We all feel insecure in the midst of divorce. This makes sense; we've just ripped apart the life we've been living, and our new life is not yet set. This can make us unusually concerned about what other people say or think, more susceptible to bad advice, and even more likely to engage in uncharacteristic negative self-comparison.
This tendency to look at our lives, which are in flux, in comparison to someone else's, inspired my Principle of Parting #6: Beware of the Urge to Compare. We want to remain self-referential in divorce, keep our focus on our own situation, rather than comparing it to someone else's. Another way to put it: Stay in your own divorce. This is your marriage that’s ending. Your new life that’s beginning.
Your next-door neighbor’s ex-spouse slashed his tires? That has no predictive value over your divorce, even if you live in identical houses with matching wallpaper. Someone else's bad divorce has no impact on yours.
Nor do studies purporting to show the "unavoidable" ills of divorce have anything to do with you, or the friends insisting that such studies exist. In general, we maintain a basically stable level of well-being throughout our lives, regardless of circumstances.
The vast majority of people do fine in divorce. Some people become far happier.
But those who continue to suffer pull down the average—and this average is what you see in studies purporting to show the unavoidable ills of divorce. Researchers are increasingly excited by new modeling methods that let them break group results into finer slices and therefore analyze with more nuance. In your own divorce, you need to keep your vision trained on your own chart.
You also don’t want to compare your recuperation to that of your former spouse, particularly when it comes to asynchronous romantic re-involvement. As in, there he is, living in Alaska with his new wife, while you’re raising your three children alone in Colorado, as was a woman I interviewed named Hollie. Or, there she is touring the Taj Mahal with her new soul mate, while you’re ducking into bars on your way home from work, too depressed to raise your eyes above your drink, then leaving alone.
We all move along the route to recovery—and romance—at our own pace. Empathy for your ex may help you stay focused on your path. “I don’t even know how it feels to have to stay at a job and be in love with someone in Alaska and have your kids in Colorado,” says Hollie, in Colorado. “He says it tears him apart. I would never say it’s easier on him.”
Just as your ex’s romantic life is no longer your concern, nor are those annoying habits you had to contend with in your home. To quote the ex-wife in the divorce comedy Liar Liar, “Two years ago, it was my business. But I don’t have to care anymore. That’s the magic of divorce.”
One of the biggest challenges—and opportunities—in any breakup is managing the emotional transition from being part of a couple to being a complete "unit" on your own. I found it hard to stop thinking about what my ex might like, how my actions would or would not impact him, even if he would enjoy a hike I was about to take. We gain so much from our connections, and it can feel pretty unnatural to switch our focus to ourselves. But this is also a chance to gain clarity about what really matters to us and to move forward into a life more in line with our desires.
Read here about the other Seven Principles of Parting.
Check out Splitopia: Dispatches from Today's Good Divorce and How to Part Well to learn how to avoid the temptations of comparison and start living again.
Wendy Paris is the author of Splitopia: Dispatches from Today's Good Divorce and How to Part Well (Simon & Schuster/Atria, 2016). Splitopia and her work on divorce have been covered by The New York Times, Real Simple, The Washington Post, The New York Post, The Globe & Mail, Psychology Today, The Houston Chronicle, Salon.com, Parents.com, Family Law Quarterly, PsychCentral.com and radio and TV shows nationwide. She has an MFA in creative nonfiction writing from Columbia University, and is an advocate for family law reform. She is divorced, and lives in Santa Monica, California, a few blocks from her former husband, with whom she has a warm co-parenting relationship.