“Change the way you look at things, and the things you look at change.” — Dr Wayne Dyer
Life is about learning lessons. We are all just living in one giant university, all of us choosing our own areas of study through the choices we make.
We all have entirely different teachers, starting with our parents and families, then our friendships and, later, our love relationships. When you begin to view life as a lifelong classroom, you start to see all of your experiences through a different lens.
Life Lessons From My Divorce
Divorce taught me some of life’s hardest lessons, but I am grateful for them now that I am looking back.
These lessons can only be learnt after the fullness of time. My hope is that you will be able to use some of this to anchor yourself in the coming months and years if you are experiencing the end of your relationship.
Let’s dive in.
Nobody can escape impermanence
Impermanence is the realisation that the things we think will always be there and take for granted can be gone one day. When I signed the papers on my wedding day, I was sure I would be in a loving relationship for the rest of my life. Divorce hit me like a truck and made me question everything else.
If this could be over, what else could be over?
While this is a sobering realisation, it is an essential life lesson because impermanence affects every single person at some point: death, job losses, natural disasters, illness. Nothing is forever.
By knowing and accepting that, rather than denying anything so painful could happen, we set ourselves up to face the inevitable adversity of life with an inner confidence and strength that will get us through our darkest times.
Love does not conquer all
When I was in the first years of marriage, I truly believed that no matter what came our way, our love for each other would be strong enough to survive all of life’s challenges.
It was a profoundly sad feeling to realise that this wasn’t true. Love does not conquer all. Relationships are dynamic entities that evolve and change, sometimes out of our control.
There are no guarantees that you will grow in the same direction. You can’t control another person, so it’s naive to think that you will always be able to make a relationship work if you put in enough effort.
In the words of the Don Henley song, ‘Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough’.
People change in fundamental ways over time
In my twenties and thirties, I genuinely believed that who I was and who other people were was set in concrete.
Sure, I could change jobs, interests, political ideals or friendship groups, but I never understood how much people can change fundamentally back then. When two people change in opposite ways over many years, it’s not the same two who entered the relationship anymore.
This is what happened with my ex-husband and I. When I look at us both now, we are polar opposites of the people who looked at each other and made vows on our wedding day. We know that if we were to meet today, we wouldn’t be drawn to each other; we are just too different at the core.
I have a shadow self
The term ‘shadow self’ was coined by psychoanalyst Carl Jung to describe the parts of our personality that we hide because we find them unacceptable. You can find out more by reading this article by Andrea M. Darcy.
Separation showed me that after living with emotional stress for years, you have no idea what you’re capable of when you hit rock bottom. When past pain and trauma come out, you think and act in ways you barely recognise.
Just admitting that I didn’t want to be married anymore was a massive blow to my beliefs about my identity. I started to see myself as a failure and someone capable of inflicting pain on others. I couldn’t bear admitting that about myself.
However, this realisation has helped me accept myself as a whole person, flaws and all. I am much more forgiving of myself today. The flow-on effect is that I am more accepting and forgiving of humanity as a whole. This new mindset has given me a level of inner peace that I never thought was possible.
Realising that my ex-husband has a shadow too
When I married him, I thought he was the kindest, most caring and loyal person in the world. As it became apparent that he wasn’t always kind, didn’t always have my best interests at heart, and could see himself living without me in his life (in other words, he was human), I experienced the most significant blow of all.
It sounds dramatic, but it felt like I was living with a complete stranger in the last months before we separated. Many things I thought I knew about him turned out to be wrong. I had to accept that fact, and he had to accept the same about me.
People are judgemental
Given that the global divorce rate is still high, you would think that divorce stigma would have lifted a lot more than it has. It’s incredible how often people make flippant comments about divorced families that cut you to the core.
Now that my kids are in their teens, I see how they are happy and thriving compared to many of their friends whose parents are still married.
Having divorced parents does not make kids destined to have trouble later in life, and that’s something I will never shut up about because it causes so much anxiety in new co-parents.
If this happens to me now, I let it go immediately. Anyone who judges me for going through a divorce lacks the ability to view the world from any perspective except their own, and who cares what someone that narrow-minded thinks?
The true meaning of being alone after divorce
I love having time to myself; I’m a person who recharges by having time alone. But nothing prepares you for the loneliness of not having a partner to share life with.
In the first year after a divorce, I shifted into autopilot, almost running on adrenaline most of the time. There was a sense of relief that the stress of living in a dying relationship was finally over.
After that first year, though, when I started to ‘do life’ on my own, I began feeling intense loneliness and isolation. These uncomfortable feelings were my primary motivation for wanting to create a new relationship, which ended up being toxic and unhealthy.
It was great at the beginning when I didn’t have to deal with being lonely, but after the honeymoon period ended, all the dysfunction started to rear its head.
Three years later, I was back to square one — still, nobody to talk to and more grief to deal with. I’m determined not to do that to myself again, so I’m choosing to stay ‘single on purpose’ until I’m ready to find a partner for the right reasons, not just a distraction for bouts of loneliness.
Friends have limited bandwidth for my heartache
After divorce, friendships can go quiet. A few months into my struggles, I realised my friends had busy lives and little time to talk to me when I felt down.
Initially, I was hurt by this, but looking back now, I can see it was the ‘Nobody Can Save You’ module of life. The emotional journey of recovery from grief and loss is yours alone. Your friends love you but can’t do it for you, even if they want to.
I’m particularly grateful for this lesson as it helped me rediscover my love of journaling and writing to deal with times when I feel lonely or sad. I learnt that I have more strength and resilience than I gave myself credit for and that I don’t need anyone to rescue me.
It’s helpful to see your divorce as a graduation from the university of life. Nobody wants to go through all of life’s brutal lessons, but if we think we can get out of here without living through some serious pain, we are fooling ourselves.
It’s totally up to us how we want to work through the pain of recovery and come out the other side. No matter how much we feel like circumstances are stacked against us, we have the power to decide.
My greatest personal achievement is feeling emotionally equipped for whatever comes my way. By accepting impermanence and creating strategies to deal with it, my life has now become something I can face head-on, and I feel confident that no matter what comes my way, I can get myself through it.
For this, I am grateful.
About Carol Madden
Hello, my name is Carol Madden and I am a certified divorce coach working with clients around the world from my online practice in New Zealand.
I aim to help individuals navigate the often overwhelming emotions and practical considerations of separating from a spouse. I understand the unique challenges that divorce can bring, having been through my own divorce ten years ago.
I believe that divorce can be an opportunity for growth and positive change, rather than just a painful ending. Through my coaching, I help clients gain clarity and confidence as they move forward in their lives.
As a writer, I am excited to share my perspectives on divorce with readers seeking solid support during their separations. Whether providing tips for managing the emotional rollercoaster or offering practical advice for effectively co-parenting, I want to help others through this challenging time.