Last Thursday would have been my 15th wedding anniversary (15 years!!!). I love seeing others acknowledge and celebrate their anniversaries on Facebook and share photos from that special day (we were all babies!!!). I find myself especially enjoying those who make it past year 14. Lucky 13 was as far as A_____ and I made it. I didn’t get it right. But in the same breath that I acknowledge my failings, I recognize the things I’ve learned in the time and space that has passed since the dissolution of our marriage. Here are six things my divorce taught me, or perhaps more accurately, what I’ve learned since my divorce. These are some of the things I take into future relationships:
- We look at love languages inside out. We often (read: always) seem to approach love languages from a perspective of receiving. But rarely, do we approach them from a perspective of accepting. We talk of love languages in terms of “I.” What I need. How I receive. How I give. I think this is a faulty (and potentially fatal) approach. Rather than talking about me and my love languages, I think it can be a more productive approach to turn things on their head. Recognize the ways in which your spouse is conveying love to you and simply accept it. Too often we focus on not feeling loved, and all of the myriad ways in which we don’t feel loved, rather than looking at all of the things our spouse is doing in an effort to show us love. Rather than being bogged down by all of the ways I didn’t feel loved, I should have accepted unconditionally that everything she did was because she loved me, regardless if that was true or not. We can give love by accepting love the way it is given.
- Accept that you are loved. Related to point #1, one of the things I think I’ve come to realize is that A_____ and I never truly accepted that we were loved unconditionally by the other. I think we felt we had to “earn” the other’s love or at least be “worthy” of the other’s love. We never accepted that we were simply loved by the other. Love was always some reward. It was always dependent on something we did for the other. That logic is faulty. My love for her certainly wasn’t dependent on anything she did or didn’t do. There would have been incredible strength in our relationship had I simply accepted being loved unconditionally no matter what she did or how I felt. And accepting that I was loved unconditionally would have been just one way for me to give to the relationship. Accept that your spouse loves you unconditionally and if you feel you can’t say that, talk to your spouse about it. Appreciate what you have and how it is given.
- It really is that simple. As I talk to my (still) married friends, I often hear the stresses, strains, and frustrations of their marriage. I suggest to them (and to you right now), to drop whatever you are doing and give your significant other a GIANT hug, a HUGE kiss, and tell them repeatedly how much you appreciate them. It is vulnerable. It can place us in a position where we can feel rejected and hurt. I often hear, “it isn’t that simple.” But I really think it is that simple and a clear and simple bid will go a long way. From the outside, the weight you lob on yourself could be significantly diminished if we just showed a little vulnerability – some unconditional love and some heartfelt appreciation.
- You are best friends and partners, not coaches, head masters, or wardens. For whatever reason, we too often feel compelled to “teach” our significant others. This (probably) comes from a place of love. But it almost always looks like control and criticism. A_____ and I always had ways the other could improve. Things the other could do differently. It’s not surprising. You often know your spouse better than they know themselves. Accept they are doing their best. Be at peace with everything. Too frequently we allow ourselves to be annoyed by things that simply don’t matter. The most powerful thing about agency is not controlling what you do, it is controlling how you feel. We so frequently feel compelled to “correct” or “improve” others when we’d probably be best served by developing greater control of our feelings.
- Recognize (and accept hurt). One of the things that hindered our marriage was that both of us were really hurt and we didn’t see it or accept it. That is true not only for the other’s hurt, but for our own. We get so busy, we lose sight that the person on the other side of the family operation is a person too. Our souls are incredibly tender. We get hurt and we retreat. We center on self and lose sight of those whom we love most dearly. We need to recognize when we’ve hurt the other person and work towards forgiveness. We need to give them time and space to heal. We equally need to recognize when we are hurt and ask for the time and space to heal. We need to forgive our spouse more quickly and more freely. We need to also do the same for ourselves – forgiving ourselves quickly and freely. There is an ancient
- It is always worth fighting for. This is true until there isn’t something worth fighting for I suppose. At some point some separation has to take place so you can recenter and grow again. I think Laura Pritchett captured this well in her recent NYT's article (No Sound, No Fury, No Marriage). I still have strong convictions that marriage is worth fighting for and it can be fought for. A_____ and I didn’t let the long view dictate enough of our marriage. I write this delicately because its my philosophical believe about marriage right now as opposed to a tangible believe specific to the marriage that A_____ and I had. I'm incredibly grateful to be where I'm at - to have learned what I've learned and experienced what I've experienced through (and since) our divorce. I don't feel those two emotions need be mutually exclusive. We didn't have a healthy relationship on many levels and that's what we should have been fighting for the entire time.