Through divorce, I learned exactly what I needed to be happy.
Do you have trouble with intimacy? Are you angry all the time? Does the thought of holding hands disgust you? Get divorced. Everybody's doing it. I did, and it was the best decision I've ever made. It led me to this conclusion: everyone should get divorced at least once in their life.
Now, hold on, you naysayers. No, I’m not bitter from my divorce. No, I’m not discounting the sanctity of marriage or the work a couple puts in to make something work. And no, I’m not saying to stop trying to figure out your problems.
All I’m saying is that going through a divorce forces you to look at life and relationships from a new perspective, one that’s more refined and focused on your needs. Only through getting a divorce did I learn exactly what I wanted. What I needed. And most important, what I wouldn't put up with in the future.
Of course, I didn’t go into marriage expecting to get divorced.
I’ll be honest and tell you that I did, though, consider it an option in case I needed to get out. Maybe that meant we were doomed from the start, who knows. But it began nice enough.
We met in college (while I was on a date, no less) and had tons in common. We could stay up for hours chatting at night. It was no secret that we would get married.
Once we did, that’s when things began to change. My once-confident, engaging, motivated boyfriend turned into a sluggish, apathetic, unemployed husband. Then came the emotional abuse, infidelity, and thinly veiled controlling behavior.
I thought I had my life figured out and I knew who it was supposed to be with. But my first marriage shattered that shiny image.
I knew the end was coming nearly a year in advance. Several ultimatums (get a job by October or I’m out, go see a therapist or I’m out, engage in marriage counseling or I’m out) and a few excruciating months of couples’ counseling later, we were still stuck in the middle of a nightmare. So I ended it.
It was a painful and drawn-out divorce, cost way more than I wanted, and took much longer than I expected. But through the process, I learned that I had to dissociate myself from the torture I was going through, and that made it easy for me to see my ex through an unbiased lens.
The cracks in his persona that I blocked out with love became more obvious to me, and I ended up questioning myself: Why would I ever have been involved with someone like that? I was better than that! If any of my friends were in the same position, I would put them through the ringer! It was a completely cliché coming of age and finding yourself type of revelation.
And until you go through that pain and angst and suffering, you know surprisingly little about the many faces a relationship can have. You just plain haven’t experienced it.
Sure, you know the good times and how to put your love for each other first. But you don’t see the completely different person someone can become at the drop of a hat. You can’t pull yourself out of the relationship long enough to see exactly who that person was to begin with.
Obviously, I don’t regret getting a divorce. But I also don’t regret going through that marriage.
It showed me that I don’t need to take backseat to my husband’s whims. It showed me that marriage needs to be a true partnership, not just the illusion of one.
It clued me into warning signs in relationships that I could now spot a mile away: One later boyfriend refused to go out in public with me. Nope, gone. Another insisted on accompanying me everywhere I went. Goodbye! And yet another became furious when I wouldn’t come see him immediately every time he asked. No thanks.
I had learned, through the glory of a failed marriage and messy divorce, exactly what I need to be happy. Not just for a great relationship to work, but for myself. And that is knowledge I prize more than anything else in the world.
I’m remarried now and I adore my husband. We talk things through, we move forward, we love each other unconditionally. My past informs the majority of my decisions, and it’s made us a stronger couple than I ever expected to be in.
Jennifer Billock is an award-winning writer and best-selling author. She's been published in The New York Times, Smithsonian, Wired, and National Geographic Traveler.