so shut down and miserable at the time, and I think that my husband didn’t necessarily want a divorce, but he definitely wanted a change.
Well, change he got!
Going through the process was awful. We had three grown children who were devastated by the breakup of our family.
Telling them that we were getting a divorce is still the worst memory I have.
Yet, even with all that pain, we kept moving forward.
Deep inside, I knew that I needed to be out of that marriage. Yet I was terrified. I had never been on my own because I had been with my husband since I was 20.
WHAT DID YOU DO IMMEDIATELY AFTER THE DIVORCE?
I stayed in the house we owned as long as possible. When I finally moved, I moved to Houston, a city of four million to begin my new life as a divorced woman.
It was horrible and terrifying and incredibly lonely.
Most nights, I was scared being in a house by myself and worried about someone breaking in while I slept.
For almost two years, I rarely slept an entire night. I would wake up at two, three, or if I was lucky, four in the morning.
I began dating about six months after my divorce.
A few months in, I fell in love. It didn’t work out and I was devastated.
During that period of sadness, I lost about twenty pounds. Hallelujah! I was thin. And I liked it.
From then on, it was fairly simple to get dates through online dating services.
However, it was impossible to find anyone I was really interested in. The men I met were nice guys with good jobs. They just weren’t right for me.
That two years and 36 men led to one friendship and one fiancé. I hope to never have to do that again, but I would if I had to. I definitely prefer life with a partner than on my own.
It probably sounds like I prioritized finding another man after my divorce—I did!
I was so broken, but I didn’t realize it at the time.
Even though I wanted a relationship, almost desperately, life really didn’t let me get one until I got myself in order first.
Eventually, my life began to look and feel better. I got a job that continues to provide meaning and joy as well as a much-needed paycheck.
I met a man who showed me the way to try some new adventures and also taught me to love and be loved in a healthier way.
My life began to show on my face as people commented on how young and happy I looked.
HOW HAS YOUR LIFE CHANGED SINCE THE DIVORCE?
Today, I have almost everything I could ever want.
In some ways I have more than before the divorce: adventure, fun, love.
In some ways I have less. I don’t own my own home, I have way fewer possessions, and my bank account is definitely smaller.
However, I have hiked in the most beautiful places in the US. I’ve ridden my bike hundreds of miles through Texas. I’ve been to music festivals and visited some really cool cities.
When I rode a bike through Central Park one day—I finally realized that I had created a Think Big Life!
Other women come out of their divorce differently.
I’ve met women that got the house and regular money every month but are miserable.
While I still have my days when I don’t feel great, most of the time I feel enthusiastic about life and am engaged in meaningful work and relationships.
I don’t regret the divorce. I look in the mirror and I look back on all that’s happened in the last few years and I feel amazed that I have such a wonderful life.
In addition to my romantic relationship, my relationships with my children are strong and are becoming even stronger as my kids get older.
In addition, our family has grown by three grandchildren over the past few years and that is totally awesome too.
My relationship with my ex-husband is friendly and cordial.
We see each other a few times a year at holidays or birthdays but we don’t talk on a regular basis.
However, we and our children were determined almost from day one to keep harmony in the family.
At the time of the divorce, it felt like our family had been blown apart. We were a solid family of five before.
Here is something I have realized since. Our family was going to change anyway!
Yes, my divorce made it awkward for a while but so did all the additions. Children grow up and find their own partners. These new additions bring their own additions!
Our little family of five has grown to 14 now!
Since the divorce we have celebrated every Thanksgiving and Christmas together and it with joy that we welcome the new members of our tribe to our table each year.
It has not been easy and getting to this point and has at times been messy. Really messy.
Yet, I have kept moving forward.
Writing my blog and all the related social media really helped me grow and make new connections.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO SOMEONE CONSIDERING DIVORCE?
Divorce was a traumatic ending to a period of my life that had on the outside looked perfect to most people. It is a wound that continues to heal to this day. I can’t look back and not feel the pain of that time.
So, I don’t encourage anyone to get a divorce except in the worst of cases. It’s just too hard.
That’s my first piece of advice! Just don’t get divorced if you can avoid it.
But you can’t always avoid it—sometimes it means survival, not just physically but emotionally and mentally.
If you are faced with divorce, here are my top three pieces of advice.
First, (I’m in the US) get a lawyer. Get the best you can afford and protect your interests and your children’s.
Even if you are the one seeking the divorce, you have to think long-term. Do not even be tempted to not take the financial share you are entitled to.
Once the divorce is final, you can’t go back.
Having some financial peace of mind will make a big difference.
Second, expect that this experience will not be like you expect.
It will consume your thoughts and life for a while. You will want it to be over and it may feel like it is taking forever.
I felt like I was swimming through mud for a long time.
Third, let bitterness and anger go as soon as you can.
Of course, you are going to have those feelings but the sooner you can get over them, the sooner you can have the life you are meant to live.
I’ve seen women hang onto the anger the rest of their lives. It ate them alive and they could never find happiness again.
Your anger will not hurt your husband, his new girlfriends, or his family. It will hurt you and your children if you have them.
You can have a wonderful life, or you can have your anger.
There is life after divorce.
The night of my divorce, my best friend sat with me. She told me that everyone she knew who had ever gotten a divorce had ended up happier than when they had been married.
She said that after a few years, they were visibly happier and often in better relationships.
I hung onto that for years. And it came true for me. I took a lot of selfies during my process (I was dating online and always trying to get better pictures).
It hurts sometimes to see my early pictures. Even when I looked nice, I also looked scared and tentative.
That look is now gone! I look strong and happy. I’ve become my best-to-date self who is engaged in life and eagerly facing the future.
That’s my wish for you as well. That you become your best self and find joy in life and all its challenges. Stay strong my friends!