Ask any divorced woman: “If you had a do-over would you do anything differently?” and trust me the wisdom of her hindsight could be your saving grace.
While it is true that whatever does not kill you makes you stronger, I’m not so sure we need to be powerlifters to get through life. Yes, there’s the whole lemons to lemonade thing, and don’t get me wrong I love lemonade on a hot day, in a hammock with a great book. But I bet you’d be happy to trade your lemonade for a glass of tepid water with a fly still swimming in if it meant gaining access to the wisdom of those who’d been there before you. They can’t change their divorce experience, but their experience can change yours. So let’s raise a glass to the women who did it wrong so you can Leave Strong.
1. I Had An Affair
If there was just one thing a woman who had an affair would do over again, it’s leave before the affair. Divorce may have become no-fault as a matter of law, but let’s face it, we live in an at fault world. Good luck keeping the shame and blame out of your divorce process, just try negotiating a peace treaty with a man who feels rejected, lied to and cheated on. You’ll need fairy dust to effectively co-parent with your ex and your lover. And, I don’t know if you really want to know about the impact your embittered divorce will have on your children. Leave first my friend. You will have plenty of time for love.
2. I Stayed Too Long
Ever notice that we fall into love, but crawl out? I just don’t hear: “I left too soon.” If you’ve truly done all you can to salvage your marriage you are just paving a path to a messy divorce by delaying the exit. You may be telling yourself: it’s for the children or just until we get through this crisis, but if you are battling it out within earshot of your children, or modeling isolation and contempt, how is that helping your children? And really, what is happening to your soul? You will regret that you allowed yourself to become so weak, so disempowered so paralyzed by fear and so bitter with resentment that you lost your sense of self. Get up off your knees while you still can and leave before regrettable, undoable damage is done.
3. I Let Him Do All That
It’s 2012 and yet I still hear women say things like: “He took care of filing our taxes; I have no idea how much money we make.” “I don’t know what we owe on our house. ”I’m not sure how much he has in his retirement account.” A marriage is, among other things, a financial partnership. If you did not participate in the decision making and share full financial disclosure during your marriage you are likely in for a few not so pleasant surprises on the way out. Remember this 7th grade definition of “assume?: “Ass U Me”. Take responsibility for knowing everything there is to know about your family’s finances which means: mine, yours and ours before you leave. Assume nothing. Knowledge is power, don’t leave home without it.
4. I Gave Up My Career
Managing the conflicting demands and priorities of child rearing and career autonomy will never cease to be a conundrum for women. The desire to personally raise your children puts you in direct conflict with your other normal desire: self-governance. When it comes to marriage we are typically optimistic past reason. And that’s a good thing. Right? If I told you there was about a 50% chance that by getting in my car I was going to crash and a pretty high likelihood that if we crashed, we were going to be injured in some life altering way, would you get in the car with me? All I’m saying is that women who blindly give up their careers, who focus exclusively on the demands of child rearing have the greatest regrets when they divorce because now they have to rebuild from scratch. Women, who struggle, but maintain their career, even if they compromise it while parenting, are able to recover financial independence faster and their children undergo less change. They are less likely to feel victimized by the divorce process. If you gave up your career take steps to recreate yourself now, or you will regret it.
5. I Left Without A Plan
How long did you spend planning your wedding? How long will you spend planning your divorce? Women will tell you that they had a divorce fantasy, but not an exit strategy and they regret that they did not take the time and seek the support that would have helped them create a plan. It’s not like the process wasn’t underway, it’s just that they couldn’t help but feel that by planning for the end they were giving up, being cold, inhuman, calculating or even devious. In hindsight they will tell you that leaving without a plan was a very costly and avoidable mistake. No need to be devious, but you will save on legal costs and accelerate your divorce process when you get help and plan your exit.
6. I Made the Kids Choose Sides
It takes some serious soul searching to be able to admit that you put your kids’ right in the middle of your divorce. No sane woman ever sets out to do that, quite the opposite. But ask the kids of parents who became embroiled in the shame and blame game and they will sadly recount the pain they endured as they heard their parents bad-mouth one another, argue, withhold them, break promises, under support and overshare. They will show you the wounds and scars and wonder with you if they will ever be able to trust love. It’s hard to parent with a man you’ve given up on, but it’s important to find ways to honor that he will always be their father. You have many do-overs in life; parenting is not one of them. Get some professional help so you don’t have to look back with the clarity of hindsight and regret the harm you did to those you cherish most.
7. I Committed Again, Too Soon
By the time a marriage is over, there has usually been sustained fasting from intimacy. Like any fast you’re at risk to feast. If you break out of your marriage and head straight onto the arms of “transition man” you may find yourself gorging on your next biggest mistake. Be patient. You need time to heal, gain perspective, stabilize and yes, it’s true, find your sense of self. The early stages of separation and divorce are a vulnerable time. You may feel very isolated and abandoned. Even your new child sharing plan means you have, what may feel like, too much alone time. Take it. Explore the interests you abandoned, rebuild your career, find new girlfriends, get fit and healthy, richly connect with your children, and breathe. Learn to love yourself first because no one will ever love you more than you love yourself.
8. I Did Not Seek Professional Help
Is there a more vulnerable time of your life than during a divorce? The untold fears, secret habits, predilections, fantasies, addictions, health issues, bad habits and indiscretions you shared with your husband are all now at risk of being shared with friends, family, co-workers, new lovers and anyone else who loves gossip, or worse yet, your children. Many women, driven by fear of exposure, make the mistake of running an offensive campaign and overshare the proclivities of their ex. Some overshare their own private life in the faint hope of gaining approval and support, but soon discover they have only outed themself. Others just hide in shame. It doesn’t matter if you are one or all three of these women, you need help. Divorce can strip you of your dignity, invade your privacy, paralyze and disarm you. This is not a journey you want to take alone. Learn to share in a safe, confidential environment where you will be supported, guided and if necessary protected. Life always has regrets. This passage will test you. You will want to look back at the choices you made and know you considered your choices and acted with integrity. Yes, there will be a few things, even with support, you might wish you did differently, but you won’t be buried under a pile of regret.