Real People Reveal the Best and Worst Things About Getting Divorced
There are positives and negatives to divorce. Just ask the people who have been through it.
No one decides casually to end a marriage. But the reality is that approximately half of U.S. marriages do end in divorce. Of course, this can be a source of deep pain for both spouses—in particular when complicating factors are involved, such as betrayal, kids, and financial burdens. But many separating partners also report plenty of positives from these chances at new beginnings. Here's what real people say are the best and worst things about getting divorced.
Best: You don't have to compromise.
Remember that level of tidiness, physical activity, and personal space you preferred before you met your spouse? Yes, that's all yours to choose again after divorce—and reacquainting with your personal lifestyle preferences can be a quality-of-life game changer. For Lorna Hollinger, divorce meant "space to create my life and lifestyle that I now wanted," and no longer having to serve as "anyone's housekeeper!"
Worst: You lose some friends.
Even in the most amicable of splits, the reality is that most divorces will result in each partner losing some of the friends they had when they were part of a pair. And that can feel like more goodbyes than you were prepared for when you ended your marriage. "I lost a ton of wonderful people," says Jeni Elizabeth, who is now remarried with two children and a stepchild.
Best: You get a fresh start.
But even as you're losing friends, you're gaining so much—that could certainly mean new friends, but also a chance at a new love, new adventures, and so much more. Elizabeth says the biggest plus side for her was "the ability to have a fresh start … Finding my true love and soulmate and having children with him. Starting with a clean slate and being able to rebuild and reinvent myself. Making new friends and walking down new paths with new adventures."
Worst: You wonder what people are saying about you.
As if going through a divorce isn't painful enough, there is the sense that plenty of other people are weighing in with their own opinions—either to your face, or in hushed tones behind your back. And that's hard to grapple with. "I worried some people only knew one side of the story—as childish as that sounds—and hated me," Elizabeth says. As a Catholic, she also worried "that my aunt, who was a nun, would be livid and I wouldn't be accepted in church."
Best: You're forced outside your comfort zone.
It's called the "comfort zone" for a reason: It's the place where people live for long periods feeling like they're comfortable without pushing themselves to test the boundaries. It's only when we're forced to step outside of it by circumstances like divorce that we realize we might not have been that comfortable after all.
Tara Eisenhard, divorce coach, mediator, and author of The D-Word: Divorce Through a Child's Eyes, went through a divorce in 2006. She cites some of the best parts as "finding clarity about who you are" and "learning to love yourself," which come from stepping outside your comfort zone.
Worst: You have to divide time with your children.
Kids can be one of the most complicated parts of divorce, and certainly one of the most painful. "The absolute worst thing was leaving my children on a full-time basis, which I think definitely hurt me more than anyone," says Richard Singer. But he says he's aware that remaining "full time in the marriage the way it was would have caused difficulties for the kids and everyone involved."
Best: It can set you up for better parenting.
Although divorce might mean less time with your kids in quantity, it could certainly mean a much better quality of time with them, because the divorce could be better for you as an individual, as a parent, and as a family unit. Divorced mom Lindsay Kirsch says "divorce has helped me become a strong, independent woman. I am proud of the example I am creating for my daughters."
And Singer said after finding peace and happiness in his divorce, he became "much better and healthier in order to be mindful with my kids, and embrace every precious moment I was with them."
Worst: The financial burden can be immense.
The financial burden of a divorce is among the most notoriously difficult parts of splitting up. Hollinger says in her two divorces, her "sense of financial security [was] stripped away abruptly." She recalls having to pay one of her exes out financially in order to keep her home. Then, she says, there was the "stress of getting a mortgage in my own name." She added, "I was desperate to keep a roof over my sons' heads."
Best: The energy in your home lightens.
But on the flip side of that pain is the relief that comes from not having to endure a home shared with a spouse who has hurt you. After the separation, you'll feel your house become a happier, more buoyant environment again—where the people within it can thrive. "The energy feeling in our home changed to positive energy," Hollinger recalls. "I felt I could breathe again, could sit and have my own thoughts again. I could meditate in peace."
Worst: You feel betrayed.
