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Learn from divorced women

What to Learn from Powerful Divorced Women

We’re seeing a shift in the balance of power right now in our country, as people of all colors finally begin to unite in a growing and vocal collective against systemic racism, following the murder of George Floyd. As it ties into the subject of this piece, it’s important to note something that women and people of color have known for centuries and what we as women and as humans need to remember as we each face whatever struggle we encounter and whatever frightens us into silence, compliance, or complaisance: power is not the most meaningful, the most wrenchingly beautiful, at the peak of the mountain when the hard climb is over and we’re looking out over the territory of pain we’ve conquered. It is most meaningful when we are still down in the mud, pulling our feet free one trembling, breath-tearing step at a time. That power is something we are seeing now and have seen time and time again as we learn from divorced women.

Facing our fears requires the most of us when we are still stuck, still terrified or frozen in the comfort of stillness itself. When we finally gather ourselves, reach toward whatever slippery branch or hand is there, push past the inertia, and embrace the ungodly mess that the most valuable changes require—that’s when power is most pure: before the success.

What we can learn from divorced women

That’s where we are again as a nation, and that’s where some of us are with our marriages and our self-partnering. So, look to the success stories and learn from divorced women who have made it to the height of the mountain, but let’s not forget that the most hard-won and overlooked power occurs in those first faltering steps.

Tabatha

Outspoken, red-headed, and strong-minded, Tabatha is a vibrant example of how much you can shine when you’re not buried by someone else’s lack of personal accountability, hampered by their emotional negligence, or tarnished by their lack of respect for you. A veteran small business owner, she established Tabatha’s Hair Design in December 2003 and is happily back to work now that Washington State has entered Phase 2 of the Covid-19 reopening.

She’s also a survivor and living proof that while much abuse and betrayal comes from external sources, it also comes from within your own home. Pulling yourself up afterward is grueling and takes courage women often don’t know they have until they reach for it, but it can be done.

“I woke up one morning and told my Ex-husband* (he was my boyfriend at the time) that I was buying a salon. Within eight weeks, Tabatha’s was open and running. I married him the following year, October 2004. By February 2005, he decided to quit his job and spent most of our marriage unemployed while my sweat and tears kept Tabatha’s open. Then, in April 2007, I received a phone call from a stylist who worked at a different salon, telling me that my husband’s mistress was there bragging about sleeping with my husband. I was devastated. We had just bought our house in March 2006.

When I confronted him, he denied everything, and I became everything I’d always disliked: I became doubting and insecure, checked his phone, figured out his email password, drove to his work to make sure he was actually there. It came to the point that I didn’t recognize myself.

I stayed with him for a couple more years, trying to forgive, trying not to be insecure. But I was never going to trust him again. Finally, in late August 2009, I put an air mattress and all his belongings in the spare bedroom and, after a couple weeks of that, told him I’d have a restraining order against him if he wasn’t out by Labor Day weekend. Then I packed up my 10-year-old daughter and left.

Since then, I’ve learned that I’m stronger than I ever thought, but I’ve also learned to be gentle with my emotions and feelings. I’m allowed to cry. My voice and my opinion count. I’m worthy of love—from me to myself and love from others. It’s okay to mourn the loss of my marriage, like it was a death. A part of me died the day the judge pronounced me divorced.

As the first of my siblings to divorce, I felt like a failure. What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I make it work? I should have done more; I should have been the perfect wife. It’s only cheating…well, that’s ‘only’ deception on the deepest level. I’ve learned that I’m no one’s second choice. I’m only as worthy as I treat myself.

Now I teach my younger friends in the hopes that they can learn from divorced women: be a diamond. Pebbles get tossed, kicked aside, but we value diamonds. Be the precious stone you are, and shine.”

Susan

Always ahead of the curve, Susan was one of the first among her friends to get divorced back in the 1980s. Now 72, she is the embodiment of strong female energy: wise and no-nonsense, very dry and very funny.

“I learned early on, the hearse doesn’t come with a luggage rack,” she still says, to give perspective. “You’ve got to pick what matters most—and it’s usually stuff you can’t carry on your back.

How many people do you know who are miserable, married to a lifestyle, the trappings, the house, the shopping they can’t give up? I tell you: a lot of women. They are confused about happiness.”

Liza Caldwell

Liza is SAS for Women’s Cofounder, divorce coach, and an entrepreneur.

“I was a high functioning depressive,” Liza laughs. “And sometimes, not so high-functioning. More like pathetic and alone, unable to give words to what I was feeling, just knowing something was wrong. With ME!

Now, when I look back, I see it was exactly that leveling out, that hitting the ground, that also gave me the perspective that I never wanted my girls to experience such hell.

And somehow, that revelation—that I didn’t want my girls to experience it, but there I was living it in real time, modeling it to my girls, is what woke me up! So, think about that: Who is watching you? Forget society. Who is looking up at you and watching from the ground?”

Holly

A public school teacher who has bloomed since her divorce, Holly now nourishes others even better than before because she learned how to do that for herself.

“You have not a clue—except a part of you does—of how freaking great it can be on the other side of divorce!” says Holly, smiling widely.

You can’t, except to imagine how much time you put into coping with your NOW. Think about how much time you spend talking inside your head about your issues, how you’ll survive, or who is right and who is wrong. And then take stock of how much you do externally, in the real world, to appear ‘normal.’ When you truly think about this, you soon realize how much energy you spend trying to restore balance to your world when in fact, it’s out of whack. Now imagine all that is gone, and you are not experiencing that conflict or tension between what you think, feel, and know—with who you are in the real world. You’re not pretending anymore. Especially not to yourself.”

Stella

Edgy, articulate, and ruthlessly organized, Stella learned the hard way that sometimes you have to leave your tribe—even the one you are conditioned from your earliest upbringing to accept and conform to—in order to save yourself.

“My church pressured me to marry Henry and failed to give me information I should have been given, and he did not provide. He decimated me financially. He bled our accounts before I realized what was going on and then stole checks from me and forged my signature. Only my pastor was willing to stand with me in court. I was talking to this woman (a fellow congregant) afterward, when I was broken, and she wanted me to remember what a great day it was the day Henry and I got married! Just clueless…

The pressure they exerted—which I did cave to—to marry Henry brought me to a sorry, suicidal pass. Some of them never recognized that if they had told me information I deserved to know, instead of pressuring me to marry him, it would have been a different story.

I miss going to church and that community I had before Henry flipped out and returned to using (his 24-year-old daughter died of cancer and as a result—not having developed good coping —he returned to using drugs), but I’m not sure I will ever return to church.”

Addicts are often charming, charismatic, and adept liars. Even educated and experienced people can be convinced by their stories. Stella, who worked in community mental health as a case manager at the time of her marriage, is a great example of this, as well as a great example of a woman who got out anyway, despite the toll it took and the brutal self-honesty it required of her.

“I was not ostracized (by my church), but Henry was given more credence than I was by some members. Not my pastor. He was a newer pastor to our congregation, and he was always wonderful. He supported my decision when I left the church. I got to where I didn’t feel like I belonged and that was about the time I began to work with a Christian therapist who provided perspective. I would encourage Christians to seek Christian therapists.

I really work on not blaming others for my choices or for my ultimate decision to cave to the pressure I felt from the folks at church. I made a number of piss-poor decisions, and I don’t think any of them ever had an intention to harm. They just thought they were being good Christians…we are all affected by our own experiences.”

Lexi

This Gen-Xer has been many things and charmed many men. A Daughter of the American Revolution, a lawyer and an art teacher, she’s potty-mouthed, eclectic, and brazen whenever she can be. Her work has made her an award-winning journalist, Army Basic Camp graduate, river boat waitress, veterinary assistant, and stripper (she says she needed a plane ticket, but really, she just liked it). Even roguish women, though, can make the mistake of becoming atrophied by their comfort zones.

Lexi allowed the comfort trap—paired with a liking for alcohol that was the result of nature, nurture, and it being woven into her relationship with her husband—to have too big a role in her life. When she finally acknowledged that to herself, she also acknowledged that if she was going to come back to herself and rediscover both her gifts and her own wholeness, she was going to have to leave her marriage to do it.

