Your husband took you by surprise—but not the good kind. You never saw the end of your marriage coming. For many of us, that’s how it happens. One night you’re looking at Airbnb’s for a trip to Mexico with “Suzy and Ed,” your long-time married friends, your parallel soulmates whom you always travel with now that you’re reaching a certain age. You were picturing the guys playing golf together, while you and Suzy visited local markets. And then that word: divorce. Worse yet, maybe he told you there’s someone else.
You deserve so much—happiness and love and respect. Loyalty too. Deep down, you know this. But being served with divorce papers was never on the list of things you deserved.
If this is you, or close enough (maybe there is no third party to the story, as far as you know), then you are a woman facing an unwanted divorce. Below are ten things you should know.
Take your time as you read them over, and before you take action, give yourself permission to cry and mourn and hold space for your feelings. Start your divorce recovery journey in the place that feels right to you. And above all, be kind to yourself. Dealing with an unwanted divorce may feel impossible, but we promise you’ll get through this.
1. Understand that he’s* known he was going to leave you for a while
He’s been preparing for this divorce much longer than you have—he will be pulled together and clear-headed, ready for what comes next after he’s gotten the news off his chest. And in return, he’ll want you to fall in line, play your part, and sign the papers so he can officially call game over and move forward.
2. And because he’s had time to prepare, you’ll need a script to lean on
Here’s a good place to start: “You’ve been preparing for this for a while, but I’ve just been hit with the news. I need time to process what you are saying and what this means. I need to get educated.”
Prepare for him to react, for eyerolling, and more while you make it clear: “We are not operating by your clock anymore.”
3. Then find safe ground
This means find your people and get educated. Yes, it’s only natural to call your mother, brother, and best friend. But after sharing the shock you’re feeling, recognize you need more than empathy and verbal support. You need expert feedback on your situation. You need the what to do, how to do it, and above all, how to do it healthily feedback.
So that one day, one fine day, you can say you are recovered and healed from the complete devastation you are feeling now.
Our best suggestion is, of course, to meet with a divorce coach. You’ll want to hear how you can most efficiently get educated on what your life choices are right now and how you will take care of yourself. The right coach will help you understand what to do with all the outrage, anger, rejection, and grief you have over your unwanted divorce AND how to handle the aspects of it that are more business transaction than emotions. The business transaction of divorce, the legal and financial angles to the divorce, must be dealt with smartly and separately so you can protect yourself from being hurt again.
4. Be prepared, some people aren’t going to understand why you can’t just move on
This is especially true when it’s clear your husband started everything, or was maybe two-timing you, and you so clearly deserve more. Remember what we said about the clock above? Well, similarly, you are not healing or getting “back out there,” dating or otherwise, based on anyone else’s sense of urgency. This time is about you and how you choose to help yourself cope and heal.
5. Find your tribe
Find women who understand you, who inspire you, who lift you up. Surround yourself with women who make you laugh and women who remind you of who you really are. If this is a support group, that’s great, but make sure that support group is facilitated by a pro who helps steer the conversation to a new, empowered and take-charge kind of place. A healthy divorce support group for you is one that teaches you things and, when you leave, has you feeling more positive and lighter.
6. No matter how blindsided you are, recognize there was something wrong in your relationship
You knew it on some level. Trying to second, third, or quadruple guess what exactly it was is a waste of energy right now because it was probably a lot of things. When a person gets to the point of leaving you, it was a process, not a single action or moment.
It could have been a slow or fast burn, but trying to fix it now is not going to work. It’s not all his fault or her fault. Your coming to terms with what you did will be the work of the next stage in your divorce recovery. But not now. Right now, you’ve got to get educated on what your rights are and what you’re entitled to. You must be treated fairly in this business negotiation.
7. Here’s what not to do: stalk him
You have to treat your Ex like an addiction. You cannot be with him more than you absolutely have to. Because whenever you are with him, your heart at varying degrees wants to go backward, to “return to the familiar.” You can’t afford to keep going backward, living in the past. You need to learn what steps to take and accept that they will be hard, but you need to learn how to fix your broken heart.
8. Do not compare your divorce to others
With an unwanted divorce, your recovery process is not the same as another woman who chose to leave her husband. She might be feeling excited and empowered, finally free, which bears no resemblance to your great sense of loss, disappointment, betrayal, and rejection. Your experiences are different. Your divorce recovery is probably going to take longer, but it will happen if you do things to support yourself and not go backwards too much.
9. You are human
You’re made of flesh and blood. And sometimes, the pain you feel will appear unbearable. And because of this sometimes you will fail, you will fall, and you will cry. But you progress every time you get back up and dry your face, all the times you pick your kids up from school, show up for work, or drive by to check in on your mom. That’s you compartmentalizing. Managing that makes you a master. Take stock of what you can do in spite of what you’ve been through!
10. You were part of a team before, but there was something flawed
Now you are no longer a team but a woman at a choice point, staring at a fork in the road. You must decide how you will meet the change that is coming toward you.
You may be going through an unwanted divorce, yes, but you can choose to consider it a foe or meet it as a friend. You can focus on the facts of what has happened to you and how they were not fair, or you can get curious about what’s in front of you. Get in the driver’s seat of your own life—it’s the only way you can see better.
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.