5 things I did “wrong” during my divorce (and one I did absolutely right)

When I started going through my divorce, it seemed like the world around me was suddenly full of warnings, advice, and admonitions. From lawyers and therapists to friends and family, there were no shortage of people with opinions – many of those opinions wise (or at least, well-meaning.) But it’s only now, over six years since separating and five after the divorce became final, that I’m able to look back with clear eyes at some of the choices I made.

Here are five things I did during my divorce that I’d do differently if I could, and one that I think I did (and am still doing) 100% right.

5 divorce mistakes I made:

  1. I chose the wrong lawyer. The practice I went with specializes in “collaborative” divorce, and I knew and respected the owner of the practice. However, early on in the process I was handed off to a newer attorney, and never really felt like he went to bat for me. Since then, I’ve learned that the “collaborative divorce” philosophy itself has a lot of critics (women are already collaborative by nature; we are inclined to give up more than we should and a process that encourages “collaboration” can easily turn into divorcing women getting taken advantage of.)

    A collaborative, rather than aggressive, take-them-to-the-cleaners approach, is a much better fit for my personality – but I’m realizing that it takes a special kind of lawyer to support this kind of process: they should be appropriately assertive on the client’s behalf AND give enough good information for the client to make educated decisions about what points to “give” on, without guessing or ending up playing the doormat. Both of these things were sorely lacking in my attorney.

    In the end, I spent a lot of money on what should have been a straightforward process (we really weren’t in disagreement about that much), and I wound up doing the lion’s share of advocating for myself as well as doing most of my own negotiating directly with my ex. I not only wasted money on the attorney’s fees but also lost money in missed negotiating opportunities from the get-go.

  2. I made reactive financial decisions. From leasing a new car because I was so afraid of being stranded on the side of the road without a partner to call, to making very random and inefficient investments, to sinking funds into things to make my life feel more tolerable when a better lawyer may have been able to help me make a real difference in my quality of life, I was all over the place with my finances in the first couple of years post-divorce. And most of that spending was simply emotional and reactive, coming from a place of fear and ignorance rather than confidence and solid advice and support.

    If I could do it all over again, I’d give myself a longer window before making any large purchases, and I’d keep my financial life really simple until the dust settled.

  3. I started dating too soon. Experts and well-meaning friends warned me to wait some pre-determined length of time, like six months or a year, before putting myself out there again, but I leapt immediately, reactively, naively and over-optimistically into the dating pool. I went on no fewer than 25 first dates, a small handful of which turned into 2-3 month relationships, before meeting Eric.

    I don’t regret the time I spent dating, nor the number of dates I went on – it was all a great learning experience. However, I probably could have saved myself some heartbreak and frustration if I’d eased in a bit more slowly and cautiously.

  4. I didn’t practice true self-care. For the first couple of years post-divorce, “self-care” looked a lot like fast and furious dating to try to “move on”, eating and drinking to soothe myself, and staying busy to distract myself.

    It wasn’t until I surrendered to grief, rediscovered faith and spirituality, spent more time in quiet solitude (especially surrounded by nature, like hiking and kayaking), and poured myself into nourishing practices like yoga, dabbling in herbal tea, long outdoor walks, journaling, and reading for pleasure that I began to feel a deep change and peace.

  5. I didn’t ask for enough help. All of the above “mistakes” would have been a lot easier to avoid if I’d sought the right kind of help from the right people (like a certified divorce coach), rather than clinging to my self-image of being a superwoman who can handle any crisis alone. I mean, I AM that superwoman, but trying to prove it to the world during the biggest challenge of my life was probably not necessary, and had negative affects both on myself and, if I’m honest with myself, my kids – which can be a hard pill to swallow.

That list may be kind of depressing, but actually, writing it feels liberating. Facing and embracing the truth will always set us free. And here’s the one thing I did, and am still doing RIGHT – and pay attention because this one is important and definitely something you should emulate if you’re going through or facing a divorce…

I absolutely refuse to beat myself up for any of the above “mistakes.”

I did the very best I could with the resources, information, emotional and physical energy, knowledge, and self-awareness I had at the time.

I couldn’t have seen how the divorce proceedings would pan out ahead of time.

I didn’t know that my fear around money was misplaced and leading to unwise decisions.

I wasn’t in a place to listen to advice, no matter how solid, about how, when, who, or whether to date.

I was getting by from day to day, and did what I had to do to make it.

And I had no idea what kind of help would be OK to ask for – or actually, you know, helpful.

If any of the above resonates with you, take heart: you are exactly where you need to be.

You can’t yet know what you don’t yet know. You can’t even know you don’t know it yet.

You can’t yet be who you haven’t yet become, or even know she exists.

You can’t yet do what you don’t know how to do, or even know it’s possible.

Looking back at my early divorce, I think my biggest mistake was reacting to my sudden vulnerability by becoming defensive and guarded. I felt I had something to prove about how well I could handle it all, how few of the “classic” divorced-lady mistakes I would make.

And in trying so hard to resist, I made them all anyway.

Of course I did. How could I not? If it hadn’t been those particular mistakes, it would have been some other ones. That’s what people do! It’s just that most of the time the circumstances are less fraught. Most of the time, the whole world doesn’t seem to be watching you quite as intently with concern and advice at the ready.

If you’re going through a divorce and worried about avoiding mistakes, I have bad news for you: you will make them. If not the ones I made, if not the ones you are personally trying to avoid, then some others. But keep moving forward anyway. One step at a time. Acknowledge where you went wrong, correct course when you have the energy or wherewithal, apologize if needed – mostly to yourself. But do. not. allow. yourself. to. be. torn. down. by. yourself.

Mistakes will happen – that’s called “being human”, and you are no more obligated to life your life mistake-free during a divorce than you are at any other time of life. So go make yours, with an open heart and a lavish, indulgent amount of self-compassion.

Being tender with ourselves and allowing ourselves to be tender is truly the only way we learn. I wish you loads of tenderness while you learn your way through your divorce, and that you come out the other side wiser, freer, and more self-compassionate than you ever thought possible.

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