Resilience – After Divorce
By Nina Malkin
The demise of a long-term marriage is a monumental blow, yet people do find the strength to not only survive but to thrive. Here, three very different stories of divorce with one common thread: the will and the wherewithal to rebuild a life.
“My ex made a shocking confession.” — Meg R., 60
After 30 years of marriage and two beautiful daughters, my husband told me he was gay and asked for a divorce. First, I was shocked; then I felt angry and hurt by the decades of deception. Of course, I was humiliated: How could I not have known? Yet at the same time I didn’t want him to leave—we had built a life together, and I was unsure how I would manage without him. He promised to “take care” of me, but he meant financially. Who would take care of me emotionally and intellectually; who would challenge me and make me laugh? When he moved out I faced a void, and I still do, every day (he revealed his sexual orientation a mere eight months ago). I didn’t fall apart, however; I discovered inner strengths to see me through. Here’s what I rely on:
- I could have fabricated a story about what ended my marriage, but I’ve had enough of lies. Instead, I am being very upfront. Somehow, the more I say, “My ex turned out to be gay!” the closer I come to accepting it and moving on.
- My ex had to struggle with a lot of conflict; although he did lie to me, it couldn’t have been easy. In his way he did want me, our girls, our life— I know that. I’m still in pain, but I do hope to fully forgive him, and the fact that I want to forgive reminds me that I am a person of quality.
- Looking outside myself. My career is in social work, and that has helped me maintain perspective. Yes, I’m going through a very difficult time, but I still have my health and my sanity, food and shelter, my children, family and friends. Many of my clients could never say the same. It’s important to “keep busy” during periods of loss and adversity, and I consider myself fortunate that my occupation allows me to be there for others who need me.
“I gave her everything, except what she wanted most.” — Alan D., 57
I have three great kids, one with special needs, from my first marriage and didn’t want more children. In fact, one of the things that attracted me to my second wife (17 years my junior), was her free-spiritedness. When things started getting serious between us, we had a discussion and she assured me that motherhood didn’t interest her. For 12 years we had a ball, traveling, partying, being spontaneous. Then she hit her mid-thirties and the biological clock kicked in hard. She went off the pill without telling me; I don’t remember how I found out, but I felt she had tried to trick me. We had terrible fights, and then we stopped having sex. The marriage was over, and it crushed me—I loved her so much. I gave in to all her monetary demands; maybe I felt guilty about refusing to give her a child. It’s been six years since we split, and here’s what got me through:
- Self-knowledge. I never second-guessed myself. Painful as the breakup was, I knew I would not have been happy if I’d relented and had another child just to please my ex. I also realized that I’m not cut out for… I’ll be blunt, the restrictions of marriage. These days I date, but I don’t get involved; I like that freedom.
- Between the divorce and the floundering economy, I got hit hard financially. But I wasn’t about to lie down and die. At 51, I reinvented myself professionally. I put all the time and energy I might otherwise have wasted ruminating about my ex into my future. I’m still growing the business but am proud of what I’ve accomplished so far.
- In telling this tale I may have come off like a hard-ass, but I was devastated when my ex flipped on me. And I bet, reading this, some people will automatically side with her and think I’m a selfish S.O.B.—there were friends who did. That’s why I’m so grateful for those who stuck by me, gave me support and told me I’d be all right. That includes my brother and his family as well as, believe it or not, my own children. When I was at my lowest point, hearing them say, “You’re a good guy, Dad. We love you,” really helped me rally.
“I survived the typically horrific ‘woman scorned’ scenario.” — Jenny R., 53
I spent a lot of time going back and forth between my hometown and my adopted city during my mother’s protracted illness. Shortly after her death, when I could focus on my marriage again, I sensed something wrong. Indeed, my husband of nearly twenty years confessed to having an affair with one of our close friends. Though we tried therapy, it was a farce, since he refused to give up the other woman. I packed two bags and got a tiny apartment. Friends said I was crazy—insisting I should have kicked him out and then taken him for every penny. Instead, we spilt the proceeds from the sale of our house and went separate ways. Not only was I alone, my ex had been one of those “take charge” guys who did everything, including cooking, driving, paying the bills and arranging our social calendar—I was 50 years old and felt helpless as a child. But I dried my tears and out of necessity tapped into stores of strength I didn’t know I had.
- I embraced it, big-time. First, I cut and colored my hair. Then I bought a used car and, once I felt confident driving again, moved to Los Angeles. I’d always been a journalist, but I hooked up with a writing partner with some solid connections, and we’re working on TV pilots. I even learned to cook (a little).
- No matter how bad things are, you have to laugh—literally, my sense of humor saved me. I mean, there was my ailing mother, speaking of my husband like he was some kind of saint, right about the time he was screwing my dear friend—in our bed. There is something darkly hilarious about that. Did I mention that my partner and I are writing comedy scripts?
- Experts will tell you not to get into a rebound relationship after splitting from a spouse but the only one way for me to purge the image of my ex-husband and ex-friend was revenge sex. With a mu-u-u-u-u-ch younger man. Who was smokin’ hot. And who got me to try things I’d never done before (see change, above). Although that was just a fling, I’m with someone now who, lucky-for him, has the best me ever. An independent woman who’s eager to grow, open to risk and able to giggle when things go awry—and who can make a pretty decent roast chicken.