Many of us carry around painful stories about divorce and what it means about us to make that choice (or for someone else to choose it for us). Whether you are married or single, listen to uncover what stories you carry about divorce and how to let them go. When I first got divorced, I was so embarrassed to say it out loud because I thought it meant “failure.” Over time, I have changed my story and see it as success rather than failure. In this episode you’ll learn how I went from blaming him for the divorce to owning what was mine and letting the rest go- resulting in freedom from the shame, blame and guilt I felt.
I’m Andrea Giles, and you’re listening to The Heal From Infidelity podcast, episode number nine, Divorce and the Stories We Tell.
Hello and welcome to the Heal from Infidelity podcast where courageous women learn not only to heal from their spouse’s betrayal, but to become the boldest, truest, most decisive and confident versions of themselves ever. If you know there’s more for you than the life you’re currently living, but don’t quite know how to get there, you are in the right place. Stick around to learn how to create a life that will knock your own socks off. Is it possible? It is, and I’m here to show you how. I’m your host, Andrea Giles. Are you ready? Let’s dive in.
Hello. Hello, everybody. I am so excited to be here today on episode nine to talk to you. I know I say this every week, but it’s been so fun for me to watch my podcast grow. I get to see the downloads, I get to see the different states and countries where people are listening. It’s so fun. It’s been a very rewarding thing for me personally, to put my own thoughts and own work out into the world and to know that there are people listening. So thank you for tuning in. Thank you for sharing. It means the world, and I hope that it’s been helpful to you that sincerely, why I made this podcast to help you. So that said, today I’m going to dive right in to the topic of divorce. Does that sound fun? It’s going to be fun. So if you listened to my first episode, I shared my own personal story in how I chose to end my 16-year marriage seven years ago.
It was the hardest decision of my life. I did not take it lightly, and I often had to check in with myself to make sure that I still wanted to move forward. Part of what made it so hard for me was that in my mind, divorce equaled failure. I was so embarrassed that I was getting divorced and almost felt like I had a big Scarlet Letter D on my forehead. I hated that I was going to be a divorced single mom. I hated that my children were going to have divorced parents. That was not anything I ever saw for them, and I did not want that for them.
As I was fighting to make that decision, really wrestling with that decision, every time I thought about my children being children of divorce, I would instantly cry and go, “Nope, nope, I’m not doing that. I’m not going to have children have parents that are divorced. I cannot have that discussion with them. I can’t do that,” and so I would kind of pull back.
And I remember one time I was praying and I had felt so strongly that I had to move forward with the divorce, that I needed to end my marriage, and I was kind of arguing with God saying, “I did not sign up for my kids to have divorced parents. That is not what they deserve,” and I was really heartbroken about it. And in that prayer, I had this peaceful answer come to me, “Andrea, they were mine before. They’re yours. I know them more than you do. I love them more than you do. This is part of their plan. Move forward.” It was such a shift in my mind that maybe, just maybe this was for their good. Maybe there were things that they would learn, that they would see, that they would experience that were for their good, and so that gave me the courage to move forward.
Even still, it was the hardest thing I’d ever done. Having that discussion with them tore me apart. Having the discussion with my first spouse tore me apart. It was very, very hard, but I knew that I needed to do it. I knew that it was the best decision, and so I moved forward. That said, in making that decision, I read and reread all of the church talks about divorce. I knew what the statistics were for children of divorce and for blended families in the future. I knew all of it, and did it scare me? Sure it did, and I often felt like a failure. I often felt this stigma around divorce that I carried with me, but even with that, I knew was what I needed to do. It’s what I chose and so I moved forward. As I moved through the steps of divorce and then learned to live as a single woman and mom, when people asked me about myself, I kind of skirted around the issue.
I did not telling people that I got divorced, it was hard for me to say. It was like this identity shift in my mind, like I’m now a divorced woman, and I didn’t like it. It was hard for me to say out loud. It was very easy for me. In my mind, I had ample evidence that suggested that it wasn’t my fault, and so sometimes that was easy for me to point out things that were not my fault, things that were tough about my marriage, that were hard to live with for me, but then I would shift over from blaming to feeling shame about my own perceived failures. I would blame and then feel terrible that it must be my fault somehow. Maybe if I were different, maybe if I would’ve this or that or the other, then I wouldn’t be here and back and forth I went.
