“Please don’t tell anyone.”
Although I respected my friend’s request for privacy, I didn’t fully understand her plea until a few years later, when I began the process of ending my own marriage.
These words caught me. They’re the first words of an article in the Fargo Forum from writer and fellow divorcee Heather Ehrichs Angell. In her article, “Area 20-somethings struggle with divorce,” she addresses the idea of divorce, both her own and a few examples. But more so than just the topic of divorce, she talks openly about the statistics surrounding divorces of couples who get married young. You see, the statistic that 50% of marriages end in divorce is technically correct, but what you might now know and Heather points out here is that “men and women who get married between the age of 20 and 24 years old make up over 35 percent of divorces within the United States.”
Easy solution, right? Don’t get married before you’re 25. But unfortunately, strong headed young people aren’t listening. I wasn’t. Because I’m a part of that statistic – married at 22 (just barely) and divorced before my 24th birthday. Call it what you will – a starter marriage, a massive mistake, a learning experience, but no matter what you call it, it has implications in my life still today.
Divorce is something that, unfortunately, many of us will endure. And if it isn’t you, you’ll likely know a family member or a friend who has gone through this. And you’ll likely hear something similar to Heather – someone saying, “Please don’t tell anyone.” Because divorce, any way you slice it, is embarrassing. It feels, at the time, like a failure. And it’s only natural that you’ll want to hide it as much as possible. For me, hiding the idea of divorce meant staying in an unhappy marriage too long, and ultimately meant I didn’t advocate for myself in the legal process, leaving me with deep regrets about how the process went.
So for anyone experiencing a divorce, and especially for those who are currently hiding their fears and admission that divorce might be an option, I’d like to give you my advice on coping with divorce, both emotionally and financially.
Emotionally: Divorce is like a death, and with it comes a plethora of emotions. Deal with them head on, and here’s a few points to remember.
- Tell People. Seriously. Tell people. This is the hardest thing you’ll do, but it beats keeping it all inside. At the very moment of my split, I confided in a group of co-workers, one of whom was in charge of our IT support and another responsible for marketing. Almost instantly, the two of them changed my last name on my email address and ordered me new business cards. This was more therapeutic than I can explain. It’s little things like this that makes confiding in people important – not always the crying on their shoulders, but sometimes what can be done you’d never even think about.
- Don’t beat yourself up when you want to talk to your ex. This is a big one. It’s natural to want to talk to your ex. You will want to hug them and potentially even be affectionate towards them, despite any anger or resentment or hurt feelings you might have. This is normal. It’s letting go. It takes time. Allow yourself to feel what you need to feel, while hopefully confiding in a friend who can help you remain attached to reality in the process.
- Get away, if you can. One of the great blessings of my divorce was that I was able to move out immediately upon making a decision to split and never needed to stay in the home I had with my ex. This distance is important. There are many divorcing couples who, for whatever reason be it financial or convenient, choose to stay in the same home for a time. This can cause confusion and anger and arguments unnecessary to the process. Get out as quickly as possible if you can and establish a new routine.
- Make your boss or employer aware of your circumstances. Frankly, when you leave crying at 1:00pm, someone is going to wonder. When you get angry phone calls, someone is going to wonder. Don’t give your boss or higher-ups an opportunity to judge. Tell them, unemotionally, what’s happening, and thank them in advance for their understanding as you go through a difficult personal situation. It’s better that they know and express some empathy than not know and think you’re nuts.
Financially: Whether we want to accept it or not, marriage is a business transaction. It includes assets, shared expenses, paychecks, bills, and life estates, just to name a few. I’ve heard that in a recession the divorce rate plummets because people just don’t have the financial resources to get divorced when they’re down in the financial dumps. But if you can, follow the following rules:
- Split accounts ASAP. If you have joint checking and savings accounts, freeze them if you can. Open your own checking and savings account immediately and change your direct deposit to the new account. If you are amicable with your ex, you can elect to split the money in your shared accounts immediately and open separate accounts.
- Change your passwords and wipe your computer. Especially if you’re in a contentious situation, change every password you’ve ever used, but only after wiping your computer or paying someone to wipe it for you. Get rid of any programs you don’t know about and any that might be hidden. Your ex could be using a keystroke monitor, and the last thing you want is that person having access to your new bank accounts or passwords. Protect your privacy as if it were your only asset. If things get messy, you’ll be glad you did.
- Get your own lawyer. Did you all hear that clearly enough? Pause, breathe, and listen again if you didn’t. Ready? GET YOUR OWN LAWYER!!!!!! I made this mistake and I will regret it forever. My ex-husband and I were attempting a quick and amicable split and agreed to use one lawyer for a small fee to complete the process. In hindsight, the woman was a complete idiot and my rights were not taken into consideration at all. And all because at the time, all I could see was the money I’d just spent on a new apartment, new furniture, moving, etc. etc. and I wanted to pinch some pennies. Now, looking back, I would gladly shell out thousands of dollars to have ensured I was making good decisions legally, which I wasn’t.
You’ll note that none of my advice or suggestions deals specifically with a divorce involving children. I do so intentionally because these pieces of advice are from my own experience and experience I’ve heard from others in a similar situation. But my greatest piece of advice goes directly back to Heather’s opening lines in the Fargo Forum. Don’t say, “Please don’t tell anyone.” You have to own the situation you’re in, and you have to move past it. And until you let go of the shame of being a divorcee, you’ll be doomed to fail in the future. Look up, see the future, and walk into it – even if it’s very very slowly.