There is much to learn about love, relationships, and marriage. What you may not expect is what divorce teaches you about all three. Things learned from divorce are lessons you will never forget — they leave that much of an impact on you.
Life after divorce may not always be perfect but it can also be better than a miserable married life. In fact, one of the many benefits of divorce is having an appreciation for your newfound freedom. For women, in particular, divorce may make her question herself or love itself, while teaching her valuable life lessons.
However, divorce does affect your life, whether it’s by relearning how to live by yourself, figuring out how to move on from the past, or simply learning to be okay alone. But there are solid reasons for divorce — unhappiness, growing apart, falling out of love, or infidelity.
It dawned on me recently that even though I didn’t have a divorce party (just wasn’t in the mood), it doesn’t mean that I can’t mark the 20th anniversary of my divorce in some way. I can express what divorce taught me about marriage and life, in general, for others to find a sense of hope in.
Here are 10 important lessons about love, marriage, and relationships divorce teaches you:
1. Your partner is not going to change.
In other words, you can’t change a cat into a dog. Love just isn’t enough to significantly alter a person’s basic nature and upbringing.
For instance, if you fall in love with someone who is reserved and you need outward signs of affection to feel secure, you’ll feel chronically dissatisfied. Most likely, these differences will probably erode loving feelings over time and diminish positive interactions in your relationship.
2. You need to focus on improving your own life rather than trying to ‘fix’ your partner.
A life lesson after divorce I learned the hard way was that many people stay in dysfunctional relationships with the unconscious desire to change their partner and avoid dealing with their own issues.
According to codependency and relationship expert, Ross Rosenberg, this pattern is common and couples often stay in highly dysfunctional relationships to their own detriment.
He notes, “The inherently dysfunctional ‘codependency dance’ requires two opposite but distinctly balanced partners: the pleaser/fixer (codependent) and the taker/controller (narcissist).”
Rather than investing your energy into fixing your partner, make a commitment to improving some of your undesirable traits — we’re all flawed in some way. Then and only then will you truly have a non-dysfunctional healthy relationship.
3. Opposites attract but usually don’t stay together.
Rosenberg describes opposites as “human magnets” who are irresistibly pulled toward each other, not so much by their conscious decisions or intentions, but rather by their opposite “magnetic field.”
He writes, “Such partners with complementary magnetic roles are irresistibly drawn together and locked into a relationship that is nearly impossible to resist or break free of.”
He posits that couples who are opposites are immune to breakups due to the amorous nature of their relationship magnetism — unless one partner moves in a healthier direction, and the other one doesn’t follow.
Often, this happens over time as people change and grow.
4. Jumping into an intimate relationship too quickly is a bad idea.
Take it slow — really, really slow. Slowing down the pace of your relationship, regardless of the impulse many people feel to move things along quickly, will give you the opportunity to get to know your partner better.
The odds of seeing the truth of the relationship increase when we take time to get to know someone, according to psychologist Kristin M. Davin, PsyD.
She advises, “Many become sexually involved before they’re ready and potentially problematic issues get obscured until much later in the relationship. I see this all the time. Date. Talk. Really get to know each other.”
Your friends and family may have made a comment or two about how fast you were moving, but they weren’t being snide; they were just looking out for you.
In my case, I knew my ex for less than a year when we became engaged and got married, so I was blindsided by many of our differences.
5. Practicing forgiveness will help you move on.
In a relationship, forgiveness isn’t the same as condoning the hurt done to you. But it will allow you to move forward with your life.
Accept that people usually do the best they can and try to be more understanding. This doesn’t mean that you accept your partner’s hurtful actions. You simply come to a more realistic view and give them less power over you.
When it comes to healthy relationships, both partners develop a mindset of acceptance and forgiveness about daily disappointments. After all, none of us is perfect. Don’t let resentment impact you greatly and try to let go of small annoyances.
6. Sweeping things under the rug usually doesn’t reap good results.
Communicate honestly about key issues in your relationship. Be sure to be forthcoming about your concerns. Express thoughts, feelings, and wishes in a respectful way.
Resentment can build when couples bury hurt feelings, so be vulnerable and don’t allow upset feelings to fester. Challenge your beliefs and self-defeating thoughts about holding onto hurt feelings.
When you listen to your partner’s side of the story and process it briefly with them, you no longer need to hold onto hurt feelings.
7. Take responsibility for your part in the conflict or dispute.
One person’s ability to do this can change the dynamic of the relationship.
Dr. John and Julie Gottman write, “One person’s response will literally change the brain waves of the other person.”
So, apologize to your partner when appropriate. This will validate their feelings and promote forgiveness and allow you both to move on.
Love is not enough. Saying you’re sorry can heal a wound even when you didn’t hurt your partner’s feelings intentionally. Resentment builds over time if couples aren’t able to talk about hurt feelings that arise from unresolved grievances.
8. Develop a ‘Hurt-Free Zone’ policy.
This term coined by author David Akiva refers to a period when criticism is not allowed. Without it, couples usually feel less defensive and feeling so hurt and rejection dissolve.
Akiva writes, “Your prime directive right now is to eliminate the most toxic negative communication and reduce intense negative emotions for 3 to 4 weeks.”
9. Allow yourself to be vulnerable.
While self-sufficiency and autonomy can help you weather the storms of life, it can also rob you of true intimacy. For a relationship to be balanced, partners must be able to depend on one another and feel that they are needed and appreciated for the support they give. If you have been let down in the past, the prospect of needing someone can be frightening. Opening up to your partner can make you feel vulnerable and exposed, but it is the most important ingredient of a trusting, intimate relationship. If you can’t be vulnerable with your partner, this is a red flag.
10. Learn to trust your own judgment.
If you find yourself saying things like, “I knew things were awful and I should have ended it earlier,” you may need to pay attention to your inner voice or intuition.
Ending a relationship doesn’t make you a failure. Rather, it probably means it just wasn’t the right one for you.
According to Davin, “We tend to ignore red flags because we want to be in a relationship… We put on our rose-coloured glasses and off we go. Throw the glasses away and trust your gut.”
In summary, I don’t regret a moment of my past or decision to get divorced. Even if my divorce changed me forever, what I learned from my divorce was worth it. But I’ll keep this list close at hand as a reminder of lessons learned.
No matter your reasons for divorce, you deserve to be happy. So I hope these lessons help you move forward as you go through a new life after divorce, so you can find the kind of love that allows you to be your best self and embrace all that life has to offer.