That worked for a while, but I knew that there was more work to be done there. I knew that if I kept blaming that I was absolving myself from responsibility and not really learning what I needed to learn. I knew that I was missing an opportunity, an opportunity for what you might ask? An opportunity for my own growth, and to be able to see in broad daylight the parts of me that were perhaps weak and needed strengthening. If I would’ve continued to shame myself, I would’ve missed the opportunity to know myself more fully and see what areas needed some love and some truth and attention, and it was painful. So if you think about walking into a messy room, you’re going to see maybe some piles of clothes. You might see some piles of garbage. You might see dirt. You might see that the floors need to be swept up.
Those obvious things can be cleaned up and the space can maybe be reoccupied. But to really truly clean the room, you’ve got to see everything that’s in it. You’ve got to go look in the corners. You might need to lift up the flooring and really look and see what’s there. That was the work that I chose to do, to lift up the rug and see what’s underneath it, what was hiding. And I remember when I started to go through that process to really truthfully go, “Which part is mine? What part is mine here? How did I co-construct the issues that we had? What was my participation in it?” Like I said, this work was not easy. It was a little bit painful actually, but I felt like it was really important, and so I did it. Let me tell you some of the things that I found when I lifted up that carpet.
I cared a lot about having an image of a happy, functioning family. I wanted to sell myself on the story that my kids were being raised in a happy home with happily married parents, that I had it put together, that my life was under control. It made me feel better about myself to tell that story. So I often turned a blind eye to blatant issues that were right in front of me, because to really address them meant admitting the truth that we had problems. And then I thought, what does that mean about me? I did not want to see the truth about what he was involved in, because it meant that I had to deal with it. I didn’t want to deal with it at times. I can see now how that way of thinking was intended to protect me. It was pretending to protect me, but it was a false protection, because I wasn’t facing the truth.
I was turning away from it. I was building a house of cards around me thinking that it was keeping me safe to just turn away and not have the discussion, and not ask the questions and just kind of turn away. And that house came crumbling down as house of cards do. Came down hard. Where else did I struggle? I was overly critical, if not verbally in my mind, that was never about him. I wanted him to be a certain way so I could prop up my own image of myself. I wanted to feel a certain way about me, and so if he wasn’t doing the things that I thought he should, that made me feel a certain way, then it was his fault, and I would be critical in my mind. If he’d only this or not do this, then I would get to feel better.
And ultimately, I was taking my own responsibility away from me to make myself feel better and handing it to him, and that’s never a great way to live. I put plenty of responsibility on him for my feelings. So part of the problem is that I was not fully willing to see and to challenge and to look in broad daylight at some of the things that were happening right under my nose, because like I said before, I questioned, well, what does that mean about me and my feelings? And I made it about me in many ways. Another thing that I noticed when I did this work is that I tried to manage his feelings. I tried to manage his life experience. Jennifer [inaudible 00:09:39], who I love, she talks about over-functioning and under-functioning in relationships. I definitely over functioned. Over-functioning is where you’re carrying more of the load thinking that it’s in service of the people around you.
I didn’t want him to feel bad. I didn’t want him to come home and have negative thoughts about home or about me or about the kids, and so I scrambled and tried to make life a nice experience for him. But what happens when we over function is that we are allowing the people around us to under function, which in turn does not put the pressure on the relationship to grow. It keeps people stagnant. It doesn’t challenge everyone in the picture to grow. And so for me, part of my attempt to have control and to make myself feel good about my life, I tried to manage how he felt. I wanted him to be happy with me, and as long as I felt like he was happy with me, then I could feel good about myself. Where that came crumbling down is when he often was quite unhappy, and so then I made it mean things about me and felt bad about myself because of his actions.
It took me really understanding this that I was doing it to myself to really change that. Those are some of the things that I’ve learned. Those are some of the areas where I was perhaps weak or ignorant or just didn’t know a better way that I know now. I know to get my own validation from me and that I can want my spouse to do certain things. I can want him to do X, Y, and Z, but I don’t need him to, for me to feel good about me, I take responsibility for how I feel. Which leads me to my next point. What do I not take responsibility for? Here’s the thing. In the end, we all have to live with ourselves. We all have to live in our own mind with our own decisions and face the consequences of our own choices. So for example, even if somebody else might have a thought about somebody that they’re not trustworthy, what matters most is that the person is trustworthy.
