I know a thing or two about divorce. I have seen thousands of divorces while working as a divorce attorney. I also have gone through the experience of facing divorce in my own marriage and the pain that was associated with it. Though my personal story did not end in divorce, it definitely shocked my consciousness into understanding the pain, confusion, and hopelessness that comes with the possibility and/or conclusion that your marriage is ending. This book chronicles my own personal marital struggles, my efforts to help individuals navigate the difficult, life-changing experiences in divorce, and my sincere conviction that we can come out on the other side better than ever. I have seen divorce from both sides. I am the mediator who can look at things rationally and methodically and also the person in the trenches who was literally on the brink of divorce, who knows the roiling emotions and uncertainty of changing life circumstances. I hope to share both this empathy and this experience with you to help you in whatever your own situation is.
We had just celebrated our fifth anniversary when my husband, Ryan, told me he wanted a divorce. I was devastated. I knew that we had problems and we were making each other miserable, but I didn’t want to give up. There was an obvious disconnect but not such an obvious solution. We were sad, lonely, and growing apart. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the weight of my marriage falling apart had stifled my ability to feel joy anymore. However, I believed that we would work it out and find a solution . . . Our problems had not started overnight. We had already attempted marriage counseling three times, and I remember wondering if all marriages were this hard or if it was just us making it hard.
Ryan was in his second year of medical school, I was practicing law full time, and we had just had our second child. To say we were stressed is an understatement. Regardless, I thought if I put my head down and pushed through, Ryan would ignore the conflict and, eventually, we would make up and reconnect. We were both drowning and looking to the other to save or fix our marriage. We were both just trying to survive. I kept thinking, You’re the man; you should be saving me. I did not see how I played any part in this horrible problem.
Unfortunately, Ryan grew tired of treading water and getting nowhere. He finally said, “I am done, and I am moving out of the house.” There was no talking about it, no future discussion to find resolution. When he told me, it was an absolute. For him, this was the end, our marriage was over—or so I thought.
I felt like such a failure. Here I was, a divorce attorney—the person who sees marriages fail all the time and all the reasons why—and I was not even capable of saving my own. I have always been a competitive person, and I never took losing well. When I played competitive sports in my youth and into college, I was the athlete who stayed after practice to run a few more drills, shoot another round, or lift one more set of weights. I felt the same way about marriage—I thought if I kept working and never gave up, we’d succeed. So, when Ryan said he wanted a divorce, I felt like I had failed. I felt like a loser. In those final moments, I was helpless, watching my teammate walk off the court and the clock tick down with no hope of a comeback or Hail Mary to save my marriage. This feeling of failure sent me on a downward spiral that further diminished my ability to find happiness or feel a sense of joy.
I was angry that he would do this to me, to us, and worse, to our family. How could he be so selfish? How could he just give up on something that I believed with a little effort could be great? My anger toward him clouded my better judgment, and I was determined to punish him. I wanted to do whatever I could to hurt him through our divorce. I wanted to use the kids against him; I wanted to make him feel emotional pain. And I was ready to do it through our divorce. I drafted up the paperwork knowing I was not being fair and that he was going to feel the pain of breaking up our family. He read the documents and asked me if he needed to hire an attorney. Full of spite I told him no, that I am an attorney and can answer any of his questions. He quickly realized that I was not going to be rational through this process and that I obviously had the upper hand. I did exactly what I had been counseling my divorce clients for years not to do. From the beginning, I tell them that divorce is not a chance or opportunity to hurt your spouse. If their goal is to win and take the other person down in the process, ultimately they will only hurt themselves and any children they may have. But looking back at my experience, I see now how selfish I was being and that it would be our children—not my husband—who suffered the most from my anger. I was allowing my emotions to cloud my better judgment, and in hindsight I recognize the additional pain I was causing to us all.
Through the painful experience of facing my own divorce, I learned many valuable lessons. I learned that my anger could blind my rational, educated mind. I learned that I was willing to do things I knew were wrong and not in my family’s best interest, purely out of spite and anger. I learned that there are a multitude of external factors and individual needs that require constant nurturing and attention to make a marriage work. Too often we lose sight of the responsibility for our own happiness and wait for our spouse to fill in the cracks. However, if we don’t set aside time to nurture and grow our marriage, those cracks will expand, and eventually the marriage will crumble. Divorce doesn’t happen overnight, and it is typically years in the making—years full of building resentment and personal turmoil that slowly chip away at our self-worth and inner strength.
Divorce is hard because it requires a level of resilience and fortitude that is difficult to uncover in the midst of complete despair. My hope is that maybe you can take my personal and professional experience as an example of what to do—and not to do. My goal is that this book will guide you on how to be better and do better and use your divorce as an opportunity to find your joy and inner strength. It takes a courageous spirit and determination to have grace through divorce and find your moxie again.
This is a book about not only surviving divorce but also coming out on the other side stronger and more capable. The scariest part about divorce is the unknown, the questions that keep you up at night: Am I going to be okay? Are my kids going to be okay? What will my family and friends think? Am I a failure? What is wrong with me?
People get divorced for a variety of reasons, including but not limited to the following:
My spouse cheated on me.
My spouse is a narcissist.
My spouse is emotionally or verbally abusive.
My spouse is physically abusive.
My spouse does not make enough money.
My spouse is always angry, depressed, or moody.
My spouse is so controlling.
I don’t love my spouse anymore.
I am not happy.
I am depressed, angry, or moody.
I need something different.
Whatever the reason, divorce is not easy. In fact, it will most likely be one of the hardest times of your life. Even if you are the one who wants a divorce, it will be hard. For some, it may even seem insurmountable. But one thing I know for sure is, no one dies from divorce.
In my career, I have been part of thousands of divorces and have seen pretty much every scenario. I have seen the before, during, and after effects of divorce. I have seen the fallout and damage done to kids, spouses, entire families—even pets. However, at the end of every divorce (regardless of the circumstances) the outcome is often the same. People move on; they are resilient, they survive; and there is happiness after divorce. This is a book to help you get to that point faster.
One thing I want to strongly preface is that I am not pro-
divorce. Just because I am a divorce attorney does not mean that I advocate for divorce. Every marriage has its challenges, and I believe that most marriages could be saved with a little effort from both parties. Divorce is a life-altering decision that you shouldn’t enter into lightly. The goal of this book is to help you make sure divorce is the right option, navigate the challenges that will come, and find happiness in your new life. In my own case, Ryan and I finally had to ask ourselves, “Is our marriage over, or is there a way we could save it?” After much thought, we chose to save it. It took a lot of work—a lot of counseling and working on ourselves—to realize that our marriage was worth saving. Because of that choice, we are stronger and better than we could’ve been otherwise. Not every marriage will be like this. But in the end, we both chose to work on our marriage and trusted that it would be worth it. We still have our bumps in the road, and our marriage is far from perfect. But we have been able to get to a level of love and respect for each other that makes us proud of each other. By evaluating the questions in this book, you can make a rational, sensible decision that is best for you.