 

“I had to learn how to partner myself, and I did. I have regrets, but I’ve learned from every mistake I made, and I’m finally firing on all pistons in a way I never have before. I’m happy, I’m free, and I’m whole.”

Penny

Also potty-mouthed and outspoken, Penny is a devoted mom of two, grandmother of two, a staunch animal advocate, and a former eighteen-year-old bride who had to face making it on her own in order to leave the comfortable numbness that was her marriage and her cage.

“The guy I’ve been seeing for two years, he tells me he loves me and I’m like, ‘I’m sorry,’” she laughs. Penny laughs a lot, which generally makes the people around her laugh, too.

“I’ve never told him I love him. He knows I’m never going to call him my boyfriend. He’s fun and the sex is quite fabulous, but I don’t want to be tied down ever again.

I have enough in savings from the divorce that I can buy a house if I want to, but I don’t want to. I like the idea of being able to pick up and go. I don’t want to have to answer to anybody. I want to be selfish. Everything will be my own decision, and if I f*&k up, it’s on me. If I want to go out with someone, I can. If I don’t want to cook dinner, I don’t have to. I don’t want to have to consider someone else.

Being divorced gives me a huge sense of relief. Marriage was like being in prison. Now that I’m out, I’m like ‘Woohoo!!’ Why would I want to go back? When I was married, I was suppressed. I was under someone’s thumb. He argued with me about everything, had to be right about everything. Nothing I said was ever right. It was constant, and I just started avoiding him. You get to the point where you don’t engage in a conversation because you know you’re going to lose. I was not being my own authentic self.

There were fun times peppered in, but it was only if I agreed to everything he wanted. And the sex was horrible. I was like, ‘I’m going to die miserable, and I’m going to die without ever having had a proper orgasm.’ And oh, dear God, now? It’s a whole new world! I’m like, this is what I’ve been missing? Most of the men now rock my world and it’s all about me, and when you have that, you don’t mind giving back.

He was just on me like a pecking chicken…he’d ask these rhetorical questions all the time, just to argue his point; it felt like being in a never-ending Jeopardy episode, and I never had the right answer.

My main reason to stay in it was the kids. And I was afraid he’d use them against me, in any way he could, as leverage to get me to do what he wanted or just to have power, like he did with the dogs. So, I focused on them. I was involved in everything and put all my energy into them because he was exhausting.

I was a second income, but I didn’t make the money—there was this fear of making my own living—that was terrifying. Then finally, he got fired from his job. He got a job in Kuwait and then another one in Alaska, and it was [in Alaska that] he had an affair. And it was a huge relief because I finally had an excuse to ask him for a divorce.

I found a text. I found a lot of things. He had also gone on match.com and was flirting with a couple girls who he ended up being friendly with, but I sat with that affair information for three weeks. My friend was like ‘I would have chopped something off if I had found those texts!’ I was like, ‘No, don’t you get it? That’s the thing. This is my ticket out. Now I have a reason.’ He was a gas lighter. He would have figured out a way to make it my fault and make me wrong, but this was rock-solid.

I got the date of the divorce and ‘RIP’ tattooed on my back next to our anniversary date. I love that tattoo—you need to take time for yourself and figure out what you want. Go to therapy, and do it for yourself. Live your life being your own authentic self. Figure it out. I wasn’t strong enough back then, but I always knew I was strong and I figured it out.”

Elaine

Elaine is a multi-million-dollar real estate agent and early Baby Boomer who divorced her husband and took on the challenges of earning her real estate license and continuing to raise and provide financial support for four children single-handedly.

“I watched my husband sit and spin his dreams about the invention ideas he had and never do anything to make them a reality for years. It wasn’t until he hit my oldest son that I decided enough was enough.

Something inside me just snapped.

I said to myself, ‘That’s it. I’m not letting him drain this family or tear my children down any more. I can do this better, alone or not.’”

Naomi

With a background that includes a Phi Beta Kappa ranking from Penn State University, a master’s degree from UCLA, and certifications in human resource management and spiritual coaching, Naomi embodies a highly-educated, highly self-aware approach to her life. She also embodies the (perhaps) harder-won wisdom that even the smartest, most educated women sometimes need help and should not be ashamed to ask for it or learn from other divorced women.

“Right after the divorce, the biggest thing I had to learn was that I needed to ask for help. I stayed in a relationship longer than I wanted to because I was afraid to be alone and afraid to not be able to make decisions myself. Once I was past the initial shock of the situation, I started to really, really love the ability to make my own decisions. I got to make choices about things I liked and didn’t like and return to myself without interference. And I also had to lean on other people, ask for help, [and] be willing to be vulnerable and make mistakes. I needed time to heal. It could not be on anyone else’s schedule, and it took longer than some of my friends had patience for. That’s fine. Those weren’t the friends I talked to about it after that, but I didn’t need to cut them out of my life, either.

We need different people for different aspects of our life. Don’t expect people to be your emotional crutch if they don’t have the capacity to do that. Trust yourself to heal and take the time to do it.”

Leaving your marriage behind might be one of the most difficult choices you ever have to make, but if there’s one thing we hope you learn from divorced women it’s that your future is yours. You will get through this.

Jennifer Bent is a freelance writer and former journalist living on the West Coast. Nicknamed Verbose at a young age, she loves word craft but has to keep a short leash on her fondness for the profane. Jennifer enjoys her cat’s input on her rough drafts (talk about snark) and the freedom of being her own partner. Connect with Jennifer here.

SAS women are those amazing ladies you meet who are entirely committed to rebuilding their lives after divorce—on their own terms. If you are discerning, newly divorced and independent, you are invited to experience SAS for Women firsthand and schedule your free, 15-minute, private consultation. Whether you work further with us or not, we’ll help you understand what your next, black and white steps are for walking into your BRAVE unknown.

*We support same-sex marriages. For the sake of simplicity in this article, however, we refer to your spouse as your “husband” or a “he.”

Woman searching for an online divorce support group

Joining an Online Divorce Support Group? 4 Questions to Consider Before Making Any Decisions

Divorce is one of the most difficult transitions you’ll ever face. So, it’s important for you to build a great support team to help you get through it. And one of the easiest ways to get the support you need as your marriage ends is to join an online divorce support group.

Yet, easy support doesn’t always mean quality support or even the type of help you need. Not all online divorce support groups are the same.

Some support groups are simply unmoderated chat rooms. Others are part of a large organization that provides a standard set of materials for facilitators to use. And then there are groups like the ones you might find on Meet Up that fall anywhere in between.

Due to the immense differences in what defines an online divorce support group, you need to spend time researching what each group has to offer before participating.

Here are four questions you’ll want to consider before joining any online divorce support group.

1. How will the group protect your confidentiality?

One of the main purposes of joining a support group is to give yourself a safe space to share what you’re going through. You’ll need to know there’s zero chance of someone in the group using something you’ve said against you.

Only in a very secure environment will you dare to be honest and vulnerable, which is important to your divorce recovery. By owning and understanding your vulnerability you will begin the process of healing.

Some groups provide confidentiality by asking members to use pseudonyms instead of their real names. They also prevent members from connecting outside of the group’s online environment.

Other groups offer no provision for confidentiality and rely upon each member to police herself. Unfortunately, this makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to do the healing work you need to do because you may not feel safe.

Another way online divorce support groups offer confidentiality is with an agreement you enter upon joining the group. The group facilitator may have a document each member must sign to join, or s/he may make the agreement part of the underlying terms of membership.

Whatever method of confidentiality the group provides, it’s up to you to decide whether those terms make you feel safe in your vulnerability.

2. Who is facilitating the online divorce support group?

If the group you’re interested in has a facilitator or two, you’ll want to know more about them before joining.

The best facilitators are those who have a deep understanding of divorce. They are typically divorce coaches, therapists, or seasoned facilitators who have been through divorce themselves.

