As a little girl, I always imagined my life a certain way: the career I would have, types of travel adventures I would embark on, whom I would marry and when, how many children I would have, and what kind of parent would I be. There was a sense of hopeful excitement as I dreamed about what “grownup Patty” would be like.
Going through a divorce at 30 years old was something I never saw in the cards.
Embarrassingly enough, I used to hold a much harsher, more judgmental attitude toward people who got divorced. Eventually — when I came to the end of my rope and saw it as my only option — I was so grateful I made the choice I did.
That chapter of my life has been closed for almost four years now. Life looks radically different from what I imagined as a little girl.
While it was the most painful experience of my life so far, going through a divorce has been a profound opportunity to find inner transformation and healing — much of which I was never fully aware I needed in the first place.
When I got married at the ripe, wise age of 26, I thought I knew everything. I had met the “perfect Catholic guy” (even though such an ideal does not exist!) and I was happy to start the rest of my life. Unbeknownst to myself at the time, I was deeply insecure, naive, and very unhappy with myself.
I was needy, co-dependent, and carried issues from childhood I never worked through. I did not love me for me, and naively thought a man could change the ways in which I did not love myself. I was horribly wrong.
I was a grown woman on the outside. On the inside, though, I was a lost little girl just wanting to be loved.
I would never say I am grateful for the path of divorce that I walked through and endured, but I am absolutely and 100-percent grateful for what that chapter has taught me about myself.
As a result, I am stronger. I am a more healed and whole version of myself, even if life has not always gone the way I wanted.
There are several things that have helped me rebuild my life and find happiness again after my divorce. If you are struggling with divorce right now, maybe some of these approaches will be helpful.
Life doesn’t have to be perfect for you to thrive
Yes, life has not gone the way you anticipated and it may feel impossibly hard right now. That is an unfortunate reality you cannot change, but you can change your response to what is going on around you. You get to choose how to live your life. Our story is not defined by a set of circumstances or the current chapter of our lives.
Life may feel messy and painful, but it can still be beautiful. There is always something to be grateful for. You can grow as an individual and learn new things about yourself. You can nurture good, healthy friendships and relationships. You can learn from past choices or mistakes. You are not doomed to repeat the past, and you do not have to wait to start living your life until everything is easy and carefree.
Take time to seek healing
We all share two things in common: We all will know pain and suffering; and someday our earthly life will end and we will die. No one skips through life without experiencing pain and trauma. Perhaps we carry issues from our families of origin or childhood that still affect us.
A divorce is a traumatic event. Be sure to take time to seek healing as you navigate life now as a single person. Go to support groups. Find a counselor who will challenge you and give you tools for your emotional toolbox. Read books on topics like boundaries, attachment style, codependency. Name and acknowledge your feelings as they come up.
Dealing with a broken marriage requires healing and forgiveness. You might be tempted to close the book and put that chapter of your life behind you, but if you haven’t resolved and integrated the pain from the experience, it will continue to haunt you. Seeking healing will benefit you, and will also help free future relationships from the fallout of this one.
Don’t jump back into dating
The biggest mistake you can make is to jump back into dating after a divorce. You need time to grieve and work through all feelings and emotions that need to be dealt with. Falling into another relationship means setting out on a new path with someone, with a lot of baggage in tow.
Give yourself space to process everything you just experienced. Consider going to counseling and talking with a therapist. See if your local Catholic parish has a support group, or find a local Divorce Care group.
Take the time to understand why your marriage did not work out. Be honest with your own self-evaluation and learn from it all. Be the most whole, healed version of yourself before opening yourself up to dating again. If you were married in the Catholic Church, consider the annulment process and meet with a priest or deacon to talk about it. Having gone through it myself, I can say that it is a helpful and healing process.
Perhaps you, too, have experienced the pain and trauma of going through a divorce. Or maybe you are watching a close family member or friend navigate this messy space. There is a place for all of that brokenness — and for you — in the Catholic Church. You are not the only Catholic who has walked this path. Your story matters and has a place at the table.
The rest of your life will likely look different from what you imagined, but I promise you it will not always be this way.