My husband just blindsided me with a divorce. I’m a stay at home mom to our daughter who has her 7th birthday coming up in a few days and have no clue what to do or how to respond. My husband and I have been together for 18 years and married for 10. I am shocked… everyone who knows us is shocked. He said he is tired of trying to change me. He doesn’t think I am happy enough, I’m too negative and not outgoing like he would like me to be. I am more of a quite and reserved type of person, but I am a really nice person so I at least got that going for me! He told me that he is staying with another woman and he is frankly acting like he is God’s gift to women and he is better than everyone else. I have been a stay at home mom for almost 7 years now and I have no side money (did I mention this is out of the blue?). My husband is spending money like crazy knowing that I am going to be financially screwed. For example, he took our daughter to Six Flags amusement park two days ago and spent over $300!
Bottom line is, I am scared. I have always adapted my life to whatever and whenever he wanted. I was okay with the way my life was because I NEVER thought that this would happen and I believed I was giving up my needs for the betterment of the family. Please help provide some direction here, for I am lost.
Anxiously awaiting advice,
Dear Blindsided Wife,
First I want to begin by saying I feel very heartbroken and sad for the pain you must be experiencing right now. A broken relationship is so devastating. I hope that I can help by providing some clarity and/or guidance in this foggy place you must be in. Before I go any further, for the sake of clarity, please know I am providing recommendations from a therapeutic stance and not a legal one. That being said I could write a book about all the reflecting, considerations, processing and just basic self-care that would be healthy for you at this point in time. However, to make it blog appropriate I will just touch on some main points. I will lay it out by focus.
Self-care & self-reflect
I placed you first because you cannot be an adequate caretaker and support for your daughter if you neglect yourself. So, focusing on you… have you asked yourself what you want? Where do you stand? Take some serious time by YOURSELF, not with friends or family, but by yourself to reflect on what will make you happy in the long run. A few things to ponder and get the reflection juices going: Is this a relationship/marriage that you want to fight for? Then the reasons… Do you believe that you could repair and restore, possibly get to a better place with work on your relationship or is this something you will never be able to forgive? Is he willing to work on the relationship or is it not even a possibility? Were you happy in your marriage? Does your husband make you happy? Can he make you happy? Do you fear loneliness? What are your boundaries moving forward, meaning what will you tolerate and deal with and what will you definitely not put up with? Knowing where you stand and what you want is very important in making decisions that lie ahead of you, and there will be a lot of them. This is likely to be a long process, regardless of what exact road is ahead, so schedule continued reflection time for you to know where you stand in order to be confident in the directions that you choose. In addition to some reflection time, it is important to have daily (ideal) or weekly (realistic) self-care time. This can be anything that is good for your soul and revitalizes you such as reading a book or taking a bubble bath. Make self-care a priority! Schedule some girls nights and explore activities that will remove loneliness. Taking care of your self will help you stay true to yourself, maintain your values, and proceed thoughtfully. One thing I have found effective during a Divorce group I facilitated was for the women to say several times to themselves: “I am valuable as an individual, I am strong on my own.” This creates a resilient mindset and helps build up courage to build a sense of independence again.
Identifying and utilizing a support system is crucial. Figure out who these people are and ASK FOR HELP when you need it. This is not a time to prove to your husband, or yourself for that matter, how you are superwoman and that he made a mistake! This is a time to lean on those who care about you most and are willing to hold your hand from time to time to help you get through this. Whether it be taking your daughter for a day, crying on a shoulder for an hour, or recommending a lawyer; take the help that is offered and ask for the help you need. This leads me to finding a divorce lawyer, and a good one who can guide you with financial questions you may have because setting yourself up to have some financial security is very important. Speaking of financial security, start brainstorming some ways you can bring in an income. What are your skills, talents, and special abilities? Maybe something you were good at doing before? Who do you know that could refer you at their office? Again, ask for help in ways that you can here. Also, you mentioned that he is spending money like a mad man so for your protection I would start saving money for yourself in a legal way that you can. Again… get a lawyer!
It is VERY important for you to refrain from speaking poorly about your husband in front of your daughter. Understand that you may get so angry toward your husband for putting your family in this position that you just want your daughter to know it is all his fault and how big of a jerk he is… on and on; but that is the most damaging thing you can do for your daughter at this point. Our children identify with their parents and therefore when you speak negatively about a child’s parent you are actually crushing 50% of their self-identity and self-esteem. So do your best by being careful about the words that you choose around her. Get out the steam when you are with supportive adults, not children.
