How Divorce Prepares You For a Pandemic
On the chart of the most stressful events in life, divorce comes right after the death of a loved one. In many ways, divorce feels like a death — something has ended and couples, no matter who decided to end the marriage or not, often go through the five stages of grief. Some get stuck in one of the stages, but many get through them. And then they they often learn things about themselves, life, their beliefs, and can start fresh.
Living through a pandemic is not on that chart for some reason, but it sure feels stressful as many of us face so many emotional, physical and emotional unknowns.
Still, as a woman who experienced two divorces — one in my 20s, without children after a short-lived marriage, and one in my 40s with two children after a 14-year marriage — I believe they have prepared me for the emotional realities of living through the current COVID-19 pandemic.
You learn to live with uncertainty — We talk about marriage as “until death” and “locking shit down.” There’s a certain amount of certainty we attach to marriage — we’ll never be alone, we’ll have someone who has our back, we can count on our best friend. Marriage is forever, right? Well, divorce takes all of that away and you’re left thinking, now what? How will I live? How will I support myself? Who will care for me? Everything you “knew” and counted on is gone, now what? Divorce helps you realize that nothing is ever guaranteed, so all we can do is accept that change is inevitable.
You learn to re-create yourself — For a long time, “wife” was among the ways I described myself. Then, that role — a complicated one for many women — went away. Who am I now, I wondered. Well, I was lots of things — mother, journalist, daughter, sister, friend and so much more. It’s dangerous to see yourself in narrow terms. Getting through this pandemic may mean you will have to create a new path for yourself, in love, work and life, that will challenge your idea of who you are. You are many things an can be many more, and that’s a good thing.
You learn that you’re resilient — I was single for several years after my first divorce. I knew how to take care of myself. But after my second divorce, it wasn’t just me — I had two children, then 9 and 12, and a dog to look after and support. I had only worked part time during my marriage, which was what my then-husband and I agreed to so one of us could raise our boys — I was not making enough to support all of us. I got a full-time job right away, but journalism is not a high-paying career. I was scared. How was I going to make this work? But I did, with more than my share of sleepless nights and bounced checks. This pandemic will test you in ways you may have never experienced, and you will get through them. You are more resilient than you realize.
You learn how to be alone — If you’re not in a live apart together marriage (which, for many, is the perfect way to be in a romantic relationship), you may have gotten used to having someone around 24/7. Being on your own for the first time in years may feel lonely even if it offers moments of blessed freedom. At some point, you adjust to being alone; some actually come to love it. Either way, we’re rarely truly “alone” — friends and family are essential to offer support and companionship (and those relationships must be nurtured throughout a marriage because your spouse shouldn’t fulfill all your needs). Even during a quarantine, when we can’t physically gather, there are ways to stay connected to others, thanks to social media and our ever-present cellphones.
You learn to self-care — I was crappy at self-care during my marriage; a lot of women, especially moms, are. Women are expected to be the nurturers and men benefit from having a wife get on them about their health, but who care for us? Who nurtures us? We have to do it on our own and many of us don’t do that in our marriage. Divorce gifts us with the opportunity to care for ourselves, not others, and so does a pandemic. Now is the time to nurture yourself in healthy ways, because you will need your health to get through this.
You learn that it gets better — Even in the most positive, healthy divorces — or conscious uncouplings — you go through a period of hell. Divorce is incredibly disruptive — emotionally, physically, financially. But you get through it — not to be cliche — one day at a time. It seems impossible at first and then, slowly, eventually, it feels better, then normal and, often, so much better than your marriage. Right now, the coronavirus pandemic feels overwhelming. Our lives are disrupted and we have no idea when we’ll be back to “normal” — if “normal” even exists anymore. But if history teaches us anything, all pandemics end and life continues. It may look different, but life does go on.
Please, stay safe. And please, stay human.
Want to learn how to re-create your marriage? (Of course you do!) Read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). You can support your local indie bookstore (please do) or order it on Amazon. And we’re now on Audible.