Divorce: The Truth That’s Difficult To Hear
When you divorce it’s easy to fall into the trap of being the victim. And yes, it’s likely your ex has done some appalling things. But if you are going to move forward, both emotionally and legally, you need to get totally honest. So in Divorce: The Truth That’s Difficult To Hear we’re looking at your truth – including the truth about the part you have to play in your marriage and divorce.
As ever, this blog is NOT designed for women who are experiencing physical abuse. If you need to get out of an unsafe relationship because you and your children are at risk, please seek support at Women’s Aid. Remember to use the ‘cover my tracks button’ before you leave the website.
You may find this blog triggering. Divorce: The Truth That’s Difficult To Hear isn’t written to shame or blame you. It asks you to explore your part in your relationship – situations you knew to be unhealthy but you engaged in willingly anyway (I know I’ve done that more than once). If you’re already saying ‘it’s all him. I’m the victim’ please don’t read further today.
The truth is, you can’t control what other people do but you are responsible for looking after your own mental health and actions, however difficult that is to acknowledge. That doesn’t mean you need to beat yourself up if you’re in a bad place right now. It does mean it’s time to explore your reality and how you can move forward.
Please note I use gendered language in this blog because the vast majority of my clients are women divorcing men, and often the power dynamics play out in line with gender norms and expectations (often men wanting to dominate women, as you’ll read below). If you’re in a same-sex marriage, these issues can also very much apply, and I urge you to read on and see how they relate to your relationship.
Where’s the power in your relationship?
The vast majority of my clients share that they knew before they said ‘I do’ that they weren’t doing the right thing for them but they did it anyway.
Why? For a variety of reasons: hoping he’d change, not daring to back out and ‘let people down’, or because someone told them they’d ‘made their bed so they have to lie in it’. This can happen after the wedding vows too – it feels too late to call it quits for exactly the same reasons.
Notice that all of these scenarios involve her giving her power away to someone else – her husband, family, friends… the truth is she let the power she had go to comply with other people’s expectations.
Once that happens, relationships become very challenging.
You feel like you have no say, no influence and that everything happens ‘to you’. You become the victim in your own marriage. When you feel like you have no power you stay small, play small and stop believing you have any say. You think the way you feel is real and as though it will be that way forever. Everything feels overwhelming and as though you’re backed into a corner.
It is always possible to turn things around. It’s not easy, but it’s possible.
Here’s a question to ask yourself before we carry on: When did you stop listening to you? More importantly, why?
Are you experiencing emotional abuse?
Weak men don’t seek out weak women. They seek out strong women and break them (or at least they try). This is how they feel powerful and important. They take your energy for themselves.
Weak men can appear strong. Intelligent. Capable. Successful. That’s how they attracted you, right? They confide in you. They show you their vulnerability. You love it. You buy in. Then they have you. Emotionally, you are sold.
Then things just feel ‘off’ but you can’t put your finger on why. You tell yourself it’s okay – he’s a good guy really. He’s just ‘lost’, ‘confused’, ‘misunderstood’ and you ignore your gut because you don’t want to engage in the uncomfortable feelings – they’re too uncomfortable and for now it’s easier to push them back.
This how most women end up in a high conflict situation. Are you? Read more on the tell-tale signs here.
A vicious circle
Conflict can be addictive even if our rational mind hates it. Sometimes the only attention we get is negative. When this happens consistently we can get drawn into the power game. Any attention is better than no attention. So as conflict becomes familiar we become addicted to the ‘high’ we get from it. When your rational mind knows that arguing and shouting get you nowhere, but you just can’t help yourself and respond anyway, it keeps the circle going.
Own that. Own that you are part of the circle, and part of keeping it going. This is not about blame. You are not ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’. It is what it is and it’s entirely human that you’ve got here.
If you accept 100% responsibility for your part then you have the power to change it. Don’t give him the argument. Your response to his behaviour is in your control – that’s the difficult truth. You can decide to stop engaging in the power play at any time.
Who are you really?
Starting with the truth also means acknowledging just how flipping amazing you really are. Most of my clients share stories of how they’ve been a single parent in a marriage. They do everything. School runs, homework, taxis service, bedtime routines, discipline.
You might do all the cleaning, gardening, washing and ironing. Even if you have people doing those things for you, you are the one that organises it all, coordinates and deals with issues as they arise. You do all the emotional and mental labour for your relationship.
You may also have a career outside of the home and family. But you continually beat yourself up that it’s not enough. Because he says so!
When are you going to acknowledge just how amazing you are?
You can start anytime you choose. Why not start now?
Take back your power
When you take 100% responsibility for where you are right now you take back your power. You have to acknowledge the present so you can look to the future. Taking 100% responsibility doesn’t mean ‘letting him off the hook’, ‘forgiving him’ or ignoring your PTSD or other mental health issues that have resulted from your relationship. It simply means that from now on, you are taking your future into your own hands. You stop looking at him and what he did (or didn’t) do.
You stop thinking about blame because it’s wasted energy. He isn’t responsible for your recovery – you are.
Here’s one thing to stop today. Stop telling your divorce story. The more you tell that story the more you reinforce the neural pathways in your brain. It keeps you stuck in ‘victim’ mode. You can read more about the negative power of your divorce story here.
You need to be telling your brain over and over that you’re a powerful woman! Powerful women get stuff done – including your divorce.
So tell the truth, starting with your own self-talk. You are not a victim. You are a person who’s played a role in her own history, and has the opportunity to play a positive one in her present and future. Once you tell the truth you can move on and start the work that gets your divorce done.
Well done on getting to the end of this blog. If you found it triggering you may need to seek support from a counsellor. Remember that your mental health needs looking after just as your physical health does, and that sometimes therapy is the vital step you need to take. It shows strength to recognise that and take action.
If you are now thinking ‘I know I need to let go, I recognise my part in everything that’s happened’, coaching may be useful for you. I can help you recognise and break negative patterns, create a vision for the future and be alongside you as you make it happen.
Book in a call and let’s get started.
Emma Heptonstall, the Divorce Alchemist is author of the Amazon best selling book How to be a Lady Who Leaves, the Ultimate Guide to Getting Divorce Ready. A former lawyer, Emma is a family mediator and founder of Get Divorce Ready the online self-study and group programmes. Emma has been featured on BBC Radio, The Telegraph, the iPaper and in Marie Claire Magazine. To find out more visit www.emmaheptonstall.com