Another vital role the facilitator plays is keeping the group on task and focused on the topic. Due to the nature of divorce and the emotional drama involved, it’s natural that some participants have a hard time not talking … on and on. A good facilitator will listen for those who are not speaking and encourage them to share, while also managing those who dominate so the group progresses, feels fair, and stays on point.

You’ll want to contact the facilitator before joining the group to learn more about his/her background and experience. By interacting with the facilitator, you’ll get a good feel for who this person is and whether the group is right for you.

If the facilitator does not provide a means for you to contact or interact with him/her before joining the group, then don’t join. That means the facilitator is not interested in getting to know you as an individual. They are more interested in filling their group up and getting paid.

3. Does the group have a clear structure?

The best online divorce support groups are carefully organized and not just open forums for kvetching.

Ideally, you’ll want a group that has a regular meeting time so you can count on getting support. A regular meeting time makes it easier to plan around your job or find childcare (should you need it). A regular schedule forces you to make time for yourself, this subject, and your growth.

To get the most out of the group, it’s critical to know the topic of each meeting in advance. This will allow you to not only verify that the topics meet your needs but also to prepare for each session.

You should also look for the stated outcome of participating in the group. A meaningful program will have a specific intention for each of the members to achieve. It’s this intention that will give you greater insight into how the facilitator will guide the group.

4. How does the group build a sense of community?

Joining an online divorce support group is about becoming part of a community so you don’t feel so alone and isolated. Ideally, the group is full of individuals who are willing to give and receive support by honestly and respectfully relating their experiences, questions, and insights.

But a community isn’t created just because you attend meetings together.

You and the other group members build a community within each session by openly discussing questions and sharing experiences. Outside of each session, you continue to do so by sharing challenges (if desired) and supporting one another.

Joining a good, vetted (look for testimonials) online divorce support group can be one of the best gifts you give yourself if you are considering, or have decided to, end your marriage. The group can provide you with the safety, camaraderie, resources, convenience, and experience you will likely need to navigate knowledgeably the transition from married to divorced.

Yet, because not all divorce support groups are the same, you’ll need to do some research before joining any. Will the group provide you with a safe place to heal, learn, and build the foundation for the next phase of your life?

Since 2012 smart women around the world have chosen SAS for Women to help them through the emotional and often times complicated experience of divorce. For support, guidance and next steps if you are contemplating or beginning the process of divorce, consider Annie’s Group, our virtual, LIVE divorce support community & program teaching you what a woman MUST KNOW about divorce.

If you are rebuilding your life after divorce, discover who you are, what makes you tick, and what makes you soar as you connect with the right support​ and direction. Join us for our virtual group coaching class, Paloma’s Group, a comprehensive blueprint for starting fresh and designing the life you deserve. Space is limited.

A woman in a bathtub contemplating what divorce does to a woman

What Divorce Does to a Woman: You and Your Money

The chances are fairly good that if you are a woman with school-age children and you are looking at getting divorced, you are facing a drain on your financial resources with no fast recovery in sight.

While marriage generally has a positive effect on financial health—due in part to tax incentives and thousands of laws that favor married couples—divorce is like trying to maintain a house that’s falling apart, money going out faster than it can come in. While sociological studies show that the net worth of each person in a marriage increases 77 percent over the years, that net worth starts to drop four years before divorce. Divorcees experience an average wealth decline of 77 percent.

And what divorce does to a woman is generally worse, because far more than not, women end up as the primary caregivers for a couple’s children, and children—while fulfilling and precious to women and men alike—are also expensive. Since this is a website for women, it would be easy to dismiss that statement as biased, but of the 13.6 million single parents in the United States, only 16 percent of those are single dads.

Divorce takes women with children’s financial resources and chops them in half and then adds expenses like a reduction sauce to the leftovers. For women without paid work of their own and full-time custody of their children, it is often a low-income existence, with approximately one in five women becoming impoverished as a result of divorce. Add to that the fact that, while they’re still married, women are more likely than men to leave paying jobs outside the home to care for the children, thereby siphoning off their financial independence and their workplace skills. And if they needed to file for disability, their lack of “points” in the workforce can later lead to a denial of such claims, leaving them hamstringed by health issues as well as poverty and the lack of mobility that comes with daily childcare.

“While the downturn and the weak economy of recent years have eliminated many of the jobs women held, a lack of family-friendly policies also appears to have contributed to the lower rate. In a (poll) of nonworking adults aged 25 to 54 in the United States, conducted recently, 61 percent of women said family responsibilities were a reason they weren’t working, compared with 37 percent of men,” write Claire Cain Miller and Liz Alderman of the New York Times. “Of women who identify as homemakers and have not looked for a job in the last year, nearly three-quarters said they would consider going back if a job offered flexible hours or allowed them to work from home.”

Pair that inclination to choose child-rearing over career and cost-crippling daycare (or at least the decision to postpone careers until the children are older) with the changing requirements of the work force, and then, add in the tendency in the U.S. toward employment policies that do not favor families or flexible schedules. According to Miller and Alderman, 1993 was the last time the U.S. Congress passed legislation that was family-forward, providing certain workers with 12 unpaid weeks with their newborn babies. All combined, and you have divorced American mothers with a stunted ability to make money.

“Women who worked before, during, or after their marriages see a 20 percent decline in income when their marriages end, according to Stephen Jenkins, a professor at the London School of Economics. His research found that men, meanwhile, tend to see their incomes rise more than 30 percent post-divorce. Meanwhile, the poverty rate for separated women is 27 percent, nearly triple the figure for separated men,” writes Darlena Cunha for The Atlantic in April 2016.

“The main reason women suffer the brunt of divorce’s financial burdens, according to Jenkins, is that during marriage, they are more likely than men to stop working in order to raise kids. ‘The key differences are not between men and women, but between fathers and mothers.’”

But here’s what’s interesting: the research also indicates that women will ask for that divorce anyway, despite the financial strain of it.

In 2015, one Psychology Today source cites a study of more than 2,000 heterosexual couples, stating that women initiated nearly 70 percent of divorces. Another source claims 80 percent. And if newer research is to be trusted, women may have less money and more limited ways to make it after divorce (which does change and can continue to improve, if slowly), but they are also discovering happiness is the surprise that awaits them.

The Huffington Post published a July 2013 article featuring research from London’s Kingston University—research that spanned 20 years and drew feedback from more than 10,000 United Kingdom residents between the ages of 16 and 60. Researchers asked subjects about their happiness before and after certain life events, including divorce. Women generally reported being more content than usual for several years after their divorces, leading the study authors to theorize that:

Women who leave unhappy marriages may end up feeling more unshackled by the break-up than men.

Another survey of 1,060 divorcees discovered that 53 percent of women said they are “much happier” after divorce—using words like “glad,” “celebration,” and “excitement”—while only 32 percent of the men interviewed made the same claim. Other writers have noted that 35 percent of U.K. women surveyed in 2018 said that they felt “less stressed” following the termination of their marriages, and while only 15 percent of men felt higher self-esteem post-divorce, 30 percent of women felt a boost in that regard.

So, what divorce often does to a woman is leave her struggling financially but coming through a divorce also seems to have the effect of making women feel stronger, more alive, and more authentically themselves.

For myself, neither my Ex of 13 years nor I have children of our own, though he is now a stepparent. (I never wanted to be a mother, so this is a happy circumstance for me, though I understand the profound pull to motherhood and respect it—especially if it’s done with thoughtfulness, self-knowledge, and preparation.) He and I had always kept separate bank accounts, yet shared the mortgage and bills equally, and we ended our partnership well, with our friendship intact and financial benefits on both sides. I’m very, very fortunate in this. We ended our partnership because we wanted to be happy and knew we’d taken that path as far as we could with each other. It’s difficult to speak legitimately to what children need when you don’t have any, but I do think that children benefit from having parents who are whole and authentically happy, not just making do, or, far worse, hiding the bruises or crumbling under the insults.

But whether you have children or not, it’s important to understand how divorce can affect your finances. In a 2017 article in The Guardian, a woman named Tracey McVeigh said that, “If I had any advice for women now thinking of getting married, I’d say never, never, never give up your financial independence. No matter how difficult it may seem, keep one toe in the water: it may make the difference between sinking and swimming.” We want you to swim, always. No matter where you are on your divorce journey, keep your head above water.

