Last month marked two years since my divorce was finalized. One thing I’ve learned is that the stages of grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance — are as applicable to the end of a marriage as they are to any other traumatic life event. Two years removed and I think I’ve just about made it through to acceptance, but it hasn’t been easy.
Like a lot of people, I thought the stages of grief were sequential. I was wrong. Before landing on acceptance, it’s pretty normal to bounce around along the way. One day I was in denial, the next I was depressed, then I was angry, then I was back to being depressed. This went on for a while before I woke up one day and realized the bouncing had subsided and I was ready to live in my new reality. In my post-divorce, grief journey, I’ve met a few others whose marriages ended and observed an interesting tendency. It’s something I know I fell into in my darker moments.
There were times when it seems like I was working hard to prove to my ex-wife that my life was going to be just fine. I was going to pull myself up from my bootstraps and create this awesome existence. I’d show her.
“Look at me!”
“In spite of you I’ve risen above!”
“Nothing’s holding me back!”
I thought that since I have this new life, all is well. Bullshit.
Part of getting to acceptance in the grieving process meant accepting that divorce sucks. It leaves a scar that never quite goes away. It’s a reminder of what once was but didn’t work out. It’ll have lasting effects on my kids, even though they’re adults now. It’ll have lasting effects on me. Part of acceptance means accepting the reality that divorce is tragic, it hurts, and it’s not the way things are supposed to end up.
The other thing about acceptance was getting to a place where I could stop talking about the joint effort it took to bring my marriage to failure. During the divorce recovery program I worked through, we were asked to talk about our contribution to the end of our marriages. One woman in my group responded by saying that her contribution was being too stupid to realize what an asshole her ex-husband was. I’m not sure she understood the point of the exercise.
(Now, I’m not at all talking about a situation where someone’s physical life is in danger. If you’re in that kind of environment, you need to get out immediately and not look back.)
I couldn’t get to acceptance until I took a good hard look in the mirror and owned what I needed to own. This wasn’t about how I failed to see where my ex-wife fell short. That’s not something I can do anything about. I needed to accept the ways I fell short and how that contributed to our problems. Once I was able to get to that point I was finally able to really start healing. It wasn’t easy.
Like most people, I wanted to deflect and rationalize and turn the tables. All that did was prolong the grieving process. It was nothing more than a subtle form of denial cloaked in self-righteousness. Once I arrived at owning my junk and stopped trying to put my new life on display to prove something to someone (maybe my ex-wife?), I was able to finally dip my toes into the waters of acceptance, wade in, and then move on.
I have no idea whether I’ll ever get another shot at a relationship. But if I do, at least I’ll go into it with my eyes open and a deeper, more accurate awareness of who I am.
It’s no guarantee of success, but it’s not a bad start.