As babies we are completely dependent on our mothers and growing up is a process of becoming more independent. When we get married, it can be a battle to surrender some of that independence for the sake of the relationship. Over the years of marriage, some of us maintain more independence than others but during the course of a long marriage, it’s inevitable that couples become interdependent to some degree. When a divorce occurs after a lengthy marriage, it can be difficult to become independent again.
Some marriages today are very individualistic with spouses having separate bank accounts and both earning their own salaries. These marriages are very different from those where the husband went out to work and the woman stayed at home to look after the children. Getting divorced and moving on is much easier when both parties have retained much of their independence. In marriages where the woman is dependent on the man, she takes a very hard knock if it ends.
Most of us regard being independent as a worthwhile goal. It is what we fight for as teenagers. However, in a marriage relationship, I believe self-reliance has to be balanced with interdependence for it to work well. My marriage came with a good dose of interdependence – we worked together in our own business, pooled our finances, cared for our children together, were equally responsible for household tasks and spent most of our leisure time together too. We didn’t make major decisions without sharing and coming to a mutual agreement. Neither of us wanted to be too ‘needy’ or too ‘demanding’ but we saw relying on and helping one another as a sign of strength, rather than weakness.
When you have been together for many decades, the roots of your relationship grow deep. You become intertwined through the years. Your thinking and behavior have of necessity been tailored to accommodate one another. There has also been a division of tasks in most cases. My husband pretty much took care of most of the practical issues in our lives as this was his strength. However, I took care of all the paperwork, including managing our personal and business finances.
A divorce after many years of marriage means that all the old habits, routines and ways you may have developed to live your life together no longer exist. It’s pretty much like cutting off an arm or a leg. You wouldn’t do it unless you felt it was affecting your overall health.
Unraveling a lifetime of togetherness is not easy. But you have to do it or you get stuck. It’s a hard realization that your ex-spouse is no longer there for you. You may find, as I did, that you are stronger than you think. It may take some time for you to find your feet but each step you take towards independence builds your confidence.
Don’t be afraid of what you can’t do yet
Fixing mechanical objects was not in my wheelhouse when I was married. I was daunted when these objects began to give in one after the other – starting with my washing machine. As I fiddled around, trying to find out what was wrong I realized just how little attention I had paid over the years to any problems like this. I was very proud of myself when I managed to find the fault after extensive googling and I even managed to buy the right part. I did get help with the installation but I gave myself a good pat on the back once it was fixed. In the two years since the divorce, I have managed to build up a good list of contacts for just about every possible household emergency, from blocked drains to burst geysers. This was quite a challenge as I didn’t even have to change a light bulb when I was married. I have also learned that finding the right people to help you is important – you don’t have to do it all on your own.
Take small steps
The best advice I can give for becoming self-reliant once again after a divorce is to take small steps. Don’t set your expectations too high or you set yourself up for failure. You can keep challenging yourself more as you go along. Every small step, no matter how small, should be a reason for celebration. Going camping with friends was a milestone for me. We had camped frequently during our marriage and I loved it but I didn’t know whether I would handle all the practical aspects that had usually been taken care of for me. I felt very accomplished after I managed to put up my tent and stretcher all on my own. Now I am planning to go for a few more days.
Standing firmly on your own
As painful as the process of divorce can be, it is also an opportunity to see your life from a different perspective. It takes time to re-adjust and learn to rely on yourself but it is possible. It may even be harder than you expect at first but the fruit will be sweeter too. You will find that along the way, have learned some skills that enable you to make the best life possible for yourself.
In addition to new practical skills, divorce has given me more emotional strength. In the areas where I was weak, I am becoming stronger. My wounds are healing and my self-acceptance and self-confidence are growing daily.
It may not come easily or quickly but you will reach a place where you can stand on your own and know that you do not need someone else to hold you up.