Jennifer Bent is a freelance writer and former journalist living on the West Coast. Nicknamed Verbose at a young age, she loves word craft but has to keep a short leash on her fondness for the profane. Jennifer enjoys her cat’s input on her rough drafts (talk about snark) and the freedom of being her own partner. Connect with Jennifer here.

Since 2012, SAS for Women is entirely dedicated to the unexpected challenges women face while considering a divorce and navigating the divorce experience and its confusing afterward. SAS offers women six FREE months of email coaching, action plans, checklists and support strategies for you, and your future. Join our tribe and stay connected.

Will marriage become obsolete

Will Marriage Become Obsolete?

With the steady downturn in the number of new marriages and the 40 to 50 percent chance that existing ones will end in divorce, it would be comforting to think that marriage has become obsolete, or that, at the very least, successfully navigating the end of a legally-binding partnership would somehow be written into our DNA, like a migration pattern or an aversion to cilantro. With the coronavirus (COVID-19) impacting our sense of normalcy—putting both marriages and divorces alike on pause, in some cases—many of us find ourselves thinking about the role marriage and companionship play in our lives.

Divorce hasn’t yet been written in our DNA, of course. But if genetics change with our choices over time—and they do—it appears we are getting closer to a DNA-level instinct for divorce or marriage-avoidance. This is an exaggeration, yes, but we’re certainly getting closer to a pervasive social norm that does not include marriage as an assumed preference.

A generational shift

As of 2015, only about half of the adults in the United States claim to live with a spouse. Those adults include five of the six generations currently alive in America today—from the G.I. or Great Generation all the way down to Generation Z—and these generations’ collective attitudes about marriage have shifted dramatically over time. My 102-year-old grandmother’s generation, “The Greats” (born 1901 to 1926), hung in there until the bitter end. If you made a vow, you kept it, despite abuse, dislike, infidelity, and whatever other problem that may have snaked its way into your marriage. For the most part, so did the “Silent Generation,” people born between 1927 and 1945.

The Baby Boomers, though, who account for 77 million people in the US, began to shake things up. This generation (born 1946 to 1965) embraced the civil rights movement, feminism, women joining the work force as a rule rather than as an exception, and television.

The Baby Boomers brought us divorce because a person wasn’t happy—albeit still struggled with its taboo of humiliation that somehow we are not measuring up if we can’t make our marriage work, but still, divorce nonetheless. My generation, Gen Xers, born 1965 through 1980, was the first generation for whom having divorced parents was a common thing.

The result of this shift

Perhaps as a response, my peers have a lower divorce rate than Boomers (the numbers of Baby Boomers ending their marriages doubled in the last 20 years and is on its way to tripling). Gen Xers also waited a lot longer to take vows. When you grow up as a witness to all the ways in which marriage both supports and fails people, it seems only natural that your first inclination would be to approach things differently.

Millennials, for instance, are showing a trend of partnering and having children but avoiding the altar altogether. Only 26 percent of Millennials are actually getting married, down from Gen X’s 36 percent, the Boomers’ 48 percent, and the Silent Generation’s 65 percent.

Will marriage become obsolete?

That’s quite a drop. The youngest of Generation Z, born after 2001, have yet to make their choices about long-term life partnering, but as a population, this generation is larger than the Boomers, so its impact on social norms and potentially our genetic code for mating will be worth measuring.

We are now finding that even in the midst of a global pandemic, people are leaving marriages that no longer serve them. Living together under a quarantine order is, some people are finding, bringing problems in a marriage that once seemed small and easy to ignore to the surface. Divorce rates in China spiked as soon as restrictions lifted.

Even so, marriage has not become obsolete quite yet. But one day marriage may become the exception rather than the rule. One day that rising inclination to say “let’s revisit this conversation every two or three years and see where we are with this thing” (or some version of it) may be the new social norm—but until a union that used to be “forever” is honored as fluid, a dance of choice between two organic, dynamic beings, all we can do is support those who have found that their partnership no longer serves them.

No one wants to go through a divorce, but sometimes it’s the only real option you have. Perhaps by the time Generation Zs are having their second children, what was once considered the only choice—marriage, til death do us part—will have undergone such scrutiny that the idea of it is, as they say, as repellant as cilantro to a certain genetic selection of taste buds.

 

Jennifer Bent is a freelance writer and former journalist living on the West Coast. Nicknamed Verbose at a young age, she loves word craft but has to keep a short leash on her fondness for the profane. Jennifer enjoys her cat’s input on her rough drafts (talk about snark) and the freedom of being her own partner. Connect with Jennifer here.

Since 2012, SAS for Women is entirely dedicated to the unexpected challenges women face while considering a divorce and navigating the divorce experience and its confusing afterward. SAS offers women six FREE months of email coaching, action plans, checklists and support strategies for you, and your future. Join our tribe and stay connected.

Woman looking out window

Your Inner Voice and the 9 Warning Signs of Divorce

It’s funny because it’s true: If it were easy to hear our inner voice, there wouldn’t be so many of us reminding each other how to do it.

And when that voice is telling us that something is rotten in the state of our marriage, or simply that we just don’t fit inside it anymore and we really do need to grasp the nettle, upend our entire life, and end our relationship, we go looking for warning signs of divorce—anything that tells us that it’s truly necessary.

That’s okay. It’s smart and reasonable to investigate the warning signs of divorce when facing that all-encompassing life change. You wouldn’t build a house without a foundation; informing yourself of what the common signs of divorce are lays the stones of your foundation in place. It helps you feel logical and rational during a moment when you might feel anything but.

From the author Carolyn Myss’ advice to “follow your scariest guidance” to Joseph Campbell’s principle of “following your bliss,” it seems as though there are almost as many recommendations to listen to the quiet voice of our spirits as there are people in the world.

That’s because it bears repeating:

That gut instinct is difficult to hear. The voice of our true self, the bigger version of us, the divine, the call, our souls, a higher power, whatever you call it (and it seems that most of us have at least some sense that “it” is there, within and without), is not only quiet and hesitant at first, but we also tend to keep a lid on it because it scares us.

The noise of daily life can be so raucous and distracting—and of course, to a certain extent, we all like our distractions because they help keep us dog paddling in comfortably small circles and our egos too tickled, or tortured, to move. Like a corral, distractions and demands keep us penned up in predictability and apparent safety, surrounded by the familiar voices of our social norms, our families and our peers, muffling the inner voice until we can shrug it off as if we were just imagining it.

We’re not.

Heeding the inner voice

We can try to keep the inner voice quiet, try to cling to the illusion that it’s the illusion, just our imagination running wild. But we’re not imagining it. The voice of the less constrained self, the most authentic, unbound, bursting-out-of-the-corset part of us is there, whispering, urging, beckoning.

The difficulty isn’t so much in hearing it as heeding it.

But, when we do that and do it consistently—often summoning all of our courage and fighting back our worst self-doubting, self-limiting behaviors, beliefs and relationship patterns to do so—is when it gets loud and clear.

We have so much hope tied up in marriage, so much invested in it and long-term partnerships where property, finances, and children are part of the bond. When marriage is good, it is very, very good. But when it is bad…yep, it’s horrid. Now if it started off horrid, right out of the wedding reception gate, it might be easier to shake it off and move on. Let’s do a Horrid Hypothetical just for fun—something Gothically awful. Like, his other wife from a marriage he’s been hiding and lying to you about all along comes rolling up to the curb, right behind your streamer-bedecked ride to the airport as you surge forth, freshly avowed in your white princess dress while your wedding guests blow kisses and shower you with birdseed, and starts throwing red paint all over you for trying to take her man while a Jerry Springer camera crew films the whole thing.

