Divorce is hard AF. While very few divorces come as a surprise, you’re never fully prepared for it. One of the biggest shockers is how truly unprepared you are to deal with the responses from the women around you – and this is something divorced women will only share with each other. ‘I was immediately rejected from my community and social circles’ says Tammy*, divorced mum to three boys. ‘I was blown away by how deep the patriarchy really lies within the women around me,’ says *Melanie, currently going through a divorce. ‘I would rather spend time with the lesbians at school – at least they don’t judge me’, says *Carla, divorced for one year. No matter where we are on our journey, we agree on one thing: we wish we could just tell the other women in our lives what we need them to know. This list hopes to do just that.
1.Yes, we have thought of the kids. I’m willing to bet that 99.9% of divorcees had a toxic relationship before one of them filed for divorce. Divorce is not something one plans for. Most women who have gone through this will say that they saw the divorce coming, and there were signs that they chose to ignore, often to keep their family together for the sake of their kids (if they have them). But the reality is, children learn more based on observation than they do in the lessons that you teach them. If you normalise a toxic relationship with your spouse, that is what the children will take into all other relationships in their lives. ‘I knew I had to leave when my son said to me, “Don’t worry, Mummy, I’m getting used to all the fighting.”’ This was the turning point for Melanie.
2. No, we don’t have it all worked out; and that’s okay. You could not begin to understand the vast amount of details involved in a divorce process. There are legal considerations, financial considerations, basic things like where you will live, access arrangements, and counselling for everyone affected. So much so, that normal things like ‘What’s for dinner?’ are basically inconsequential. A woman going through a divorce really doesn’t have time to sweat the small stuff or even have all the answers to all the big stuff. And that’s okay. If we tried to think about all the things we need to worry about all the time, we could potentially drive ourselves crazy. And we can’t be crazy – at least not until our divorce is over.
3. We’re taking it one day at a time.
We have to. We have no choice. There are just too many factors that determine what the future looks like, for us to spend too much time thinking about it. So please, please understand that we can’t book a holiday six months from now. Not until we’ve been divorced for a while and things have ‘normalised’ again. (Whatever normal means.)
4. There are no guidelines for how long it should take.
Some divorces take three months – others take six years. Sometimes the divorces are acrimonious and the ‘adults’ involved allow petty arguments to drag on for years. Sometimes, it’s just a complicated asset list that takes time and energy to sort out. And in other, rare cases, the couple decides to deal with their divorce swiftly without drama. But please, please don’t say silly things like, ‘My friend’s divorce was done and dusted within six months.’ Well, thanks… Really…
5. Yes, we have tried everything else.
Sure, there are people like the Catherine Zeta-Jones character in Intolerable Cruelty that get married as a sport. But most of us get married for happily ever after. We plan to say, ‘Till Death Do Us Part’ and actually mean it. We don’t go into a marriage expecting a divorce. Most women would have tried every avenue available to them, before taking this decision. But you want to know the real secret to avoiding divorce? Both people in the marriage MUST want the marriage to work. Without that, you have only one of two choices: 1) Stick your head in the sand and ‘focus on the positives’ or 2) Make a decision to either fix it or call it.
So, don’t judge. If you know a divorced woman in whatever stage of divorce she is in, please leave the judgement alone and just be there for her. Don’t say things like ‘Just be strong’ or even worse, ‘You chose to walk away’ … and please spare the ‘Ag shames’ about her ex. You have no idea what it took for her to get up this morning, put on make-up and show up to work. Be kind – it doesn’t cost you anything.
*Names have been changed.