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By Val Hemminger; Family Law Lawyer, Divorce Coach and creator of The Better Divorce Project
For a lot of people, getting divorced and separated is so heartbreaking that they wonder how it is even a possibility that people could be happier after divorce. For most people, getting divorced is likely to be the most stressful event they experience in their lives.
Although some articles like this one suggest that people are not happier after divorce, I must respectfully disagree and do so wholeheartedly.
As a family law lawyer that has acted for literally thousands of people by now, I can say that I have never had a client say that they wish they could have stayed married. This is the case even for those who did not see their separation coming and were completely devastated when it happened.
I recall one client I had. I will call her Debra. When Debra sat in front of me for the first time at our initial client consultation, the tears were streaming out of her eyes so much they were almost gushing. By the time Debra left my office that day, a pile of soaked-through tissue was on my desk.
You see, Debra had been married for 32 years and raised two children with her husband who were now grown. She loved her husband deeply. The thing is that when her children were very young, like two and three years old, she learned her husband, I will call him Martin, had an affair with her best friend. It broke Debra then, however, after much drama, what seemed to be a heartfelt and meaningful apology by Martin, and the affair ending, Debra did not leave her marriage. She had two young children and limited resources as a stay-at-home mother. Debra was able to forgive Martin and life went on. Debra again saw her best friend.
Blast forward about 28 years, and here is Debra sitting in my office because she is getting divorced. Why do you ask? Well, Debra had a spa weekend out of town with her daughter the weekend before. Debra rarely pampered herself, and it was something she had so looked forward to. She came home refreshed and jubilant and looking forward to seeing Martin.
Instead, she came home to a note from him. Martin had left her, for her old friend. In his note, Martin said to Debra that he had always been in love with this other woman and was leaving Debra for her. Martin went on to admit that he had located her old friend via Facebook and resumed the affair several months ago.
Ironically, that old friend of Debra broke it off with Martin a few days later. Martin returned to Debra expecting that their marriage would resume. Needless to say, Debra would be divorcing her cheating husband this time.
I have had the gift of seeing not only Debra's but many of my clients’ lives transform after divorce. Is Debra happier after the divorce? You bet she is.
After the intense grief she experienced, her life blossomed dramatically. Always the homemaker, she has now created a life she never dreamed was possible. She makes art, works part-time, and enjoys the attention of her younger boyfriend with whom she is in a committed relationship.
Although it was gut-wrenching at first, she has healed and moved forward. She is now grateful that Martin had resumed his affair because she would never have had the courage to leave him otherwise.
As she grew more independent, she realized how much of her life was simply all focused on Martin. He was fairly controlling and insisted that his needs always come first. Debra had not been able to pursue her own interests. Now she does.
When considering if they will be happier after divorce, people often do not take into account what I call the “blank slate.”
The thing is that if you have been married for any length of time, you have a clear picture and understanding of what your life has been like. You have memories, both good and bad. You know what your life has been like, and even though you likely do not like parts of it and are considering getting divorced, what you do not have is a picture of your future.
So, what happens is that you have two competing images and stories in your head. There is your past life as a married person up until now, and the future? Well, who knows what that is, and at this point, it might just look blank, empty, or like nothing.
So, if you are wondering if people are happier after divorce and are in the process of making that tough decision, remember that your future may be very bright, interesting, and tons better than where you are right now. The challenge you might be having is that you do not have the picture created yet as to what it will look like.
If you are wondering if you are going to be one of those people happier after divorce, you also might want to consider something else. So many of us get so caught up in blaming our spouses for everything wrong in our lives that when we separate, we can end up being surprised that we still have problems in our lives and significant ones at that!
I am sure you have heard the expression: “Wherever you go there you are” – well the last years of my marriage were very lonely. Brutally lonely. I believed that once I finally got rid of my husband things would immediately and dramatically change for the better.
Having been raised in a home with older siblings, nephews, nieces and cousins all about, to me, a home should be bustling with people, activity, and energy. Although my home was once that, it changed in the later years of my marriage. Theoretically, I was the one who ended my marriage, however, let’s just say I was constructively dismissed. What I mean is that he got rid of me, not by ending the relationship himself, but by making it so hellish that I had no choice but to end it eventually.
During the last years, because he was so rude and dismissive of me in front of friends and family, we became more and more isolated because of not having friends and family visit very often. Also, because whenever I spoke to him, he would roll his eyes or scoff, I gave up trying to say things.
We did not talk to each other, would go months without even giving each other eye contact, or having any intimacy whatsoever. I describe it by saying our house had “become as quiet as a tomb.” This went on for about eight, yes eight! years. It was a brutal experience.
So, when I finally got the courage to break up with him (yes, I did it via text but that is another story . . . ), I expected the loneliness I experienced in my home to magically go away. Well, it didn’t. The problem was that I had let so many friendships slip. I had also lost the ability and skill of socializing. It took quite some time for me to come back from the habit of living a lonely life.
The point of all of this is that if you are a lonely person, think that it might not just be because of your spouse. If you are a grumpy, miserable, or negative person, it might not just be because of your spouse. I am not saying it always takes two to tango, but I am saying that wherever you go there you are.
The only person who knows whether getting divorced is a good or bad idea is you. So, really, when asking if people are happier after divorce, and thinking about your circumstances, think about the possibility and what your future is going to look like. Create the vision and see what happens. And of course, remember Debra.
Disclaimer: The content of this website is only intended to act as a general overview of a legal topic and is not legal advice. It is information-based only.
All of the information is prefaced by assuming you live in a “ community property ” and “ no fault ” state, province, country, or territory. This article is written by a Canadian lawyer and has a Canadian perspective. The separation and divorce laws in the United States, Europe, Britain, Australia, New Zealand and other countries are all different.
For legal advice as it pertains to your legal situation, please consult with a family law lawyer in your specific jurisdiction.