Remember when your parents or teachers or your friends told you that life was limitless. That anything was possible and that if you reached for the sun and failed, the stars would cushion your fall. My mum is what you would call a quote addict so I heard these types of encouragement for my entire life. It’s not entirely BS, but it certainly promotes a sense of naivety, or worse, delusion.
And when something horrible just happened and you feel like you’ve been hit by a bus, trying to decipher or imagine what a limitless existence looks like is challenging, if not impossible. You look towards the people you love for support but what I realized over the years was that the kind of support you truly needed was from yourself. And while my discussion is geared more towards those who have been or are going through a separation or divorce, I think that a lot of the emotions I speak of resemble ones that anyone might experience when faced at a crossroad; the dreaded two word question – What Now?
I’ve been through a lot of those crossroad moments, as I’m sure you have too and during those times, I felt abandoned most by people who loved me most. It wasn’t their intent to make me feel this way but there was a discrepancy between the kind of support they were capable of offering versus the kind of support I needed. At the time, I didn’t feel like people in my life were really there for me and over the years after my disappointment repeated itself, I learned not to ask for help. It caused me to become what I like to disguise or justify as independence. I was determined to make it on my own, not because I was confident in my abilities but because I had no choice. And as time went on, I didn’t have it in me to ask for help nor was I open to receiving it. Over the years that passed, I changed my environment for the better. I learned what good company really was and even then, when I experienced a challenge, I couldn’t accept support.
People always asked me, “Where were your parents during times of struggle?” and to that I would respond, “Unable to focus on anything more than their awful relationship.” On a side note, my awful experience as a child in an unhappy marriage is why I encourage people to move their separate ways if they are unhappy together. As a child, I would have chosen a lower social status over a sense of normalcy between physical abuse disguised as love.
It took me a long time to realize that my quote unquote independence was a result of society around me systematically failing me and putting a dent in my ability to trust. I was traumatically independent versus happily self-sufficient and whether you like to admit it or not, there’s a clear definition to the two. Now I shyly accept support from my very near and dear friends when I’m down all the while fighting the feelings of guilt or the urge to find ways to reciprocate when all I really have to do is sink into the love showered upon me and say thank you.
Sometimes you might be so traumatically independent for so long that the people around you get used to the rejection they experience from you. They stop offering their gestures of love and support and this in turn causes you to feel further alone and abandoned. The truth is that whether it be a friendship or a marriage, you really teach people how to love you all while recognizing that love is a verb as much as it is a noun. So while you sit in that corner licking your wounds, surrounded by people who love you and do nothing, you must ask yourself the question, “Was this really my doing? Do I need to redefine what it means to love me?”
I was talking to one of my clients the other day and she was telling me that she had no idea what she wanted to do. That figuring it all out was traumatic in itself and this isn’t something that is uncommon. I heard this from my mum.
Our amazing photographer was photographing women over 40 showcasing their journeys and lives in hopes to inspire and educate other women on what it means to be a powerful female. In 2019, I signed my mum up for this experience that included an amazing photoshoot and an interview about her life’s experience. I felt like her story was powerful. She left an abusive marriage after 33 years and found the strength to start a new life. She was so out of her comfort zone and while she felt like she was drowning, I felt like she was doing fantastic for the position she was in. But the truth is that she hadn’t yet understood what it meant to be someone other than my father’s wife. No one had really asked her what made her happy and what she wanted to do. She forced her likes to compliment my father’s and tried her best to tolerate the things they did together scrutinizing for positives she could grasp in an overly negative situation.
The making of the interview might as well have been a horror flick. Our photographer, in good spirit, refused to give her her questions beforehand and wanted my mum to answer spontaneously. And while these questions were seemingly simple, for mum, they were excruciatingly difficult. She just wasn’t there yet and these were things that she hadn’t found ways to define like what her definition of freedom meant or describing challenges in her marriage or her relationship with me as a child. She blubbered and struggled with articulating the overload of emotions that rained on her with every question all while having to sit poised and hold a smile.
For years my mum struggled with her marriage, pushing aside any thoughts of leaving my father. And during their last fight, ultimatums were drawn and those ultimatums were the straw that broke the back of a very weak and wobbly camel. He presented her with the biggest ultimatum of all and to no one’s surprise because we all knew it was coming in his quest for her to be in complete isolation: She was not to see me, my husband or her grandchildren or attend their upcoming birthday. And since we had no family in Canada and she had no friends, this would mean that she would be giving up her very last connection to the outside world, the world outside being my father’s wife.
But let’s recap when I first started talking about limits. Because everyone has one. This, I promise you. My mother hit her limit when my father made her choose between an unhappy marriage and a vicarious relationship with her daughter she loved and her son in law and grandchildren. The reason I say it was vicarious is because when you control someone to such an extent, it is entirely impossible for them to build wholesome relationships outside of you. You take away their emotional, physical and mental bandwidth and all of this is part of the control.
But my mum was slapped with a very specific reality that every divorcee faces when their marriage comes to an end. They learn very quickly that life isn’t this one, limitless existence but that it is divided into very many chapters from birth to death. It’s the kind of rude awakening self-education that’s only derived from pain. Each one of life’s chapters has its own beginning and end. It may start with new environments and people that may or may not continue in chapters to come. The issue lies in the promise of holding an environment or person for the entire book which almost always results in that environment or person overstaying their welcome in your life.