If it went like that, divorce would be an obvious choice. You’d be out of the marriage faster than the dress, and your entire posse of family and friends would rally around you instantly; you’d have no qualms at all. No signs would be needed. But that’s not the way it goes, and we do need to confirm the warning signs of divorce. It’s more like the frog in the frying pan scenario. Toss a frog in a hot pan and it jumps right out, but put it in a cool pan and gradually increase the heat…

Some common warning signs of divorce

It’s usually not obvious. It’s the gradual going wrong that is more typical of marriages that need to end, and it’s the subtle signs, not the Gothically awful, that tell us it’s time to make that happen. Until the inner voice becomes loud and clear and we do as she says with a lot less hesitation, we should identify the signs of heat (and not the fun kind) rising:

  1. Communication breakdowns are pervasive, whether that is chronic defensiveness, criticism, or contempt.
  2. Indifference feels like the rule rather than the exception. You get the feeling that they just don’t care if you’re in the room or not, or vice versa. It takes a crisis to get a mate’s full attention and when it’s over, they drift away again, having checked it off their to-do list.
  3. And while we’re on the to-do list, another sign of impending divorce is when sex becomes an item on that list, more of a task than something that excites and enriches, expresses a fundamental attraction, that draws you out of yourself and your skin with passion and arousal and creates a lovely, sexy bond between the two of you.
  4. The distancing expands to include not just a drop-off in the sexual exchanges but a drop in your desire simply to be in their company. You begin to live more like roommates.
  5. Distancing turns into an outright aversion to being around them.
  6. Your sense of responsibility to that other person begins to feel like an obligation rather than a joy or a gift of time and energy, done with what used to be compassion or at least graciousness.
  7. An addiction or habitual, non-constructive behavior takes precedence over your mate.
  8. You begin to look for—and find—emotional connection with others, which can become emotional affairs.
  9. Sexual affairs—cheating—become justifiable in your mind and perhaps even occur. (This warning sign is not so subtle).

For the most part, though, the signs are subtle, but even more subtle is that inner voice, the song of our authentic self. That voice is quiet, unassuming—at least until we start tuning out the dissonance so we can hear it.

Clarissa Pinkola-Estes, Ph.D. writes about this voice, the archetype it belongs to, in her book “Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype.”

“I call her Wild Woman, for those very words, wild and woman, create llamar o tocar a la puerta, the fairy-tale knock at the door of the deep female psyche…When women hear those words, an old, old memory is stirred and brought back to life. The memory is of our absolute, undeniable, and irrevocable kinship with the wild feminine, a relationship which may have become ghostly from neglect, buried by over-domestication, outlawed by the surrounding culture, or no longer understood anymore. We may have forgotten her names, we may not answer her when she calls ours, but in our bones we know her, we yearn toward her, we know she belongs to us and we belong to her.”

Thankfully, the wild, unbound woman inside us all never stops whispering.

Jennifer Bent is a freelance writer and former journalist living on the West Coast. Nicknamed Verbose at a young age, she loves word craft but has to keep a short leash on her fondness for the profane. Jennifer enjoys her cat’s input on her rough drafts (talk about snark) and the freedom of being her own partner. Connect with Jennifer here.

SAS women are those amazing ladies you meet who are entirely committed to rebuilding their lives after divorce—on their own terms. If you are discerning, newly divorced and independent, you are invited to experience SAS for Women firsthand and schedule your free, 15-minute, private consultation. Whether you work further with us or not, we’ll help you understand what your next, black and white steps are for walking into your BRAVE unknown.

A person considering a marriage annulment or divorce

What is the Difference Between a Marriage Annulment and Divorce?

A marriage annulment may seem like a thing of the past, but the legal process is still very much alive and could be an alternative to divorce.

Annulment of a marriage can take place in both religious and secular societies, although it may be more common in the former. To put it simply, an annulled marriage is a marriage that never happened. It’s void, or voidable, when the marriage took place. Marriages can be considered void for several reasons. But a divorce recognizes that, although the couple is now legally separated, the marriage did take place and was valid at the time.

If you’re thinking about ending your marriage, it’s important to note that laws surrounding a marriage annulment can vary greatly, both from country to country and even within nations. Laws within the US and the UK, for example, differ from each other.

What is an annulment?

Not all places have such a thing as a marriage annulment, and where they do, the laws, processes, and reasons a couple might seek a voided marriage vary greatly. In Wales, for instance, there are restrictions on marriage annulments, and they must normally take place within three years of the date of marriage. In the US, annulments occur for reasons like fraud, bigamy, duress, underage marriage, marriage between close relatives, and mental incapacity (even mental incapacity caused by intoxication, in many states).

Time is also a factor. Normally—although not always—an annulment takes place within the first few years of the marriage. It makes sense that if misrepresentation (see below) is a reason for annulment, that the couple would separate soon after discovering the misrepresentation rather than remaining with a partner. On the other hand, the choice to remain in the marriage could make annulment more difficult, as one partner did consent to remain in the relationship rather than separating. A court may view divorce as a more viable option in this case. But again, it depends on location. In New York state, a marriage could be voidable if there was substantial misrepresentation up to three years after it was discovered.

The history

It may be considered unjust that while a divorce is available to all, annulments are only available to some. The notorious Henry VIII had many marriages annulled, after all. But even in modern times, the examples that come to mind tend to be celebrities (Britney Spears, anyone?) and not so much the everyday people we interact with in our daily lives. But a marriage annulment isn’t available to only the rich and powerful.

Historically, in countries with heavy religious backgrounds or where divorce is not legal, this may be (or may have been) the only option. In some religions, a tribunal must decide whether a marriage was “in some way lacking from the beginning.” The principal is broadly similar—the marriage was not valid at the time; therefore, it is not valid now.

Who may get an annulment as opposed to a divorce?

Although religion does play a part (for example, those with dissolved marriages in the Catholic church can remarry in the church), this is not always the case.

If a partner is dishonest about any of the following: current marital status, having children with a previous partner, intentions of having children (or lack thereof), having a sexually transmitted infection at the time of marriage, criminal history, religion, or any other substantial fact, these could all be treated as grounds for annulment rather than divorce (depending on location). Once again, it comes down to whether the other person would have agreed to the marriage, having known the facts, at the time. Or if a partner was aware of the situation but induced the other partner into thinking that they were happy to proceed with the marriage despite those facts (an example might be a woman who was aware of a man having fathered children with previous partners, only to change her mind later).

Is it necessary or a thing of the past?

The result could be the same. If a married couple who divorces has children, divorce proceedings would decide things like custody, visitation rights, etc. as well as dividing the couple’s assets.

In the case of annulment, let’s say for misrepresentation, the courts may look more favorably at the partner who was misrepresented. The misrepresented facts normally must be substantial (as previously mentioned: dishonesty about marital status, children from previous relationships, criminal history, sexually transmitted infections, religion, or fraud). Misrepresentation is often one key difference between annulment and divorce.

The local or national laws in your area are most likely to dictate whether a marriage annulment is possible for you and what rights partners who have annulled marriages might have. While some may argue that annulments are a thing of the past or only relevant in religious societies, others will argue their advantages in the 21st century. Knowing that your marriage was not valid might provide some comfort and make it easier to start over or find a new partner. But since every relationship is different, the decision to have a marriage annulled or to get divorced is one that couples need to make for themselves.

Beatrix Potter is a professional writer at Write My Essay and Do My Homework writing services. Bea writes about relationships. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling, running and reading a wide range of genres.

Since 2012, SAS for Women is entirely dedicated to the unexpected challenges women face while considering a divorce and navigating the divorce experience and its confusing afterward. SAS offers women six FREE months of email coaching, action plans, checklists and support strategies for you, and your future. Join our tribe and stay connected.

Woman wondering will pain of divorce ever go away

Will the Pain of Divorce Ever Go Away?

Sitting down with this question for the first time, my immediate response was a smile that I felt in my solar plexus. Will the pain of divorce ever go away? Of course it will—no hesitation there.

But that doesn’t mean that leaving or being left by a spouse and coming to grips with the aftermath won’t hurt worse than anything else we’ve experienced. (It might.) Women say that about childbirth, too, of course. People say that about kidney stones and car accidents. We all know the pain is not the same, but that’s not the point. The point is that pain doesn’t often last. It’s temporary—not a state of being.

