Five friends and I were having breakfast one morning when our conversation turned to our friend Cindy.* She was convinced divorce was the answer to her problems.
"I wish Cindy would listen to us," I said.
"She made it clear she doesn't want to hear anything from us divorcées," said Betsy. "She's made up her mind, and she's not changing it."
That morning, in utter frustration, my friends and I compiled a list: what we wish we'd known before we got divorced—the things we wanted Cindy to know before she made her final decision. Each of us had experienced the upheaval of divorce and watched 12 of our close friends' second marriages end.
We all knew Cindy wasn't casually deciding to end her marriage—few people do. Divorce is one of the most agonizing choices a couple makes. We understood the anger, panic, abandonment, and feelings of being trapped that lead many people to divorce. But we'd also experienced the "other side" of being single again. We'd seen the lives of our children changed forever. Years later, we continue to live with the ongoing pain and complications of a destroyed marriage.
As a licensed psychologist, I've heard many people consider the possibility of ending their marriage. They look at divorce as a solution to their marital woes, a viable answer to their pain and frustration. Ultimately, however, it creates only different problems. In a recent study by the Institute for American Values chaired by sociologist Linda Waite of the University of Chicago, researchers asked, "Does divorce make people happy?" They found that those who ended their troubled marriage in divorce weren't any happier than those who remained married. In fact, two-thirds of those who stayed married reported happy marriages five years later.
Here's the list we compiled for Cindy.
1. Life Will Change More than You Realize
"I thought I'd enjoy being alone," says Lori, who has never remarried. "But I'm lonely. Whenever my friends complain about how needy their husbands or children are, I say, 'Try living without that.'"
Andy, like Lori, hasn't remarried. "I didn't expect to miss odd things like the towels folded neatly, shopping for groceries together, or the Saturday routine we'd established," he says. After his divorce, Andy realized how much the familiar, everyday things of married life meant to him.
Add children to the equation, and the result is even stickier. Instead of two people parenting your children, if you have custody, you're left to do it all—alone. You become the sole breadwinner, spiritual advisor, disciplinarian, and housekeeper. The stress levels of this responsibility can become staggering.