How I Learned That Happiness Doesn’t End With A Divorce
"I used to be one of those smug married people, sitting on my high horse of matrimony like I had it all figured out."
“I wasn’t happy.” A lot of people say that when going through and coping with divorce, and just as many smug married people judge those who dare to proclaim it as the cause of their marital split. I can say that because I used to be one of those smug married people, sitting on my high horse of matrimony like I had it all figured out. Then, after nearly 11 years of being married to someone who truly never loved me back, I filed for divorce. Why, do you ask?
Because I wasn’t happy. And that’s OK.
Coping with divorce: it’s not just about being “unhappy.”
My relationship with my ex-husband drained everything out of me. In hindsight, we had a very dysfunctional marriage that placed the burden of maintaining a happy home squarely on my shoulders. If things weren’t going well at home, I was told by religious counselors to pray more for my husband. Many friends told me that men were from Mars and women were from Venus, and that I should adjust my expectations. Even Dr. Laura taught me that properly caring for and feeding my husband would convince him to treat me right.
I tried everything I could to hold my marriage and family together, and I became more and more miserable in the process. It was like beating my head against a brick wall, no matter how many times I begged him to walk with me, talk with me, or just be with me. It was a one-sided relationship, and I started wishing I was dead just so I could escape.
Therapy helped me realize happiness isn’t a sin — it’s essential to a life well-lived.
It took six months of weekly therapy to finally understand that I’m allowed to be happy. Or, more accurately, that I’m allowed to pursue happiness. It’s even right there in the Declaration of Independence! And after more than a decade with my ex, I knew I didn’t have any more time or energy to pour into the futile pursuit of a happy life with him. He was who he was, and nothing I could do was ever going to change that. I could only change myself.
The divorce was rough — very rough — but it was also one of the happiest times of my life.
In one fell swoop, I lost my home (he insisted on keeping it), my faith community (my “church” ex-communicated me for the “sin” of filing for divorce), and most of my friends (who belonged to the church and stood by my ex), but what I gained was priceless. Freedom.
I spent time with friends my ex hadn’t approved of. I bought a purple rug on a whim. I applied for jobs without asking for his approval or permission. I spent time with my two children without worrying about what time he’d be home or in what mood. I went to a new church that preached the love of Jesus Christ, instead of one that said I was a filthy sinner in dirty rags in God’s eyes.
I’ve certainly had moments in the seven years since then that have been filled with more joy. I’m with the man of my dreams, and we have two more beautiful daughters, after all. But honestly, I’m not quite sure anything can ever match the euphoria of breaking free from a very bad situation. The contrast was too great for it to be anything else.
Life is never perfect, but what’s the point if we aren’t free to pursue happiness?
Getting divorced was the best decision I’ve ever made in my life, by far. It showed me that I had strength I never knew existed. My daughters are now growing up not normalizing dysfunction. My ex even found someone who is much better suited to him than I ever was, and he seems happy. No matter how bad things got in my marriage, I still truly believe that he has the right to be happy, too.
People don’t often ask anymore why I got divorced, but I’m sticking with the “I wasn’t happy” line. And if you ever hear that line from someone and go to that judgy part of your brain that exists in all of us … just remember that’s a simplified answer to a very complicated question.
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