When I was a kid, divorce was a foreign concept to me. My parents were the model of domestic bliss; they spoke of the divorces within their immediate circle in hushed tones, and the snippets I caught sounded more like a prison sentence than the restructuring of a family. Certainly the “conscious uncoupling” we see these days was out of the realm of possibility.
So, when it became apparent that I—a product of my parents’ idyllic nest—would be getting divorced, I immediately declared myself the black sheep of the family and apologized for bringing shame upon my siblings and parents.
Entering the dark rabbit hole of “divorce” on Google
In the early days I spent thinking about getting a divorce, my brain immediately jumped to the conventional. I thought I’d be doomed to a litigated battle that took years to resolve with my kids in a tug of war between grown adults. Seeking answers and comfort, I turned to Google—which only raised more questions and seemed to further corroborate the grisly picture of divorce I had in mind.
While it’s true that a warped negativity bias had taken over me, my situation did indeed have all the trappings of the emotional warfare I paint above. Thankfully, with the right team in place and considerable mental fortitude, my ex-husband and I were able to stay on the right side of that imaginary line that separates the high conflict from the neutral or even amicable splits. It was a close call, but we made it to the other side of our divorce without my worst nightmare scenario playing out.
Now, as a happily divorced woman who became a divorce coach, I can say there are plenty of antiquated myths out there that ought to be debunked or, at the very least, reevaluated. The truth is, when you take the time to sort through all the alarmist information online, there is also an abundance of uplifting evidence to support the fact that divorce doesn’t have to be the end of you. In fact, for many, it is an incredible new beginning.
These days it seems I live and breathe divorce, quite ironic for someone with my traditional, nuclear family upbringing. And from what I have witnessed both personally and professionally, there are still far too many women choosing to stay in unfulfilling, toxic, or downright abusive situations because they buy into some of these outdated misconceptions about the dissolution of a marriage.
Here are the most common lies about divorce I’ve come across—and the truth all of us should know, whether you’re navigating your own divorce or supporting a loved one going through the process.
Lie No. 1: If your marriage was high conflict, your divorce will be as well.
Some particularly troubled partnerships earn the label “toxic” or “high conflict” and often end in a bloody demolition with the children used as pawns and the healthy partner routinely dragged to court, sometimes even years after the initial separation. It only takes one party, typically someone that exhibits traits of a personality disorder, to retrigger and perpetuate the conflict. I am talking about the highly narcissistic individual that the internet profiles ad nauseam.
If your soon-to-be-ex has a pattern of behavior resembling inflexibility, lack of empathy, temper tantrums, and manipulation, it would make sense that you expect the abuse to continue even after your divorce. But here is what I have noticed: In the last 20 or so years, experts have become very good at finding creative ways to handle these adversarial types, to manipulate the manipulator so to speak.
Thanks to concepts like gray rocking (communicating in such a bland way that an abusive person loses interest in you) or parallel parenting (where each parent sticks to their individual silo with very little interaction) you can reestablish peace. As for your ex, by consistently employing tactics such as these, you will eventually bore him or her to the point that you are left alone. While there is validity to the fact that as co-parents you will have to communicate, the truth is that at some point, an equilibrium tends to settle over the relationship as children grow and other parts of your life take center stage.
Lie No. 2: My lifestyle and finances will never recover.
Divorce is a costly business with women—and mothers, in particular—historically suffering a far greater blow financially than men. Stay-at-home moms come out of a divorce with less earning potential and, often, more parenting time and responsibilities. While an attempt at leveling the playing field is made through awards in alimony and child support, oftentimes these controversial issues result in duels that only serve to pad your lawyer’s wallet and increase debt.
You do not have to go broke, provided you and your spouse are on reasonable terms. Alternative dispute resolution—such as arbitration, mediation and collaboration—are designed as a means to avoid the expense, conflict, and delay of traditional litigation. The investment in a divorce coach and certified divorce financial analyst will pay for itself tenfold in your ability to get organized and create an accurate post-divorce budget and financial plan.
