When we fail in any aspect of life, it triggers a variety of responses.
Some take it as a sign they weren’t meant to achieve that thing and they quit.
Others believe that events outside their control were responsible, that they couldn’t possibly be the problem and so they keep on doing what they’ve always done. Chances are, those people fail again.
The last response, the healthy and positive way of responding to failure is to use it as an opportunity to learn, grow and to become better equipped to succeed next time. That’s the approach I wish I defaulted to when I failed. I suspect that most of would aspire to the same.
My biggest failure to date, in terms of its effects in defining the course of my life would be my first marriage, which ended in divorce in 2007. The scale of that failure isn’t down to that parting having been especially scarring emotionally or financially, but simply for the effects it has had in shaping my life since.
I met and married the woman who was my first serious girlfriend and would become my first wife, when we were both relatively young. I had just graduated from university and was starting out in my career, brimming with optimism and enthusiasm. She was in her final year at university.
We started seeing each other and within a few short months were expecting our first daughter, who was born just before my 24th birthday. We eventually married, had another child and spent a few years of event-filled marriage together before reluctantly acknowledging just before my 30th birthday that we needed to part.
It was about as amicable a split as you could imagine; neither of us blamed the other but we had got together under non-ideal circumstances, and done our best to make a go of it in spite of not being right for each other.
We were resolute that we both still had a lot of life to live, and were still young enough to start over. The decision was taken and duly enacted.
We shared a commitment and desire to raise our daughters jointly and co-operatively. While our relationship as a couple was over, our relationship as parents to our kids would last for life. For the last 12 years we’ve shared custody on an equal 50–50 basis.
That relationship, its events and its subsequent demise have shaped many aspects of my life since, including where I live, what I do for work and how I spend my time.
In this article, I want to share why, in spite of having such a significant and far-reaching impact upon my life, divorcing didn’t discourage me from finding another person to love and eventually marry. I learned a great deal about myself and about life in the process of divorcing and in the years that followed.
I’ve since remarried and my second (and final!) wife and we have a blended family of six, with my two daughters and her kids from her first marriage.
It’s the lessons that life has furnished me with since divorcing that I want to share now.
I should add at this point that I’ve had my share of painful breakups from toxic and destructive relationships too, since divorcing. Much of the advice I have to share is based on lessons learned through these experiences too.
Divorce is the end of a legal arrangement, not the end of life.
I appreciate that not every divorce will be as amicable as mine was and that factors such as abuse and infidelity play a part in many divorces, leaving scars that are much harder to heal than the mere emotional pain of parting. Nonetheless, a typical response when relationships fail is to swear-off them for life since they appear too difficult or destined to fail and bring pain and hurt in their wake.
Several times both after divorce and the failing of a number of subsequent relationships, I was resolute that I would spend the rest of my life alone, by choice. With the passing of time, the evolution-honed drive for companionship would eventually kick in as the pain gradually healed. On each occasion I would gradually come back around to wanting to date again, not out of a love for the process, but out of a desire to achieve the end-state; to meet a partner for life.
The drive for companionship is a compelling one.
Even if you are resolute that you don’t ever want a relationship again, divorce doesn’t have to be a burden or label that you carry around forever more.
By putting in the work to heal, to rebuild and reinforce your own identity and resolve, and by forgiving your past self, you will hopefully find as I did that you are better equipped to grow and thrive in life, divorced or not.
A failed marriage doesn’t have to stop you from believing in love or romance. It doesn’t even have to undermine your faith in the institution of marriage. I didn’t have particularly strong drives towards marriage and felt that having kids together was a strong enough bond to keep us together if the relationship was destined to endure.
The romance, mutual support, affection, kindness and companionship can and should all exist with or without a marriage. Nonetheless, divorce didn’t dissuade me from wanting to be married again if I could only find the right person.
We have to kiss a few frogs to find our ideal person.
In an ideal world, we’d all be fully self-reliant and happy in ourselves before getting involved with anyone else. I was young and naïve when I met my ex-wife and far from certain about who I was and what I wanted. I suspect the same was true for her too, and that probably played a big part in our eventual divorce.
Finding the right person only comes through refining your ideas of what you want and need in another person. It’s about learning who you are and what your strengths and shortcomings are in yourself. This self-awareness only comes when we go through life, meet a few people and have a few relationships. We learn what works and what doesn’t.