Feel the grief, feel the pain. Don’t dismiss it, belittle yourself for feeling it, or try to stop it.

That said, there are degrees of pain when it comes to divorce. Getting divorced is harder than being widowed (I’d add by natural causes), for instance, because when our partners die, we don’t have to then watch them go on living without us. We don’t have to watch them choose to leave because we’re “just not doing it” for them anymore or watch as they then find someone else who does. It a visceral kind of hurt when someone who loved you and committed to you decides to throw in the towel—to live wondering why we weren’t enough.

There are divorces we see coming and those we initiate. Those are not as god-awful as the ones we don’t.

I think most of us avoid climbing out on the limb of “this is the worst thing ever,” because it leaves a part of the story untold. But I’m going to climb out halfway here, because I think in getting through pain, it can help to have a point of reference for it. And there’s also a group of divorcees who I feel deserve some recognition.

When your marriage is wrapped up with your identity

I have friends who’ve divorced several times, who divorced after the age of 50 with kids who still depended on them, with more debt than they wanted and less income than they had before and a social or spiritual group now closed to them, living in tiny apartments instead of on wooded acres—and they are thrilled with their new lives, with their freedom. Though they are back in happy relationships, they say they will never, ever marry again. Not because they lost interest, but because they don’t ever want to repeat the experience of being boxed in and being told who they can be.

“I think that marriage as an institution has been a little bit slow to catch up with expectations for gender equality. Wives still take their husbands’ surnames and are sometimes pressured to do so. Husbands still expect their wives to do the bulk of the housework and the bulk of the childcare,” writes Douglas LaBier, Ph.D. “On the other hand, I think that non-marital relationships lack the historical baggage and expectations of marriage, which makes the non-marital relationships more flexible and therefore more adaptable to modern expectations, including women’s expectations for more gender equality.”

Rejoicing in post-marriage freedom comes much harder for some, though. There are many women in middle life (a group whose divorced numbers are increasing exponentially) who give decade upon decade to home, husband, and family, who made that their vocation, only to have their spouses come home one day and pull the marital rug out from under them—effectively ruining not only their life but their living, their context, and their primary source of validation.

Coming out of an era where women were considered adventurous if they became teachers, nurses, or secretaries, when getting married, being a wife and mother, and tending the home were assumed to be the major role they could play in the world, they are suddenly given the message that not only was this huge part of their lives a waste of time but to then go out and make a living on their own—often with no quantifiable skills outside the home. (These “homegrown” skills do actually translate beautifully to the workplace once women get there, but you can’t really make a resume out of them).

Compounding the injury, these women are turned loose in the world by their spouses as if they are merely stray cats at an age when—due to our ridiculously image-driven, youth-obsessed, homogenized-beauty-standard culture that is only just beginning to recognize women of size, color, and silver hair as worthy of being called beautiful—the assets of their youth are seen as diminished, or not seen at all.

As if this all weren’t enough of a slap in the face—the kind of realities of divorce that truly do make women ask themselves will the pain of divorce ever go away—a second wounding is that no one knows what to say to women in this position. Their totally justifiable rage and depression are seen as inappropriate or uncomfortable, and the people closest to them—whose lives they’ve spent their own facilitating—often just want them to hurry up and be fine again because that’s what they’re used to and because they have no idea what it’s like to be in their shoes.

I think that other than outright abuse, this is the most heartbreaking aspect of divorce and is one of those social realities that makes me wish that superhero alternate professions were a real thing.

Believing that there’s life after divorce

However, the pain can and does go away, and it does not have to take a year for every five you were married. Getting on the other side of the pain may take a couple years—the standard estimate—but chances are excellent that it’s not going to fall neatly into a formula. It could take less. We look for relief, for its estimated time of arrival, for obvious reasons. Essentially, we’re looking for the light at the end of that occasionally excruciating tunnel before we get there because it gives us some hard data to bite down on. It reminds us that it’s temporary. Estimates also give us something to point to when the people around us wonder why we still have the urge to throw the radio across the room when Valentine’s Day ads come on.

But pain doesn’t just drift away like a haze. Not only do we have to let it end, we have to make it. We must decide to push through it to the other side.

How do we do that? Well, again, it’s relative to each person, but talking about it with people who know what you’re experiencing AND what they are talking about is critical. Get a divorce coach to get through it and not get taken to the cleaners if you can help it and a therapist to help deal with the emotional aftermath. Some may do both. Your friends are wonderful, especially if they’ve been through it, but there can be bias there. Sometimes they are still dogpaddling out of their own messes and don’t have room for yours, too. Also, exercise. (DO it.) The endorphins are also critical; breaking a sweat regularly (you do not have to make it your life’s work) is as much or more for your mental health as it is for your physical health.

And recall that like giving birth, there is a tremendous reason for celebration in divorce. There is freedom afterward. There is not having to be concerned with anyone else’s opinion of who we are. There’s celebration in being out from under a thumb, and there is celebration in strength; once you’ve endured something like that, you know your own strength in a way you didn’t before—especially for those who didn’t see it coming, who spent decades investing in a spouse and a marriage and then end up with a life operating in the red for a while.

Will the pain of divorce ever go away? Yes, but perhaps not entirely. We bear scar tissue after all. There are stretch marks from divorce. Be proud of them. Celebrate that not only are you here to tell the story of how you got them, you’ve got many more chapters to write, and you do not have to self-edit to please anyone else. You are the only one who gets to decide who you are now. There is tremendous joy in this.

Jennifer Bent is a freelance writer and former journalist living on the West Coast. Nicknamed Verbose at a young age, she loves word craft but has to keep a short leash on her fondness for the profane. Jennifer enjoys her cat’s input on her rough drafts (talk about snark) and the freedom of being her own partner. Connect with Jennifer here.

SAS women are those amazing ladies you meet who are entirely committed to rebuilding their lives after divorce—on their own terms. If you are discerning, newly divorced and independent, you are invited to experience SAS for Women firsthand and schedule your free, 15-minute, private consultation. Whether you work further with us or not, we’ll help you understand what your next, black and white steps are for walking into your BRAVE unknown.

Woman thinking about how to prepare for divorce if you are stay at home mom

How to Prepare for Divorce If You Are a Stay-At-Home-Mom

When you have built your life around your relationship and family—even considering leaving that life behind can make you feel like a complete fraud. So how do you prepare for divorce if you are a stay at home mom? (Or STAHM.) When, sometimes, it seems like the real question you’re asking yourself is less should I get a divorce and more can I get a divorce?

Because it’s true, money does seem to make the world go round. Researchers at Boston University have learned that marriages in which both partners have their own careers and incomes are less likely to end in divorce. The stress of being the sole provider for your household can feel insurmountable. It’s not just about how much money you bring in—it’s about stability and how prepared you might be for the future. If you’re your family’s sole provider, then what happens if you lose your job? What happens if you pass away? If you get hit with an unexpected and large expense? How many more opportunities would you and your family have if you had two incomes to live on?

If you’re struggling to figure out how to prepare for divorce if you are a stay at home mom, the unknown—what, exactly, comes after divorce—might seem more precarious than it does for other women because suddenly it feels like there is no safety net. Even if the decision to stay at home and take care of your home and family or let your partner handle the family finances was mutual, there’s a resounding sense of shame that comes when you decide it’s a life you no longer want.

But you are allowed to want something different for yourself. You’re allowed to look toward the future and shape the life you want. We’re here to remind you that it’s all possible and you are allowed.

Start a dialogue, first with yourself and then with others

If you’re wondering how to prepare for divorce if you are a stay at home mom, start by giving yourself permission to have a conversation with yourself (your true self, that voice you’ve been ignoring). Take your time. Thinking about divorce doesn’t mean the same thing as getting a divorce. You might feel isolated and alone during this time, but the reality is that you’re far from it. There are so many women out there in the same place as you—or women who have already made it through their own divorce journey, realizing that there is life on the other side.

Once you open up to others, that feeling will begin to dissipate. In our virtual divorce support group and class, Annie’s Group, we hear the relief women feel once connected to the other women in the group—a deep sense of relief that comes with listening to other women’s situations, sharing our own, and understanding that the path we’re on is well-trodden.