Have you guys ever watched shows that ran for too many seasons with characters that should have really died off a long time ago? How can we now take that example and reflect it on our personal lives? The truth of the matter is that everyone that you will ever encounter enters your life for a reason. They have a purpose whether they or you know it or not. They are placed in your life by the universe to teach you a lesson or move you in a certain direction. Perhaps they have entered your life to evolve the direction you are currently in making it better, making your goals more achievable and giving you the clarity to thrive. And as people we need to appreciate their time in our lives, whether that be for a short dinner or lunch or a friendship that lasts a couple of years. Perhaps they do stay forever since that is where they belong because as you evolve they do too in a way that is organic and unforced.
And I’ve always believed that the quality of a marriage is defined by the fulfillment of the people within the marriage, not the longevity. Which means that if the key to the longevity of your marriage is tolerance, you might want to reflect on the definition of tolerance itself which is by nature self sacrificing your own happiness for someone else’s. And while this can be done with your wants, it cannot be done with your needs. What I’m saying is that someone could be married for a 100 years and they might not be happy and the fact that they were married for that long doesn’t matter. I’m also saying that we need to remove the stigma of divorce and choosing a better life, owning the fact that your fulfillment comes first is a powerful priority that needs to be honoured.
But the process of going from being unhappily married to happily divorce is such a journey in itself that it’s almost impossible to define the “What Now?” looks like when it comes to building a new life. Going from unhappily married to unhappily divorced in itself is traumatic let alone going from unhappily divorced to happily divorced and single.
No one really talks about the aftermath of divorce and when you are at the beginning or even in the middle of your journey, you can only hope to feel a certain way. But how do you really get there? What is the secret to that last step in the game? The reality is that you have to redefine your self concept. You need to connect yourself with the people around you that love and support you in a way that explores other aspects of who you really are.
My mum had to go from what it meant to be my father’s wife to what it meant to be Maria. Who is Maria? Just Maria. Sometimes when someone has known you for so long, they treat you like the person you were in the relationship you were in versus the person you’re trying to discover. It’s often why so many people who come out of divorces disconnect with the people that were part of their lives during their marriage. They do this for various reasons. One of them being that they would like the freedom to redefine themselves without having to deal with the judgement. No one likes change and once someone sees you a certain way, it’s hard for them to make that shift. The lack of acceptance is painful. Another big reason why people often choose a new company after a divorce is because they can’t seem to articulate what their new self looks like and the difficulty and emotional bandwidth required to get people to adjust to a self they haven’t defined is not an investment they choose to make.
On a side note, I don’t think it’s wrong to be able to openly tell someone you love HOW to support you during a challenging time. And while you might feel like you shouldn’t have to, people aren’t mind readers and offering the right kind of support doesn’t come easy for most. It’s easier to leave a relationship with someone that downright refused to support you while being clear on the support they were meant to offer versus leaving someone who loves you but just doesn’t know how to be there for you in your time of need and could have benefited from some direction. Because the energy that is required from you to provide that direction is much less than the energy required from you to overcome the loss of that connection. And regardless of where you go and what you do, teaching people around you how to love you isn’t avoidable.
I hope that regardless of where you are in your life that you start to view your life as a series of chapters with a clear beginning and a clear end. Taking on that mindset will allow for you to release the things in your life that aren’t meant to travel with you for the rest of your journey, with respect. And making room for people or environments in your life that have overstayed their welcome only hurts your journey. Put bluntly, it’s you or them and why wouldn’t you choose you?
I mean, the process is so difficult that no one really talks about the aftermath of divorce. You spend so much of your time unhappy in a marriage that you don’t belong in until you find the heart, the mind and the gut to actually leave. You might have put together a strategy that you felt was well thought out or you might have taken an approach that was more impulsive tha you intended. Because every person on this planet has their limits. This, I promise you.
Remember when you were young and your parents or your friends or your teachers told you that the possibilities were endless? Or that the sky was the limit? Is it just me or have you also felt like these convoluted quotes left you with a sense of confusion, or worse, delusion?
As time passed, I realized that life is a series of chapters. And each chapter has it’s own beginning and end. Some people carry on into the next chapter while others end when you end your chapter’s story.
But when you’ve taken your body, your emotions and your environment to war, how do you really define a happily ever after?
And regardless of whether you have grit and resilience or strategy and support, there’s that moment when everything falls silent and you look out on that playing field at the rubble.
The other day, the twins worked on a 100 piece puzzle of Lightening McQueen that took them 2 hours to put together and right after they were done, they giggled, hurrahed and took it apart in less than 30 seconds.
My mum spend 33 unsuccessful years trying to build a marriage that she could look back on and be proud of.
How many things can you do before you become undone?
Divorce has a way of providing you with rude awakenings, so it isn’t uncommon for my clients to feel like for the first time in their lives, they understand the concept of limits; of life being divided into different chapters holding their own beginnings and endings. And you find yourself sad and refreshed all at once.