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After a 30-Year Marriage, How Do You Survive Divorce?

He told her he didn’t love her anymore and left her for someone else. Here’s how she became stronger and moved on to a bold new life.

Despite my highlighted blond hair, I’m a member of the fast growing “gray divorce revolution.”  It wasn’t my wish, but it’s my reality.

When my husband of 30 years announced he no longer loved me, I had no inkling of the  pain, trauma and heartbreak that awaited. The lies and betrayal that were to come to light. The disruption created in my son’s new college life. The three years of limbo that would shred me to pieces and eventually stitch me back up.

If you find yourself facing the end of a long marriage that you treasured, brace yourself. It’s a loss that feels like death, with all the anger, pain and bitterness that comes with irreparable harm.

The bad news about a divorce? Your life will never be the same. The good news about a divorce? Your life will never be the same. Yep—it’s a double-edged sword that cuts both ways.

With my divorce decree newly filed, I’d like to share some things I learned along the way. They just scratch the surface. But maybe they’ll help.

1) Go small

Find a small space to live, gather your thoughts, cry, plan, and, most importantly, heal. Too much stuff and space makes your world feel overwhelming. For 18 months I stayed in the big country house where our son was raised. Too many memories floated around, keeping me stuck in the past. Moving to my mother’s dinky, musty lake cottage proved a true salvation. Built as a three season house with no laundry room or garage and 26 steps to climb, it dared me to spend the winter. So I did. And I emerged a stronger woman.

2) Protect your heart.

Get off Facebook. Tell your friends not to “feed you” any info from it.  Feeling at our lowest leaves us really vulnerable. If you’re the one being “dumped” by your spouse for another person, there’s a good chance hurtful stories and photos will come your way.  That happened to me. It was devastating. I also found that reading posts about friends’ anniversaries and Valentine’s Day stung and set me back. Six months into separation, I deactivated my Facebook account. I haven’t returned.

3) Embrace grace

When scary things happen to us, we look beyond our sphere of living and strive for meaning. I started seeking answers on how to find my way through the divorce darkness, Several friends shared devotionals or spiritual readings with me. One, in particular, helped a lot. The book, Jesus Calling by Sarah Young, became my morning go to. It delivered hope and grace every day and is very popular reading for those who face divorce. Another staple for me became works by the American Tibetan Buddhist nun Pema Chodron, including When Things Fall Apart and The Places that Scare  You.There are many other books on living in the present and being grateful for all we have in our lives. The power of grace and gratitude is incredible!

4) Be bold 

Push yourself to be adventurous and independent. I was 20 when I met my ex and 54 when he left me. Suddenly I had to make every decision and solve every problem to keep functioning in the world.  So I sought to change things up. Much to the shock of friends and family, I took a solo road trip from Wisconsin to Colorado.  Armed with Allman Brothers, Tom Petty and other Classic rock CDs, I hit the open road, driving for hours at a stretch. When billboards promised quirky or historical sites (like Willa Cather’s home town or the Bridges of Madison County), I took the exit. It was a liberating trip that made me comfortable in my own skin. Getting out of my comfort zone made me better handle tough things that came my way while in  transition, like talking to your ex, watching septic bubble up from your shower, or moving your son to a big city by yourself.

5) Know you’re not alone

The night before we closed on the sale of our former house, I pulled up to the cottage in pitch blackness. The car was crammed with boxes to be unloaded. With just a cell phone for light and tears welling, I began hauling my belongings down the two flights of crumbling concrete stairs, feeling certain that I’d slip, fall and die in the darkness all alone.

The days of separation and divorce are some of the loneliest ones you’ll ever experience.

However, it won’t always be that way. Drop the shame. Forget the pride.  Be willing to share your pain.  As a result, your relationships with family and friends will deepen. You’ll find new friends.

For months my son encouraged me to talk to his friend’s mom, recently divorced. I put it off, embarrassed about the demise of my marriage. Finally, I reached out, hungry for advice. Meeting her was life-changing. We exchanged stories. She listened to my secret fears, brought me out into the world, and kick-started my confidence. I started dancing and laughing again.  More than a friend, she was a mentor.  She’s inspired me to do the same for anyone I encounter who is facing an unwanted divorce.

As you shuffle, stumble, and ultimately stride through the days ahead, remember you are not alone. Let kind-hearted people into your world. You will survive.

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