I’ve been a lawyer for 18 years. For the first few years, I worked as a family law attorney. I also served as a guardian ad litem for children in complex divorces.
Nothing really prepares you for your own divorce. That time when you realize that your own marriage has failed and that you have to do something about it. It was surprising, to say the least, when I considered becoming a petitioner for divorce rather than the attorney for the petitioner.
Wait It Out
So, I did what many other people do in this situation. I tried to wait it out. I pretended that everything was fine for years even though it was very, very clear that we were not suited to one another. Fighting continued and became borderline abusive. And yet I stalled and hesitated to do what I needed to do, hire a lawyer and commence the divorce. But then, the fighting became unbearable and I had no other choice. I literally felt that I couldn’t spend one more minute of my life married to him. Sound familiar?
Three Times The Average
It wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be. It was worse. My divorce lingered procedurally and emotionally for 22 months. The average time for a divorce is six months in Wisconsin. Mine took three times, almost four times that long. Emotionally, I went through everything I had previously witnessed other people experience. It always surprised me when people would argue over little things, and have minor disputes turn into major issues. But sure enough, that’s exactly what happened to me. I went through fights over property. We went through a long succession of temporary custody over the kids. My ex-husband had not been very involved in the raising of our children and had to learn how to handle a seven, four, and two year old. To his credit, he is doing much better with them now than when we started. That is not to say that we still do not have disagreements and fights. These are normal for a divorced couple; however, I no longer feel anger or spite towards him.
Have I learned?
How have I learned to get past my issues? Yes, I said these are my issues, not my ex-spouses issues. The first step is to recognize that your spouse is no longer to blame for your unhappiness. Do you need some magical trick? A pill? A unicorn ride? Nope. I spent good quality time with my therapist and worked through it. I had already witnessed the effects of parents using their children as weapons in court. Not good. I used to lecture my clients to “take the high road.” Meaning, pick your battles and don’t be a jerk. I had years of experience on how not to act in a divorce, how not to inflame a situation, and how to focus on the children first. You may have heard the saying “The opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference.” I have worked towards indifference. Although he still annoys me and still does things intentionally to irritate me, I have moved on with my life and I no longer let every verbal barb and emotional issue control my behavior. But this is a choice. It is absolutely and positively a choice. Once you make the choice to be happy and let go of the anger and fear, you choose to move on with your life. Can you make your life better, while still be harboring anger and hate? No, it doesn’t work like that. Those bitter divorced people, who hang on to every wrong they have experienced, end up alone or with other bitter and angry people. How do I know? I drafted 202 pre-marital agreements (prenups) for second and third marriages. Of those, 38 resulted in divorce within three years. I don’t know how many more after that time.
So what’s my advice as a lawyer that’s been through a divorce? It’s simple. Decide to move on with your life and figure out how best to do that. Don’t keep dragging your ex-spouse into every emotional issue you experience. Pick your battles and let the rest go. Don’t try and be a hero and power through it without help. It doesn’t mean you are weak or ill to speak to a counselor or therapist. It’s a sign of true strength to choose to change your behavior.
So what is my life like now, four years after the divorce? My children are thriving and I’m now navigating through the ups and downs of a relationship with someone new. Was it hard to go through all this? Absolutely. Even knowing what I knew, and knowing what would happen at every step, I still was emotionally involved in ways I did not expect.
So cut yourself some slack and allow yourself to work through the emotions of it. But then let it go, because it isn’t healthy to hang onto anger, fear, and drama. Get educated and then make the changes to your life that you need to make and, of course, get help if you cannot do this on your own. I read lots of books and educated myself on how to work through it. The struggle made me a better mom, a better attorney, and quite frankly, a better person.