real life

"My divorce was long and messy, but it taught me some lessons I'll never forget."

Last year I was in the midst of a messy divorce settlement that was dragging on a lot longer than I was feeling like I could cope with.

After being in a relationship for 13 years, pretty much all of my adult life, the realities of my ‘post divorce’ new life were starting to emerge and the change process had me questioning everything around me.

I had a million things running through my mind, and while I’m not one to bring all of my problems to the surface, all I wanted more than anything was some clarity.

Thankfully, this came to me after I caught up with one of my friends, and we fell into one of those amazing deep and meaningful life chats that got onto spiritual topics, including there being a reason for anything.

Jo Schneider. Image: Supplied. 

He said to me, ‘Do you know why it happened’? I had a pretty shit answer. He said, ‘When you know why it happened, you’ll know you’re through it’.

That has stuck with me since, and it has made think of my divorce from a whole new perspective. It allowed me to reflect in a new light. While I still don’t know 100% why it happened just yet, what I do know is what I’ve learnt from it.

1. It’s hard

Like, really hard. I’ve always felt that, without feeling sorry for myself, I’m someone who’s had their fair share of challenges. But with all that resilience building, nothing even remotely prepared me for this.

What is it about divorce that makes it so hard? I’ve lost people through death, through my choosing, through theirs… is it because divorce isn’t so much the loss of a person but the loss of life as you know it?

Divorce isn't a walk in the park. Image via iStock.

No one tells you that you know. You don’t farewell the person you care so much for because you can’t do it anymore. You farewell everything you know. Family, friends, home, being in a couple… all gone. Only you don’t realise it straight away, it’s an evolving realisation.

At the end, what’s left is different, not necessarily bad, just different.

Lesson: Different isn’t necessarily bad. But it can be hard to get to.

2. There aren’t as many people there as you thought.

The first thing that became really obvious to me was that divorce is very lonely. People are either interested in it initially, but figure you’ve gotten over it quickly because the first part feels kind of like freedom so the reality hasn’t hit yet. Or they’re evasive… there’s something about divorces that people are uncomfortable with. Either way, there aren’t that many people who ‘get’ it, or who don’t, but know enough to be there anyway.

I found I had to invest so much energy into myself, that I didn’t have the energy I usually invested in other people and other relationships. And it was then that I really needed them to not care about that and pick up the slack, but of course not everyone can, for a variety of reasons. It’s like you’re in this tornado and you’re swept along with it and all your energy is put into staying upright. And then it subsides, and you’re not where you were when it picked you up, and things look kind of the same, but different. You realise you left a bunch of people behind, or lost them along the way. And it’s sad, but then kind of okay as well — a strange emotion.

Sometimes I think it’s probably more life timing than anything else. I know I haven’t been there for people when they’ve probably needed me, just because sometimes you have to focus on your own life, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Lesson: Sometimes you have to invest energy in you. And sometimes others have to do the same.


3. The ones who are there…

Omg, the ones that were there: the heartfelt gratitude you have for them is overwhelming.

What is it that makes some people just know to be there. To know that it takes more than a couple months to get over a relationship you’ve had your entire adult life. Who see that Christmases and holidays (and weddings, argh!) are hard, and the middle of the night is harder. The people who give you somewhere to sleep when you can’t be at home. The ones who help you pack up your things or paint your house. The messages late at night seeing if you’re okay — of course you’re not but it helps.

I’ve learnt what true support is, and realise it’s okay to accept the help of others instead of doing everything myself.

Lesson: There are people who care. Look for them. Find them. Hold onto them. Be there for them.

On Mamamia Out Loud, Mons, Mia and Kate spoke about what they've learned about helping friends through divorce. (Post continues after audio.)

4. Its okay to be sad

I read so many things about being positive, and moving forward, and building the next chapter. I think things move so fast these days that people think a couple therapy sessions and a bottle of red will solve everything. I spent two years with the biggest jar of Nutella (you know those commercial ones – thanks mum!) close by and I sat around eating it every time I felt like... well, sitting around doing nothing but eating Nutella (note: I think there are a lot of preservatives in Nutella)!