Only then can we be certain of what we want and need.
That’s not to say that those rare few who meet and marry their childhood sweethearts have done it wrong or are doomed to fail. I know of very few examples of this kind of couple though, and they’re certainly the exception rather than the norm. Perhaps I’m focusing upon the positives in my own situation rather than being truly objective?
Many of the facets that drew me to my second wife were appealing and attractive precisely because I’d recognised their importance through them lacking in past relationships.
I firmly believe there is someone for everyone and it’s often not who you think it might be.
A failed marriage might leave you with feelings about what you want and what you don’t in a future match. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the case that your ideal person is ‘nothing like your ex’ though. There are of course traits and characteristics that drew you to them in the first place and those are valid for seeking in another.
We have to kiss a few frogs to find our prince or princess.
Nobody else will make you happy until you are happy in yourself.
I’m re-stating this as it’s so important. Too often we seek relationships as a crutch or fix for something that’s broken or lacking in ourselves. Instead, we should address those shortcomings and do the work on ourselves to make sure we're complete, self-sufficient and self-reliant before seeking our match.
Looking back, I dated women who didn’t have kids since I thought their freedom from parenthood might restore a feeling of liberation in my own life. I dated single mothers who I thought might empathise to my circumstances better and make it easier to build a life together. In each instance, my motives were positive, but in every instance I learned something new about what I did or didn’t want.
Not everything can be captured on a check list of desirable and undesirable traits.
It was only when I recognised that I needed to do the work on myself and focus on becoming the best version of me that I could be, would I be ready to meet the right person. And so, I put in that work, and put the search on hold until I felt that progress had been made.
You don’t have to hate your ex, but you don’t have to remain friends either.
This isn’t just about divorce, but the failing of relationships more widely.
I get on well with my ex-wife and with our shared commitment and ethos regarding parenting of our kids it demands quite a bit of interaction.
We are civil, polite and respectful and I care about her wellbeing just as she does about mine. I’m not sure I’d define us as friends though. If we didn’t have the kids, I doubt we’d see each other from one year to the next.
In my experience, it’s not an indictment on your character if you don’t remain friends after a divorce or a breakup. There’s plenty of good reasons to be civil to each other, but to remain friends is often suggested as an appeasement of conscience by one or both of people, to suggest that there are no hard feelings.
Instead, I believe it’s best to accept the failing and to move forwards cleanly, politely and hopefully with dignity, regardless of what led to the split.
It’s been my experience that the baggage from failed relationships has immense power to undermine new relationships. The same is true whether that baggage exists in refusing to forgive someone and hanging on to anger, or where there’s a pseudo-friendship between former partners.
Egos are frail, and self-confidence can be a fragile thing too. The influence of baggage from past relationships threatens both of these.
If something has broken beyond repair, there’s little point in trying to salvage more than you reasonably can from it. Accept the split, learn the lessons and move on.
The same principle applies to clinging on anger, frustration and upset too. The only person that it hurts when you don’t let go, is yourself. Chances are that if the instigator was genuinely unpleasant, they will have long-since forgotten about what they did to you and will be spreading their misery elsewhere. Your clinging onto the past doesn’t affect them, only yourself. Forgive and let go, for your benefit not for theirs.
Having a past doesn’t have to equate to baggage and pain.
I suppose that much of my advice boils down to this: it’s up to us how we respond to the failure of relationships, the marks that it leaves upon us and how we move forwards in life.
If we can’t move past the memories or let go of the pain and baggage, then we’re never going to be freed to move on and live the rest of our lives. It’s easier said than done of course, but only by going through the hard times can we truly appreciate what is good.
Only by putting in the work can we free ourselves to get back in the game, to take forward the lessons and to see who might be the person that we deserve to meet and spend our life with.
In my darkest times I lost the belief that I’d ever be able to let go of the past. I lost faith that there was anyone out there who I was meant to be with. In time, I learned that there was though. I just had to believe in that, do the work and allow time to pass in order that I could one day get to that point.
The reward for doing so was to meet the person I was destined to be with. We are happily married, and I can say with some certainty that we will be for life.
Divorcing from my first marriage didn’t consign me to a life of loneliness. Indeed it was a necessary part of my process and an integral part of giving me the life I have now.
For that I am truly grateful.