When you divorce, you’ll make promises to yourself that don’t make sense to keep for the long haul.
Last May my husband (he’s my second) and I (I’m his third wife) celebrated our anniversary. But it was an event that almost didn’t happen because of a promise I made to myself after I divorced.
When I got divorced in 2002, I hurt. The pain was so intense that I wasn’t sure I’d survive it.
I kept having fleeting thoughts of suicide, but I was assured that those thoughts were pretty normal. I was still worried though. What if those thoughts started to stay around longer? What would I do then? How would I stop them? I was terrified by the unfamiliarity of these self-destructive thoughts that kept popping up. Was I losing my mind?
I also wasn’t taking very good care of myself. I mean we all have trouble sleeping when we’re going through divorce, and I was doing my best to try to get better sleep. But that wasn’t eating either. Food had mostly lost its appeal.
But I was also withholding food from myself for two other reasons. First, I didn’t want to get fat. In my mind I associated being fat with being unlovable (thank you first husband for making sure I understood that was your opinion). And if I was unlovable, there wasn’t much point in living. Second, I was afraid of spending too much money on food because I was terrified that I might lose my job and not be able to pay my bills.
The other really big source of pain was that I’d gotten divorced in the first place. I had made a vow to stay married for better or worse. And I failed. It didn’t matter that my first husband and I agreed that we would both be better off if we divorced, I felt like a failure. But beyond the feelings of failure, I also was terrified that God would strike me down because I’d gotten divorced. In fact, I kinda began to expect it.
Now, I’m not saying that my fears and pain were 100% normal and sane, but I’m not saying they were indications of insanity either. They were just manifestations of my pain at having my life as I knew it vanish and being unsure of who I was anymore.
Luckily, over time and with a lot of effort, I slowly crawled out of the quick sand of misery I was stuck in. And as I started to be able to see myself and the rest of the world a bit more clearly, I latched on to the idea that the reason I went through all of that horrible pain after my divorce was because I’d gotten married in the first place. So I made myself a promise: I would NEVER marry again.
As I began creating a new and better life for myself, I started dating again – just for fun. (The first time I started dating was as soon as I was divorced, but that’s a story for another time.)
And you know, after I’d been on eHarmony for 3 months and been on lots of dates, I met Jim. We talked for more than a month before we met in person and when we did he both scared and intrigued me. He scared me because he gave me a big bear hug as soon as we met. I wasn’t expecting it because back then I didn’t know anyone who would greet a stranger like that. And he intrigued me because his conversation displayed a wonderful combination of confidence and shyness. (And, yes, I thought he was good looking too.)
Well, we hit it off pretty quickly and we both stopped seeing anyone else within a month of meeting. We also moved in together at about that same time too. (YUP! I know it was fast and I certainly don’t recommend the pace of our relationship for everyone.)
Six months after that I decided to take a job out of state. He decided to move with me. The first time he proposed was shortly after we moved. I was non-committal because I didn’t want to marry again. Remember that promise I made to myself?
A year after that, he decided to take a job out of state and he asked me to marry him again. He was really insistent that he wanted to have a ring on my finger before he left and he wanted to have a ring on his finger before he left too. I agreed to get engaged, but I thought to myself, just because I’m engaged that doesn’t mean I have to get married. I was still bound and determined to keep my promise of NEVER marrying again.
After we’d had a long-distance relationship for a year, I decided to move and live with Jim again. He suggested the move and finally getting married by saying something along the lines of “Just say ‘yes’.”
BUT in my mind I was only saying “yes” to moving in together again.
After more than a year passed, Jim finally got frustrated with me and asked “Why won’t you marry me?” I had all kinds of excuses running through my mind, but none of them really made sense. So I changed the question to “We’re living together, so why does it matter?” All he could say was that it mattered. He told me I could have any kind of wedding I wanted and then pressed me to finally set a date.
I relented – kinda. I knew exactly where I wanted to get married and I also suspected that it would be impossible to be married there for a year or more because of a waiting list. Well, I was wrong. We could get married there in just 3 months.
I was still hot and cold about the whole idea of marriage right up until the moment I said “I do”. But when I said “I do”, an amazing thing happened. I felt peaceful. I felt lighter and I felt happy.
I’ve had several years to think about it since then. And I’ve realized that I made the promise to NEVER marry again when I was still hurt. I made it when I thought that all men were the same and that I would never grow or change.
Because I was so afraid of being hurt again, I didn’t really let myself live. I had too many walls up about what was and wasn’t appropriate for me and what risks I was willing to take.
Luckily for me, Jim was willing to wait for 4 years for me.
Why do I share this story with you? Because I know the pain of divorce and I know the decisions we make when we’re under so much stress may only be the correct decision in the moment and not the correct decision for a lifetime.
I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce coach and advisor helping people just like you who are struggling with creating a new life after divorce. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice or schedule a FREE 30-minute conversation with me directly in my Time Trade calendar.
This article originally appeared on DivorceForce.