Most people see divorce as a sign of failure. But like any failure, there is still something to be learned from divorce. The problem is that many of us don’t know how to look for those lessons — or don’t want to.
As painful as it may be to reflect on the years of your marriage and their eventual end, the nuggets of wisdom you can get from that can be hugely beneficial. You’ll learn more about yourself, what you want, what you need, and what you can offer to someone else.
If you’re not sure where to begin, start with these eight questions.
Who am I and what do I want from my life?
You might have wanted to be a veterinarian when you were a kid, but as an adult, you’re a sales person. Maybe you wanted to live in California when you were in high school but you’ve been living in New York for years. Life changes things. Life changes us.
The things you wanted before you got married may not be the same things you want now. Even the things you wanted while married may be different now that you’re divorced. And the person you were before and during your marriage are not the same as the person you are now.
It’s important to take some time to really contemplate who you are, who you want to be, and what you want from your life. You might realize you don’t want to get married again or that you want more children when you thought you were done. Once you get to know who you are and what you want from your life, you can start making plans to go after it.
What would I say about my ex if they weren’t my ex?
The things I said about my ex-husband before we got married and the things I said about him after our divorce would have made you think I was talking about two different people. Sometimes, in our anger and hurt over the divorce and the things that led up to it, we forget that our ex has some good qualities.
But when we’re raising children with them, we can’t allow ourselves the luxury of settling into the idea that our ex is a horrible person with no redeeming qualities. So take the time to imagine that your ex wasn’t your ex. What would you say about them? How would you describe them? If they were a friend, a co-worker, or even just an acquaintance, what would you say about them?
Being able to see your ex from the perspective of someone else, someone who isn’t feeling the loss of a major relationship, can help you start healing. It can also help you better handle interactions with your ex and listening when your children want to talk about your ex.
What would my ex say about me if they weren’t my ex?
If you’re thinking and saying negative things about your ex, you can feel fairly certain that they’re also thinking and saying negative things about you too. But just as reminding yourself of their good qualities can help you better deal with your ex, reminding yourself that they could still think some good things about you can also help.
It can also help you put into perspective anything you may have done or still be doing that might not be aligned with who you are and who you want to be. It can help you see those blind spots where you might be saying or doing things that, if you weren’t looking through a veil of anger and hurt right now, you wouldn’t be saying or doing.
Consider what your ex might say about you if they were a friend, co-worker, or neighbor. Would you be happy with it?
Did I bring my best self to the relationship?
There might be a big reason for your divorce, such as infidelity or addiction. And that reason might be on your ex. But often, if you take a little time to really look back, you might find that there were things you could have done differently that might have made a difference in the marriage.
Don’t misunderstand: this isn’t saying that your partner cheating on you, or getting addicted to drugs or alcohol, is your fault. But you might realize that you were too focused on work or the kids and your partner felt neglected — so while they should have come to you and tried to work it out with you, they went out and had an affair.
This can be an important question to ask yourself because if there’s something you could have done differently to perhaps result in a different outcome, you’ll want to know so you can behave differently in a future relationship.
Did I skate by and let my partner do most of the work?
Relationships take work and one partner alone can’t do it all. But in an unhealthy, unbalanced relationship, it is possible for one partner to do most of the work while the other just kind of hangs out. So it’s important, even if you think your partner shoulders most of the blame for the divorce, to see if you might have slacked off.
Don’t just look for big picture slacking either. Consider smaller areas where you may have let your partner carry most of the load — such as childcare, finances, or dealing with extended family. Even if something seemed like a small thing, or even something your partner enjoyed, it may have contributed to the eventual ending of your marriage.
If you notice things like that, evaluate why that happened. Maybe you don’t enjoy dealing with the bills so you let your partner handle most of that. This would be something to bring up early in your next relationship so that you and your next partner might be able to find a good compromise that leaves you both feeling good.
Did I do so much work that my partner wasn’t required to do much?
On the flip side of that is when you do all the work and let your partner off the hook — and often end up resenting them for it as a result. There are lots of reasons you could have done this. You might have chosen a partner who was lazy and wouldn’t do the work. You might have wanted to feel in control of the relationship. You might have seen that in your parents’ marriage.
Whatever the case, if you realize that you were shouldering most of the load, it’s important to recognize that and why you did it. Once you do that, the next step is to figure out how you can avoid doing it again. What do you need to do to allow your partner to carry their half of the relationship?
Be willing to dig deep to find these answers. If you did it in this relationship, then you most likely did it in others. Figuring this out can make a huge difference in your next relationship.
What are my greatest regrets?
For some, this is the easiest question to answer. For others, it’s the question they’d love nothing more than to avoid forever. But it’s also one that can give you some of the deepest insight into what you want and what you need to look for in future partners and relationships.
What are your greatest regrets about the divorce and about the marriage? What do you wish you’d done differently? What do you wish your partner had done differently? What do you wish had or hadn’t happened?
Be really honest with yourself. While you can’t go back and change the past, the answers you find here may help you choose a partner and relationship that are more aligned with what you really want in the future.
If divorce hadn’t been an option, what would I do differently to stay married and sane?
Most of us are fortunate enough to live in a time and place where divorce is an option we can consider. Some might even argue it’s too easy. But what if that weren’t true? What if you didn’t have the option of divorce and had to stay married to your ex?
What would you have done differently so that you could stay married to your ex without losing your mind? What could you have changed to get along better, find compromises, or make the marriage better or happier?
It can be hard to find answers to this sometimes, especially if there was abuse or infidelity that contributed to the end of the marriage. But it can also be really helpful to look at this because you may find areas where you realize you could have tried a little harder. And knowing that can help you in future relationships. You’ll know where your weaknesses are and be able to actively work on those areas.
See divorce as a new beginning
Divorce seems like an ending but I prefer to look at it as a new beginning. It’s a fresh start, a chance to evaluate the way you’ve been approaching love and relationships. Whether you divorce after just a few months or after decades, there’s sure to be something you can learn from it that will make a future relationship better.
And if you’re fresh off the split and not ready to start asking yourself these questions, that’s okay. You can give yourself a little time to heal. But don’t wait too long or you may start to see the past differently than it really was.
Ask these questions before you decide you’re ready to move on, though. Regardless of how ready you feel, you might be surprised at how much more ready you become after you gain these insights.
You can answer these questions, and more, in my divorce journal Back to Me: A 90-Day Journal for Moving On After Divorce.
Wendy Miller is a freelance relationship writer & meditation teacher. After years of settling for abusive and otherwise toxic relationships, she got fed up. Using meditation and other tools, she got to work on healing herself, setting boundaries, and only engaging in relationships (romantic and otherwise) that bring her joy. She wants to help other single parents find the love they seek, including and going beyond romantic love. She lives in Florida with her two sons, where she homeschools while solo parenting, while surrounded by what feels like a zooful of animals.
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