This post is in collaboration with TIAA to empower women experiencing divorce, encouraging them to take control of their financial future.
Going through a divorce has been the single most difficult transition in my life. It’s not a path I ever wanted to walk and the effects have been far-reaching, from my finances to my social life to my physical health. However, as is true with many trials, it has also been a season of growth . . . of reshaping and learning, and re-evaluating my own identity. Here are ten of the biggest life lessons I’ve gleaned in the past few years.
You have more strength than you think
I never knew how much moxie and tenacity I had until I went through a divorce. I’ve learned that I have reserves of strength beyond what I could have imagined. I’ve been able to walk through fire and hold my head up. I’ve been able to rise up independently and rely on myself. I’ve been able to identify with my own strength and truly own it, and that has been a gift.
You can be alone
I have struggled with codependency my entire life. I bounced from one boyfriend to another and got married while only 21 because I wanted to lock down that relationship. Much of this stemmed from a lack of connection in my own childhood. I felt like I needed to be in a partnership to be okay. I am realizing that being alone and being lonely are two different things, and that I do not need to be in a romantic partnership to be a functioning human being. I’ve strengthened other relationships but I’ve also come to value my alone time.
Never assume you could not get a divorce
I grew up in evangelical circles where divorce was seen as a very shameful thing to avoid at all costs. I came into marriage hoping it would be forever. And while I think this is true for most people, the shame I felt around divorce made me believe it was not an option for me, even when things were so bad that it should have been. As a result, I lived in such a way that assumed I would always be married, and abdicated some of my own financial independence as a result. I would advise my kids to go into marriage hopeful, but also to always have a backup plan for financial independence. (TIAA offers some great advice on this here.)
Always keep your career current
I fully support families who make the decision to have one partner leave the workforce to stay home with the kids. But I think it’s always wise to have a career path that you could fall back on in the event you needed to. Unfortunately, I let my license lapse and had to go through a year’s process to get it renewed in the wake of my divorce. I am now working towards making sure that I have all of my available options open.
It’s okay to not be perfect
This was the hardest lesson for me [LINK TO WIWIK LANDING PAGE], because I have spent my life trying to control the optics of my family life. While I’ve been open about many things in my life, I was very guarded about my marital issues. I was skilled at playing the part of a happy couple and glossing over things going on at home. I wanted to believe my marriage was as good as I could make it look in a photo or a Christmas card. I let myself believe that optics could control outcomes. I let myself believe that the narrative I told was a true one. Getting a divorce is a public failure, and it was a failure of something that I cared about very deeply. I had to do a very conscious detachment from what others think of me – which may be one of the most difficult but life-affirming lessons to learn in all of this: detaching from the fear of judgment.
It’s okay to be messy
I have also learned the value of being vulnerable with others, and letting them see my mess. When you don’t share your real life with others, others don’t really know you and you end up feeling alone. I’ve been skilled at stuffing my crap into closets my whole life. As I child, through many painful circumstances, I learned to hide my mess. I present a stoic exterior because I learned to fear getting my feelings on anyone else, like they were a stain. My therapist told me that I was like a duck, gliding peacefully on top of the water but paddling desperately and clumsily underneath. I am learning to stop trying to present that unmessy exterior, and that my relationships are better when I let people see my full self.
It’s okay to take care of yourself
I have always struggled with self-care. I tend to put the needs of everyone around me above my own, and that became a detrimental quality as I navigated my divorce. Of course I wanted to care for my kids in the midst of a rocky season, but I completely ignored my own needs to the point of it affecting my physical and mental health. I had to shift my narrative – it was okay for me to go on a walk, or sit in the quiet of my room. It was okay for me to acknowledge my own needs in the midst of caring for everyone else.
You are more than a wife
I had so much of my identity wrapped up in being a wife. It was hard to remove that title from the way I saw myself. But I feel that I’ve been able to bolster up my identity in other ways, and in roles that I feel proud of. I do not need that title to feel whole.
Your kids will be okay
Divorce is incredibly difficult for children, and I recognize that there are lasting effects. At the same time, I also see the way that this trial caused my kids and I to pull together. I am focused on their wellbeing but I also know that they are going to be okay. They are resilient and loved, and they are gonna get through this and be fine.
You are still a family
I’ve tried hard to impress that upon my kids. We are not a “broken home” . . . we are still a family. I still take family photos with my kids. I still take them on family vacations. I do not need a spouse to continue to do all of the routines and rituals of a family, because we are still very much a family.