Communicate with your daughter and don’t play pretend happy. Now there is a healthy balance here because you also don’t want to be a basket case around your daughter all the time! The greatest example we can be for our children is showing them that it is normal to experience feelings and letting them see how we use different coping skills to manage difficult feelings. Here is a good short article about pointers on what to tell her about the divorce: https://www.babycenter.com/0_how-to-tell-your-child-youre-getting-divorced-ages-5-to-8_3657051.bc, or this is a book I recommend for more detailed advice on fostering an open dialogue with your daughter about the changes that lie ahead: https://www.amazon.com/Talk-Your-Kids-about-Divorce/dp/1440588783/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8. Being on the same page and approaching parenting as a team, with your husband, will be valuable to your daughter. Having a conversation with your husband about what kind of parents you want to be as you approach this new transition and how you will work to maintain a co-parenting relationship would be a productive place to start. This is important because obviously you are connected to one another for life, but even more closely for the next 11 years and you will both be making decisions about a daughter that you share. It is important for her that you can work as a collaborative team instead of going against each other because she will ultimately be put in the middle if you can’t figure out how to function in a united way.
This will be a difficult transition for her so try your hardest to go about your days as normal as you can. Stick to schedules and routines that are already in place. Give her choices and let her make decisions about situations that will impact her. That doesn’t mean you have to always do it her way, but let her weigh in as often as you can. If her choices or desires are not something you can do then at the very least validate her wants, explain why it can’t work and offer an alternative. For example, “I hear that you want to go stay with your Dad tonight and I think that it is important for you to see him too. However, tonight is Wednesday and on Wednesdays you stay with me. If you would like we can call your dad on FaceTime to see him that way!” Set aside some one-on-one time every day to spend some quality time together, even as little as 15 minutes of your undivided attention will make a difference. Her world has just been rocked as well which can damage her sense of security, so the more security you can provide the better. By security I mean – knowing what to expect, feeling safe, little surprises, etc.
Your marriage/your husband:
Addressing the indicator lights
Okay, now that we have covered the important stuff! There were a few things that stuck out to me in what you wrote. You said you were “blindsided” and I believe that you feel blindside; however often times there are many red flags, or signs rather, that show up in our relationships that tell us we are going down hill; but we are stuck in denial or get too comfortable that we end up sweeping our issues under the rug hoping and praying that they will go away. Think of it like an indicator light on your car, if you continue to ignore it eventually your car will break down. Chances are there have been some indicator lights that have popped up over the years that weren’t addressed, which would lead to a relationship that has been becoming less intimate and less connected over time. To top it off, due to the harshness of facing reality, neither party communicated their true vulnerable thoughts and feelings. Any time someone is blindsided there has likely been a lack of communication for some time. The reason I express this is not to go against your statement of being blindsided but to say that usually the affair or divorce is a symptom of other issues. That is important because the other issues are most often things that can be worked on in counseling if there is a desire. This is why so many couples actually come out of an affair in a much healthier place because unfortunately the divorce or affair was what started much needed conversations. If saving your marriage is a possibility, then beginning to have these difficult conversations would be a place to start (I always advise to have these conversations with a counselor to get you to a place where the communication can be constructive and beneficial to your relationship). Maybe you can think of a few of the indicators in your relationship that could have been addressed more thoroughly and that might be a good place to start a conversation?
You are not for changing, but for finding again
You also mentioned how he is tired of trying to change you… and my initial reaction is, “Well duh, you can’t change someone!” So inevitably he will be tired of trying to change you if that was his goal because it is not possible. This is probably one of the main issues that, if I were your therapist, I would begin the work on because a relationship will only become more disappointing if the goal is to change the person you are with. As you probably already know, from being in an 18 year-long relationship, marriages go through many stages and we experience personal transformation several times. One partner may be very ambitious for 5 years and start a business, have a need to explore the world and increase the traveling adventures or just want more privacy and quality time for the family for a handful of years. Whatever the transformation is, we all go through them. However, who you are as a person, your personality is something that is pretty much established. I am just flabbergasted at his reasons to change you, as if he didn’t know you were a more reserved person 18 years ago when you started dating. Fact of the matter is, that he did, and he chose to marry you and fell in love with you for several reasons. You don’t need to change your personality! His preferences, desires, and/or needs are what changed. There is something going on with him where he is needing someone in his life that is more outgoing. Maybe he needs more adventure or more positive experiences. This is another thing that could be explored further in counseling. The important message here is don’t feel a need to change WHO YOU ARE. Now there is a difference between changing who you are as a person and improving your state of mind and behaviors. I will elaborate… I noticed how you said that “always adapted your life” to what your husband wanted. Okay, so basically you sacrificed your core self for him. You probably did it out of love and kindness, but it is likely that the happiness light that has dimmed inside of you is because you have lost a piece of yourself. It is time my dear, to find that person again. Look at this time as an opportunity to pick up the pieces of you that you once loved and cherished; the parts of you that you may have dropped along the way. Wherever you go from here, may it be toward finding yourself!
I hope these ideas will be helpful and as always the most strength is in asking for a helping hand!