Dignity in Divorce

Posted on May 16, 2022 by Katie Carter

There’s a lot of dignity in divorce. Or, at least, there can be.

It probably goes without saying that I think about divorce a lot. I think about it at work, of course, and in all the ways that I deal with my clients. I think about it a fair bit in my own personal life, too, because my family and friends get divorced, too, just like anyone else’s. I also come across it on social media, in the TV shows and movies that I watch, and in the news.

To me, maybe because it’s so much of my every day life, it seems like divorce is everywhere.

Depending on how you think about divorce, that can be either a good thing or a bad thing. To me, it seems more good than bad, because, for so many years, women had no options. It wasn’t that they didn’t want to divorce, or wouldn’t have chosen something different for themselves if they could, but because there weren’t options – unless you consider homelessness and starvation and unemployment options, which I (personally) don’t.

I think a lot of women chose to stay, and the marriage rates stayed artificially high, because of a society that didn’t support women standing on their own feet, without the aid of their husband. Even in my own mother’s lifetime, a number of things have changed – her ability to get a credit card or a mortgage in her own name, for example – that literally did not exist for my grandmothers. It seems crazy to me now.

But that’s how our collective memory is, isn’t it? Because we can’t remember something, or because it didn’t happen in our lifetime, it’s practically as ancient as the dinosaurs. But that’s not true or accurate. In very, very recent times, things were completely different. And I’m not saying that they’re perfect now, because they aren’t – but, for women, they are better.

You can leave a marriage that is unhappy, unfulfilling, unsuccessful, abusive, or unsatisfying. For those reasons, or literally any other reasons you could possibly name. If you want to go, you can. So can he, of course, but the blessing there is still the same: if he does go, you can be okay.

And there’s dignity in that.

But there’s also dignity in how you handle the divorce, which is something that I’ve seen play out in my own life in the last couple of weeks. It doesn’t matter who you are in the actual divorce – whether you’re the one who wanted it or the one who never saw it coming – you can find peace, happiness, and strength in the way forward.

Or, alternatively, not.

You can be the woman who, thirty years later, won’t greet her ex when she sees him at a special event celebrated by the child you share in common. You can berate him to anyone who’ll listen, call him your ‘sperm donor’, or enumerate all the various ways that he did you wrong. You can spit when you hear his name, call him nasty words, or insult his new partner and/or children. You can refuse to coparent, while your children are young, and then again when your children become parents. You can make family events uncomfortable. You can ask people to choose sides. And on and on.

Or… you can choose to not do those things.

You can refuse to allow yourself to be treated in a particular way. You can stand up for yourself. You can love your children, and support them as they transition to a new kind of parenting arrangement (whether they’re young or all grown up). You can tolerate your ex, or even forge a different kind of friendship borne of mutual respect. You can be kind in polite conversation. You can refuse to talk about what happened between the two of you. You can allow your friends and family to continue to love you both. You can hold your head high.

You can experiment with some new things. Try yoga, or painting, or gardening. You can fix your hair. Lose weight. Learn to cook. Cut your hair. Buy a motorcycle. Go back to school. Work. Retire. Start a new career.

You can meet new people, male and female. You can create friendships out of new interests, or from taking time to renew your love of something old.
Ultimately, it’s your choice. Whether you wanted the divorce – which maybe makes it a little bit easier – or not, you can choose what you do with the chance you’ve been given. Your choice will definitely impact the way that you feel long term, and the relationship that your children will ultimately have with you and with your former spouse. You may not care about your ex (or you may, hey, there’s no rules here), but you do care about your children. It’s good for your kids, you know?

It doesn’t have to be the end of the world. It may feel bad for awhile, but divorce doesn’t have to be the worst thing to ever happen to you. You don’t have to let it get the best of you.

I know that it’s always easier said than done, and I don’t mean to imply that you make the choice and then all the pieces kind of miraculously fall into place. I don’t think they do. I think it’s almost always the result of really, really hard work – and a choice between what you want your future life to look like and what you don’t want it to look like.

Sometimes that takes counseling. Or just some time to process. Time to spend with good girlfriends. Hobbies. A couple good books. A TV series that distracts you.

You probably will need to grieve – the life you thought you had, the life you lost. But ultimately you need to choose happiness and dignity, because the alternative is just too sad to consider.

I see a lot of divorce. I see good and bad outcomes. And, ultimately, if it were me – I would want a good one.

For more information, to request a copy of our divorce book, or to schedule a consultation to discuss your case, give us a call at 757-425-5200.