For perspective and holistic feedback on your situation, you might have a conversation with a divorce coach.  A coach will often provide you with a free consultation, because no one understands exactly what they do. They have to explain and demonstrate how they help. A coach can anchor you, give you an idea of the lay of the land and help you understand what decision making looks like. If appropriate they might point you to which questions to ask your lawyer and help you prioritize and sequence the steps you need to take to address — not only your legal situation — but also your emotional, financial, maternal and practical needs. Get organized, one step at a time

When we do nothing, we get stuck in a cycle filled with habit and routine. We feel simultaneously like our lives are happening far too quickly and also like we’re standing still, watching it all pass us by in a blur. We feel overwhelmed and anxious. Take your future into your own hands by getting your ducks in a row, preparing yourself for the legal, financial, and emotional aspects of divorce.

Study the divorce laws in your state. (Don’t do a deep dive, but research enough to understand what your state’s divorce laws say about alimony and child support. Then stop.) Collect your financial records so you save time and money later on. But be sure to keep these documents in a safe place, away from the prying eyes of your husband* (a safety deposit box, a friend or family member—someone you can trust). Monitor your credit score to ensure that your husband has not negatively impacted it unbeknownst to you and that you’ll have more financial leverage when you’re on your own. Open up a post office box so that your soon-to-be Ex doesn’t have access to mail that may be confidential, like correspondence from your attorney or new credit and bank accounts.

Which brings us to…

Figure out your finances

If you have children, finances can be the thing that repeatedly holds you back from moving forward with a divorce. Statistically, both married and single STAHMs are less educated than their working counterparts—for the former, 42% have at most a high school diploma compared to 64% for the latter. Not having a college degree can make finding a job later in life more difficult, particularly a well-paying job with benefits like health care or retirement plans. Married STAHMs are nearly twice as likely to be foreign born as married and working mothers, too. Barriers based on both culture and language become more reasons to stay in an unhappy marriage.

But think about what your children witness everyday they live under your roof—how can you create a healthier and happier life for all of you? Can you really afford to do nothing? For women, one of the first steps we can take when thinking about divorce is becoming more financially independent. If your husband controls your funds, then how can you access the money you’ll need to hire a lawyer or pay for everyday expenses? As soon as possible, start setting aside money for the fees that come along with a divorce and your future living expenses.

Embrace the unknown

There’s such a thing as the sunk cost fallacy—we continue a path that is no longer serving us or our best interests because we’ve already invested so much time, energy, and resources into the journey. If you’re a STAHM, this might be something you struggle with when it comes to thinking about divorce: I’ve invested too much of myself in this relationship. I have to make it work. If I simply do more of X, Y, or Z, then maybe things will finally get better. What will people think? You keep waiting for something to change, only it never does.

We prefer to live the life we know, so afraid of what we might find after divorce because it represents the vast unknown. Our identities are wrapped up inside our relationship, deeply connected to our partner—who are we if we let go?

Life doesn’t stop—the beauty and the pain, they aren’t going anywhere. But sometimes we are moving through life on autopilot, so worried about hitting certain milestones or reaching the goal faster than everyone else that we forget to pause and ask ourselves: what do I actually want? Not the version of me that made vows and plans for my future, but the version of me that exists now.

You can still prepare for divorce if you are a stay at home mom. You had a plan, yes. Now you have to throw the plan out and start from scratch. Grab a blank sheet of paper, sharpen your pencil, and allow yourself to dream again. Thinking about divorce and exploring your options is the first step toward a life that is truly your own.

Since 2012, SAS for Women is entirely dedicated to the unexpected challenges women face while considering a divorce and navigating the divorce experience and its confusing afterward. SAS offers women six FREE months of email coaching, action plans, checklists and support strategies for you, and your future. Join our tribe and stay connected.

*This piece was written for SAS for Women, an all-women website. At SAS we respect same-sex marriages, however, for the sake of simplicity in this article we refer to your spouse as a male.

Woman walking on beach thinking about divorce

36 Things to Do If You Are Thinking About Divorce

If you are thinking about divorce, your thoughts can fluctuate, ranging from the mere, fleeting imaginings of what life might be like if you were single, to the repetitive, torturous thought process of “Should I or shouldn’t I divorce?” While one end of the spectrum is entirely normal for many people, the other end can signal serious problems in and for a marriage.

Based on our background in education and experience working with clients in our divorce practice, we’ve identified the following 36 things that can help you understand where you are on the spectrum of contemplating divorce and what steps you can take to gain greater clarity and stop the recurring thought process.

As you complete each step you will be doing more than merely thinking about divorce. You will begin to better understand which direction your marriage and life might go.