My divorce forced me to become somewhat financially astute and, while my wealth may have temporarily dipped, I have gained profound financial freedom and confidence. But earthly riches aside, consider this: Despite retirement savings being hit hard by divorce, women are still initiating almost 70 percent of separations. I believe this statistic speaks to the fact that any financial fallout is well worth the gain in ditching an unfulfilling or abusive marriage in the quest for long-term happiness.
Lie No. 3: My children will be ruined.
Is divorce detrimental for children? The answer is it all depends. The widely accepted belief that divorce ruins children, presumably by destabilizing their home and family, overlooks an important question: Compared to what? Consider what exposure to chronic stress does to the developing brain, or the research that shows children from high-conflict homes fare better across several measures when parents part ways, relieving all members of the household from at least some of the strife. The children in these situations are much better off split between two homes rather than being subjected to a childhood of trauma under one toxic roof.
But what about the vast majority of situations where parents have simply grown apart or fallen out of love? Well, the culprit here is not so much the divorce itself, but rather how the divorce and its ripple effects are managed. Ensuring your child remains connected to both (healthy) parents and allowing them a safe space to feel heard can go a long way in nurturing children through a divorce. Even in contentious situations, one healthy parent towing the line makes a huge difference to children’s adjustment.
The bottom line? It would be remiss to pretend that parental guilt does not weigh heavily into the decision to divorce, but some couples actually owe it to their littles to call it quits—and the others have considerable power in softening the blow.
Lie No. 4: People will judge me and my children for coming from a broken home.
It used to be that children from “broken homes” were relegated to society’s misfits or future criminals. These days, even uttering the phrase “broken home” is considered offensive and taboo. In fact, with the evolution of the nuclear family from the traditional two-parent married household to the many variations we see today, children of divorce are in good company.
When my own reality of being a single mother to three girls sank in, I saw it as a green light to demonstrate female empowerment. Making peace with the fact that plan A, which included a loving two-parent household, didn’t work out, I decided plan B would include life lessons in resilience, adversity, and independence. Giving the antiquated mentality of a “broken home” any brain real estate does your children—and yourself—a big disservice.
While I am by no means advocating for divorce, at some point any woman entertaining the idea may have to face the fact that something is already broken—and that there are limitless possibilities in ways to put the pieces back together again. There’s a good chance you’ll even end up being less judged and more envied.
Lie No. 5: It will be hard to move on as a single mother.
The dismal statistics on second and third marriages are enough for anyone to take an oath of celibacy. And while the inevitable drama of blending families is not for the faint of heart, the beauty of a second chance at love is knowing exactly what you want. With one failed marriage under their belt and a few children in tow, I find most divorced women are very intentional when they start dating again. If they want casual fun, there is no shame in admitting it; if they want a new father for their children, they proudly rattle off a list of key attributes.
Divorce tends to smooth out our rough edges, and our own pain has a way of leaving a more forgiving and empathetic version of our former selves. That, plus the fact that we finally know ourselves and what we want, means we are primed to recognize our catch the minute he or she bites.
I have been asked many times if working exclusively with divorcing clients is depressing and, while I understand how it might seem that way, I find the exact opposite to be true. Many of the free-floating fabrications found online continue to perpetuate divorce as a failure or loss, yet when approached with the right mindset, divorce can be a catalyst for the growth you were missing. This is precisely why working in the space of divorce can be so uplifting, watching what women do with a mid-life do-over is abundantly rewarding.
As for my family? It turns out there was no need to brand myself with the letter “D” or resort to self-induced exile. True to form, my parents and siblings never left my side during my entire divorce and its aftermath. What I’ve learned is that in our extremely interconnected world of social media and search engines, you can find almost anything to bolster your agenda or prove your point. During a time like divorce, it’s what you choose to believe, what you do with the information you get, and who shows up for you along the way that makes all the difference.