In some cases, divorce stems from betrayal—such as infidelity—and that can add a dimension of pain to an already turbulent process. In one of her two divorces, Hollinger explains she "had to face a range of emotions for the first time," because there was "betrayal and cruelty from someone I had loved."
Best: You ask yourself—and answer—the hard questions.
When you are going through a divorce, you are forced to take a good, hard look at parts of yourself you'd let coast, and being this critical can lead to major breakthroughs that make you a better person.
"One of the positive outcomes of divorce is that it can force you to examine yourself and ask yourself how you have to change and grow as a person," says Toronto-based author Elliott Katz. "When I got divorced, like a lot of people, I blamed the other person. Then I asked myself, what do I have to learn from this? And so began my journey seeking to learn what it really means to be a man in a relationship. I discovered a lot of wisdom that made me say, 'I wish I had known this.' I learned about taking responsibility and not blaming your spouse."
Worst: People just don't get what you're going through.
It's hard not to find yourself feeling isolated when the people around you just don't get it, or their advice misses the mark completely, Eisenhard notes. "People don't understand and project their own feelings and experience onto you," she says. "You get unhelpful and unsolicited advice, and you know people believe rumors that aren't true."
Best: You can make your own decisions.
If you've felt stuck in a marriage that significantly limited your sense of agency and autonomy, divorce can be a chance to make independent decisions again, and that can feel downright magical. "Divorce is certainly not easy. However, I am very thankful for the lessons that I learned from going through a divorce," Kirsch says, "The best things? I can make my own priorities and decisions … without needing to consult with someone else. As a result of my divorce, I left an unfulfilling career and started my own successful business!"
Worst: The blame game is hard.
Going through a divorce can be prime time for playing the blame game—and that can be hard no matter who's at fault. "I chose a path that allowed me to remove blame from the equation and own my part," says Maresa Friedman. "It's easy during a highly emotional state to blame someone else. But the truth is, we have to own our own stuff. I made an effort to not blame because we had a child, and I'm happier for it."
Best: You know what kind of love you want and deserve.
Finding love again may be the furthest thing from your mind as you extract yourself from a marriage. But the very act of going through a divorce can set you up for enduring love down the road. "When I met the wife I have been married to for 22 years, I recognized in her a strong, stable partner [with whom] I could weather the years together," says William Seavey. "She was also divorced, and we both learned the lessons in making too quick a choice of marrying a partner, and suffering years of regret and neglect … I am blessed to have had a second chance, but I know I've had to work at it."
Worst: You're ashamed.
When you're going through a divorce, you might find yourself in the throes of "societal shame," even if you know deep down divorce is not something to feel ashamed of, according to Eisenhard. You might feel embarrassed in front of strangers, colleagues, friends, or family. On her second divorce, Hollinger said she had a hard time "saving face with [her] sons" over getting divorced again.
Best: You can help other people.
The experience of divorce triggered a period of self analysis that actually led Katz to share his knowledge in a book, Being the Strong Man a Woman Wants: Timeless Wisdom on Being a Man. And he now coaches men on how to thrive in relationships. When you learn from personal experience, you might be in the position to sincerely help others going through similarly tough times.
Worst: You lose a major part of your history.
Divorce can erode your sense of identity as you pull up anchor from your own history—and that's disorienting. "I felt like I didn't know my best friend anymore, and I never would again," Elizabeth says. "Remembering the times we laughed became harder and harder."
Best: You have space to pursue your own passions.
Divorce can provide not just more time to go after your dreams, but also the permission to do so. Eisenhard says "permission to pursue [her] passions" was among the best parts about getting divorced.
And Hollinger agrees. "I love being single in my 50s: such fabulous freedom to travel where I want, do what I want, answer to no one," she says. "I can dedicate my time to building my own business, and my charity."
Worst: It's lonely.
Even if the partnership wasn't fulfilling, dissolving a marriage can certainly feel like a lonely time. This feeling may even be amplified when there are children in the house, as raising them without a partner can feel new and strange. "Being a single mom with custody of my two daughters can be very lonely at times," Kirsch says. "When I am struggling to take care of others, sometimes I just want someone to come and take care of me."