  1. As you first contemplate divorce, you may or may not know if you want to divorce. Accept that this is entirely normal. What you “want” may be entirely different from what you ultimately decide you “must” do. Your job right now is to study and learn what is possible for you and your family.
  2. Educate yourself. It’s likely that you feel you’ve reached an impasse in your marriage and your emotions may be all over the place. You might be incredibly angry and lashing out. Or perhaps you have retreated, feeling despondent, probably depressed. This is to be expected, but you should not be making long-term decisions from this emotional place. Start educating yourself by looking for credible divorce resources. Visit your nearby bookstore or search online. There is a wealth of information available to you for free.
  3. Understand that getting educated about the choices you have for your life does not mean you are necessarily getting divorced. You are learning about your options and what your rights are so you can ultimately make a good decision from an informed place.
  4. Establish a new (secret) email account dedicated to this subject. Take care to use a “private” or “incognito” window so that the computer does not create a history of where you’ve been when you go to log on. And take time to create a new email address. Use this email to sign up for divorce information and newsletters that might advance your thinking and understanding.
  5. Save cash. Should you decide to pursue divorce, you will need access to money. If all your money is in joint accounts with your spouse, check with a lawyer as to when you can open your own account, or start stashing cash in a safe, secret place. Maybe you’ll never need it, but if you do, you’ll be glad you started saving now.
  6. If you feel you may be a victim of abuse, take action immediately.  There are many signs and forms of abuse, and sometimes it’s difficult to know if you are a victim. A clear sign is this: If you find yourself constantly watching what you are saying and doing, or walking on eggshells around your spouse–lest you trigger him/her and “cause” a blow up, you are likely in an unhealthy and abusive relationship.  Focus your attention there.  Read more about this and take action to protect yourself and your children. You may feel you can handle it, but things will not improve unless you do something to change the way things are now.
  7. Make a list of your most critical financial questions.  If you divorce, will you have to get a job if you’ve been a stay-at-home-mom? If you have debt, do you understand half the marital debt is yours? Should you use your IRA to help pay for your divorce? Keep a running list of questions as they occur to you.
  8. Be careful in whom you confide – this includes family.  Few people can be truly objective, and fewer still are marriage or divorce experts. Yet, there are plenty of opinions and judgements. Just because your neighbor got burned by his ex, does not mean that’s what’s in store for you if you choose to divorce.
  9. Do your best to conduct your research from a healthy mindset. It’s easy to vilify and blame your spouse for the problems that exist, but deep down, you know no one is totally faultless. As you learn about the issues in your marriage and what is possible for your lives, try to avoid the adversarial, vindictive, blame-gaming, and often, gender-bashing attitudes some books, some social media posts, or some people propagate.
  10. Evaluate your biggest fears. Do you fear you cannot “afford a divorce?” Are you afraid what divorce would do to your kids and thus, staying in a marriage “for the kids”?  Writing down your fears may help you examine their validity.  You may recognize you cannot not afford a divorce because you need your sanity…or that you are really hiding behind the kids so that you don’t have to be a single parent or face being alone.
  11. Think of how your kids are being impacted now and will be impacted long term. If you are a parent, and you and your spouse are fighting, look at yourselves as your kids might view you. You may think they don’t know what’s going on, but on some level they do, and it’s anxiety inducing for them. Your lack of clarity and unresolved difficulties or the warzone you have created is playing out in their lives, too.
  12. Avoid venting on social media. Watch out for where you vent and be wary of social media. If you say something online, it’s there forever and can be used against you. Same for emails. Before posting or hitting SEND, review what you are saying as if you were a courtroom judge. Be very careful.
  13. Recognize that marriage does not come with an owner’s manual. In our culture, most of us are poorly prepared for making a marriage work. Often it is something we learn — or fail to learn — behind the marital door. At this point in your relationship, it’s not worth beating yourself up…that energy is better spent figuring out what to do about your situation today and how you will move forward tomorrow.
  14. Ask yourself, is there is any love left? Do you still love your spouse? Love is sometimes hard to find when you are consumed by anger, resentment, or are stressed out from overworking, parenting, or a million, everyday struggles. If there’s even a hint of love left, however, it’s worth asking the question, “Can we re-ignite it?”
  15. If you decide to stay in the marriage, set your intention and begin work together. Discuss with your spouse how you are going to work on your marriage so you begin to do things differently and not repeat the same old story. It’s unlikely that you will be able to do this without the support of a professional, so we suggest that you seek a trained marriage counselor.
  16. Evaluate what you have done as a couple to repair your relationship. Have you sought good quality help? Not all couples therapy is created equal. If you’re working with a therapist and you’re not making progress, it does not mean you should necessarily divorce. Investigate which types of marital therapy have the best success rates and find a trained practitioner who will teach you how to communicate with each other and help you both understand that growth and change require a deep commitment from both of you.
  17. Consider Discernment Counseling. Particularly helpful to couples where one partner wants to divorce and the other wishes to repair the relationship, discernment counseling helps couples understand if their problems are solvable. An added benefit is that the counseling is designed to be short term and to help you answer the important question, “Should we get a divorce?”
  18. Think about your role in the difficulties of the marriage and do not isolate yourself. If you are convinced that marital therapy is not working or that your spouse is not participating, or that your efforts to try to do things differently are failing, do not isolate yourself. Seek to move beyond wondering if you should divorce. Being alone darkens your sense of possibility and hope. It keeps you in a spin cycle of overthinking.
  19. Begin assembling a list of your most critical legal questions. Do you separate or do you divorce? If you were to divorce, how do you go about it? Do you know the different ways? Is Mediation an option for you? How do you find a good attorney? What are your rights? What do you not know?
  20. Read about the divorce laws in your state. Laws vary and what is possible in one state may not be possible in yours.  Most states have a section on the court website to help you understand the divorce process where you live. Start there.
  21. Consider a Time Out. Often when there’s a physical shift between a couple, it’s easier to think straight and reflect on what is really important. Consider taking a long vacation away from the other, or a house-sitting job. If you wish to live separately make sure you consult with an attorney in your state before doing anything — especially if you have children.
  22. Organize and prioritize your most critical practical questions. If you’ve never paid the bills before, how would you begin?  If you work overtime most days, who would be home for the children after school — if your spouse is no longer there? Keep a running list and add to it as you think of things.
  23. Move beyond the cyclical thought process of thinking about divorce by consulting compassionate, professional support. We recommend your first step be a consultation with a divorce coach. A divorce coach can help you understand the legal and emotional process you may be facing and the issues that are holding you back from making a decision. A good divorce coach will help you evaluate what’s real and not, and help you take steps to face your fears. A divorce coach can also explain the different legal processes that may be available to you. Learning about your choices will allow you to go deeper and be more educated if you choose to then consult with the next level of experts (lawyers, financial advisors, mediators) whose hourly rate is often more expensive.
  24. Ask your divorce coach, therapist, and friends for vetted referrals to other experts, including lawyers. You are seeking perspective and feedback on your situation, and if you think you are ready to hire someone, you are looking for chemistry and someone you can trust.
  25. Schedule consultations with several attorneys and/or a mediator.  We recommend that you interview several. Bring your legal questions from step #19, or for more information, read here for additional questions. Don’t forget your notebook for taking notes and your last 3 years’ tax returns (if possible.)
  26. Consider having your friend or divorce coach accompany you to some or all of these professional meetings. There is a lot to learn and keep track of at the same time you are feeling stressed. Having an ally to help you take notes and bounce ideas off after meetings will lessen your strain on trying to be on top of everything.
  27. Strategize about how you might pay for a divorce. Will you use joint money, a loan, a credit card, your secret stash (#5), or borrow money from a friend or relative or from a saving account or your IRA? Learn the laws about “counsel fees” in your state and ask the attorneys you are interviewing how you might pay their retainer and ongoing fees.
  28. Branch out and talk to more experts who can help you answer your other questions. Often a financial advisor experienced in divorce will think of things a lawyer will not mention. S/he can possibly help you strategize how you might pay for a divorce or what might be in your interest to ask for in the settlement. A child therapist who has counseled other parents through divorce may do much to help you support your child. A real estate broker might advise you on your practical housing questions, such as the pros and cons of renting vs. buying if you divorce, or what your house might be appraised for. When a question comes to mind, think about who is out there and who might have the answer for you.
  29. Understand there will come a tipping point and you will make a decision about divorce. Despite your best efforts to get educated beyond just thinking about divorce, rarely will you know 100 percent if you should or should not follow through. Usually there remains some portion of ambivalence, but know that at some moment in time, you will reach a saturation point of information and either you’ll be ready to make the decision to stay or go — or the decision will be forced upon you.
  30. You are not ready for divorce If you cannot accept changes. If you cannot accept there will be a change to your finances, lifestyle, friendship groups, or traditions, you are not ready for divorce. If you cannot accept uncertainty … that at times there will be fear and unknowns, then you are not ready for divorce. On the other hand, you may have no choice. In which case, you must face your greatest fears. Seek support.
  31. If you decide to move ahead with the divorce, set your intention. Determine how you want to conduct yourself throughout this difficult passage and beyond. Remind yourself you will have no control over your spouse, but you will try your best to control how you act and react. If you have children, ask yourself what is the model you want to show them? Write down the image of yourself as the parent you want to be. Establishing a clear image of who you want to be and what you want to demonstrate for your kids will help you in this next often-difficult stage.
  32. Understand that you want to avoid divorce court if you can help it. Rarely is anyone completely happy with the terms of his/her divorce, but to avoid getting a judge involved, you will have to be flexible, negotiate in good faith, and compromise on tough issues. Being stubborn or vindictive is what drives people to litigation. That means court. (The truth is that less than 10% of cases end up in a full blown trial; but those that do, end up with massive legal bills and a destroyed relationship.)
  33. Start collecting your financial information.  If you choose to begin divorce proceedings, you will be required to disclose your finances early in the process. Most states have a required financial statement form (though different states have different names for it — check your state court website). Begin filling it out or hunting down the information to get a head start.
  34. Learn what your next steps are and what the process will look like. A divorce coach will act as your guide throughout the process, but if you are not working with one (or cannot afford one at this time) consider a good divorce support group that is professionally facilitated and where you will learn from the experiences of other women.  Read this article to learn meaningful criteria for a good divorce support group, and find one on-line or near you. Feeling supported and heard, will lessen your anxiety and stress.
  35. Be kind to yourself. Understand that there will be times you feel crazy, like you’ve returned to your old loop of contemplating divorce and wondering if you are doing the right thing. But because you followed many of these steps, you are not embarking on this path lightly. You have taken every opportunity to be thoughtful about facing this major life-change, divorce, and though you many not desire this outcome, you have done your homework.
  36. Know that there is life after divorce. What stands directly in front of you is moving through the divorce process and ensuring your divorce recovery. It will be challenging. But for you and your family to stand the best shot at a healthy life afterwards, you must continue to step forward mindfully and with intention. There is life after divorce. You probably cannot see it yet. You certainly cannot feel it. But it’s there, bigger and better than you can imagine, waiting for you.

Whether you are considering a divorce or already navigating the confusing experience, one thing we see making a significant difference for women is the conscious choice to not do divorce alone. Since 2012, smart women around the world have chosen SAS for Women to partner them through the emotional, financial, and oft times complicated experience of divorce.

SAS offers women six FREE months of email coaching, action plans, checklists and support strategies for you, and your future. Join our tribe and stay connected.