Divorce is a blank canvas. A clean sheet of paper on which we can write a new, and hopefully better, chapter. But similar to a splendid painting or brilliant novel, it doesn’t and can’t happen by chance. The Mona Lisa didn’t spill from Da Vinci’s brush. The Tale of Two Cities couldn’t fall from Dickens’s pen.
In the darkness of divorce, when it seems our entire futures look ominous, it’s easy to imagine we’ll never again see the sun. The outlook for our lives will stay unchanged from the unforgiving and unbearable storms of the moment. But that is not true. Most certainly divorce isn’t without rain and thunder. The clouds before us are threatening. And while they seem daunting we can’t let them intimidate us into fleeing from what must come. There must be a winter before every spring. We can never rightly praise the sunshine if we haven’t persevered the dead of night.
I was reminded of this by a reader’s email. The victim of an affair, this divorced husband writes, ‘I thought I could be over it quickly due to the infidelity. I believed that because of her actions, I would be angry enough to never want to hear of her again. That is partially true. I do not miss her, but I miss having my best friend. I still think of her every day, not because I miss her, but I cannot escape things that were related to our marriage.’
It’s a common mistake is to think that ‘getting over’ will be easy. After the adultery or free from the abuse to believe that ‘moving on’ will be simple, and we can quickly begin painting our better tomorrow. But anyone who has made it to a healthy place after divorce will tell you that ‘getting over’ is never, ever, easy. No matter how long the marriage, the reason for the breakup, or the one who filed, each must endure some storms before reaching a safe haven. Some may suffer little more than thunder and lightning while others face catastrophic floods.
He continues, ‘When we were divorced, I kept the house, and most of the possessions because she was in such a hurry to be with the other man openly that she wanted to get through the divorce as quickly as possible. This means I still live in the house we bought together. The house she chose. I still drive the car that she wanted. I still use the furniture she wanted, etc.’
Either by choice or force, this man is trapped in the shadow of what was, which keeps him from seeing what can be. Here we have an instance of trying to paint a picture in an old frame. He is attempting to rebuild a new life amid the smoldering ashes of an old one. Because of this, the bright future he hopes for will stay elusive so long as he remains tethered to that past.
It was never a question that we would sell our marital home. To live in such a place as a divorced parent would have been financially irresponsible. Yet there was a more profound reason than just dollars and cents. To stay there would have been a constant reminder of my failure and what was lost; like a stone around my neck holding me under and unable to taste the fresh air of healing. It’s said that divorce is a time of reinvention and renewal, but that becomes more difficult when trying to do so with old parts.
Though for different reasons, I realized early on that I must physically sever whatever ties I could that held me to that former marriage. The house would go and in its place, I would find a new home, representative of the new life I was about to begin. It was in a part of town unknown to me; new streets, new stores, and new opportunities. While I couldn’t articulate it at the time, I knew that if I was going to start painting my better tomorrow, I couldn’t do it with the colors of yesterday.
I know of several divorced friends who chose, for a number of reasons, but especially the children, to remain in their former marital home. This is one of those examples where the road to hell is paved with good intentions. And similar to this reader, those friends find it hard to see the light because they are still under the shadow of old things. She sleeps in the same bed where ‘we’ slept. The kitchen where ‘we’ had romantic dinners is now a table for one. He walks past that room ‘we’ once put our children to sleep. There’s the door she walked out after saying goodbye. That’s the desk he threw down the divorce papers and said he was in love with someone else. Each corner is a visual and painful reminder of loss and heartbreak. As this reader is now experiencing, every wall becomes chiseled with reminders of what was and can be no more.
If we really hope to ‘move on’ after a divorce, we must be intentional about how we approach that journey. Recovery from such a tragedy, and divorce is certainly a tragedy, doesn’t happen by accident. It takes thought, planning, and sacrifice, like painting a masterpiece or writing a novel we must thoughtful and deliberate. Without clear premeditated steps to begin anew, we will invariably find ourselves, like this reader, wallowing in yesterday while longing for tomorrow. All of this eventually becomes our ‘baggage’; that emotional damage we carry and are at risk of taking into every future relationship. We eventually become a self-defeating cycle and our own worst enemy. Like a storm cloud, the darkness hovers over us and we are unable to find a break in the gloom. With each new stroke of our brush, the impression upon that canvas takes on the same familiar features, all because we choose to paint our new picture in an old worn out frame.