I had so many days where I didn’t want to go to the office, or ride my horses, or anything much, really. As someone who’s usually proactive, motivated and enthusiastic about life, I had little idea of how to manage this new feeling of sadness and staying-in- bed-ness.

I felt very much that it would be okay, though. It’s okay to feel sad. It’s a sad time. Don’t compare yourself to happy people, or Facebook or Instagram. ‘One foot after the other’ was my mantra for longer than I can remember. Just keep going. It will get better. And it does. Not all at once. But there’s moments of happiness, then days, then you look back and realise you haven’t felt sad for months now and you can think about it pragmatically again.

Lesson: Sad is an emotion even though it’s not on Instagram very often. It’s okay to feel sad. Be satisfied with the small steps. Like that one day you looked outside and it was beautiful.

Jo Schneider. (Image: supplied)

5. Life doesn’t stop

So even though you feel like you’ve stopped…life kind of keeps going. I won awards, somehow my business grew, I got in the media a fair bit, I travelled a lot, I started giving back through charity work, I experienced wonderful things with amazing people. Despite feeling this cloud of suppression over me, I was still able to do all those things.

On the downside, in that same period I lost a family member to cancer, and two friends to suicide. One was an incredibly close mentor of mine, she reached out to me and I couldn’t help her because I was dealing with my own issues. I don’t think it would have changed anything, but I feel bad that I wasn’t there for her, she was there for me a lot in the past.

What is it about us that thinks life should stop just because we have for a while? Maybe that’s the beauty in it.

Lesson: Life is bigger than all of us. You are stronger than you think.

Image via HBO.

6. You get to try life differently

Despite the shit that’s going on around you, and that maybe you don’t feel comfortable to do it, the reality is that it both forces and gives you a pretty good excuse to live life differently for a while. You tend to care a lot less about everyone else (I have no children so I suspect this is different where you do) and what they thought, so I kind of did what I wanted. Nothing bad happened so maybe that’s more possible than we realise.

You get to meet a lot of new people too. From different walks of life with different experiences. Your eyes are open to a world outside what you used to live in. You experience new things, discuss new topics, taste new foods. Live life differently for a change. Some of the people I have met and developed more than fleeting relationships with have become my most trusted advisors, my place to go when life’s a little tricky to navigate, and my think tank or sounding board for building businesses and living the life I want to lead. I don’t know if I’d have had that opportunity in my ‘old’ life.

Lesson: Give yourself permission to live the life you want to. Open yourself up to new people and new experiences.


7. It’s exhausting. You need a break.

My settlement took two years and five lawyers to process (a lot of bad luck than anything else), and I was well and truly over it. People talk about divorce parties. When it was over I didn’t feel like a party, I felt like a sleep.

The analogy I use is that it’s like you’ve run a marathon with a weight, so you’ve dropped the weight and that feels good, but you still ran the marathon with a weight. I had a month off my business and spent three weeks completely off the radar in the US. I love the US for inspiration (thank you divorce, I’ve been there twice and soon to be three times)! I fell in love with San Francisco, experienced the absolute wonder of Disneyland and saw people “living” on skid row.

I reflected and journalled. I did no work at all for the first time in — I don’t know, my life probably. For the first time in two years I really WANTED to come back to work. It was more than a job again. I was excited about our future and about what we could achieve and the impact on the world that we could make.

Lesson: Don’t wait to take a break and be present. Enjoy today.

Schedule some time for yourself. It makes all the difference. Image via iStock.

Divorce is shit, no doubt about it. However, these lessons have changed my life and I’m not sure I’d change anything. Maybe that’s why it happened? Maybe so I could work out the life I wanted to live. So I could have the courage to do it. So I could learn to be me?

All I do know for sure is that the chapter is over and the new one has begun. And the foundation is stronger than ever.

Jo Schneider is a CEO, serial entrepreneur and 2014 Telstra Young Business Woman of the Year (SA). She has set up two companies, Animal Therapeutics and DVE Business Solutions.