The beauty of divorce at midlife is the freedom from societal expectations of what life “should” look like.
“Do you think you’d still be married if all the bad stuff hadn’t happened?” a friend asked me several years ago.
“I don’t know,” I answered after a few minutes, recalling what the “bad stuff” was—my former husband’s long-term affair and alcoholism.
And it’s true, I don’t really know. I’d like to believe that we’d be celebrating 27 years of marriage this year. I certainly thought we’d be married forever. But 11-plus years after my second divorce, I have been thinking about marriage a lot. Of course, I should have done this much thinking before I got married, clarifying for myself just why I wanted to get hitched, but it’s best not to live in regrets.
Although I didn’t expect to be divorced, many good things have happened to me because of it; I learned a lot about myself, relationships, life. Please don’t take that to mean that I am somehow encouraging couples to divorce; I’m not. No one should rush into divorce, except those whose lives are at risk.
But divorce isn’t all gloom and doom, as many want to portray it. It doesn’t necessarily destroy your kids; conflict does, and that happens in intact families, too. Nor does it mean you have a “failed marriage”—the 14 years my former husband and I were together had many happy moments and created two amazing sons, now young men, whom we co-parented well apart because we were respectful of each other (well, most of the time).
Lauded anthropologist Margaret Mead once said everyone should marry three times—once to leave home, once to have children, and once for companionship. And she did exactly that. When asked about her “failed” marriages, she quickly responded, “I beg your pardon, I have had three marriages and none of them was a failure.”
If three divorces were good enough for her, two are just fine with me.
So, what did I learn?
Divorce doesn’t necessarily make you smarter about relationships.
I got married way too early the first time—a few months shy of my 21st birthday—for all the wrong reasons, or actually just one not-good-enough reason: I loved him and he loved me. So when I met the man who was to become my second husband, I thought I “got” what marriage was about. I’d been there and done that, and since he had been married before, too, and we both experienced infidelity, he felt the same way.
Well, wrong. Divorce doesn’t automatically make you wiser about relationships and marriage. Unless you look into the behaviours and patterns you learned from your family of origin so you can understand the bad stuff you brought into your first marriage—and we all do that—you’ll just bring it into the next one. Thankfully, I did a lot of intensive work to understand the role I played in the demise of my second marriage, and I learned how to act differently although it’s a work in progress. I don’t know if I would have gotten to this healthy place if I’d stayed married; I think I might have had to hit bottom first.