Someone else might have different thoughts about them, but ultimately the person has to live with themselves. They might really want somebody to think that they’re trustworthy, but in the end, what matters is that they can look at themselves and go, I am trustworthy. Someone might think that we’re not kind in a certain instance, but if we know what our own intent was and know that we were acting or speaking in the best place, then we can own that and go, I know who I am in this situation and they’re allowed to be wrong about me.
The opposite is also true. We can trust somebody even if they’re not trustworthy, meaning they might have things going on in their life. They might not be living with integrity. They might not be completely trustworthy, and we can have thoughts about them that they are trustworthy. We can also have our thoughts about someone else.
We can wish they’re more affectionate, loving, et cetera. But in the end, no one can make us do anything. People might put pressure on us to be a different way, wanting you to change, wanting you to be more affectionate, for example. But ultimately, whatever other people decide to do is on them. So for example, somebody could go, “Well, my wife was not affectionate enough, so I went and found somebody. That was.” In the end, the person who broke the written or unwritten rules of the marriage has to live with that they chose to do that. The weak position is doing things that compromise the written or unwritten agreements of the marriage and then blaming it on the other person. You were not loving enough. You are too critical. You were not as supportive of me as I thought you should be, so I thought it would be fine for me to go get it elsewhere.
That’s blaming. The strong position is owning. I don’t like how things are in this marriage. I’ve verbalized it the best that I can. I’ve asked for these things. I’ve made requests, and then we have a choice. Do I choose to stay in this marriage, or do I choose to do something else outside the marriage, but doing it above board and owning your part and broad daylight? Those are the choices. So now going back to the beginning of the podcast, I shared with you how when I first got divorced, it was really hard for me to tell people that I was divorced, and it was easier, like I said, to go into blaming or shame. I got remarried to a widower, and I had stories in my head about how somehow that was more noble, that he lost his wife to cancer, and I was divorced.
So somehow I had in my head that that was a little bit more superior, because there wasn’t this failure there. And so when my first husband died, I caught myself sometimes using that, that he had died and telling people that didn’t know me, that my husband had died. After all, we had only been divorced for seven months when he died, but guess what? I don’t like that because that’s not actually what happened. What actually happened is that I got divorced. What actually happened is that I chose it, that I ended it. So over time in having my own coach in learning how to manage my own mind, learning how to reframe things so that they serve me, rather than beating me down, I have a different story about divorce. Can I tell you my story? This is my story. My divorce is when I learned what I was made of.
My divorce is when I stood up and I showed my children through example, what I was willing to allow and what I was not willing to allow. It’s when I learned of my own strength. It’s when I learned to confront myself in a way that I never had before to really look at who I was, what parts I wanted to take with me, what parts I wanted to leave behind. It was the time that I learned to trust God more than I ever had before. I did not know what the future held at all, but I knew that it was going to be good, because I knew that I could make it whatever I wanted to be and that he was there to help me. I look at my divorce as the time that I took the boldest and most courageous stand for myself. It’s when I said, “No more.”
I can now thank myself for the brave step that I made. I can congratulate myself for doing something that was so scary, that felt so terrifying, but that ultimately opened the door to the greatest growth of my life and led me to the life that I have now. Even sitting here talking to you, I’m so proud of that person who dug in deep and changed her own life. Now, some of you listening might not be divorced. Probably a lot of you, awesome. What is the story you’re telling yourself about staying married? What is it? Are you saying that you’re weak for staying? Are you telling yourself that you’d be so much stronger if you left? What about those of you who are divorced? What’s the story you’re telling yourself? Maybe you’re going through a divorce. Maybe you’re right there on the brink going, I don’t know what to do.
What’s the story in there? What are you making it mean about you? Are you blaming yourself? Are you blaming him? Do you feel shame? Do you feel worried about what people will think? All normal, all normal, but guess what? There’s not going to be a scenario where we did everything perfectly, because we’re human. We’re flawed. There’s always work to do. There’s always a place where we can look to ourselves and see where we can improve, where we can challenge the way that we showed up and go, “I think I want to do that a little bit better.” When we know better, we do better. But what I do want you to do is to challenge what you’re making it all mean about you. I want you to ask yourself what you’re making it mean. Did you know that you can stay married and do the same kind of work I just talked about, where you lift up that rug and go, okay, what is under there?
What have I been giving him responsibility for that’s actually mine? What am I taking on of his that is actually his and would strengthen him for me to hand it back? What about those things? What are they? How can I be of the best service to him by letting him carry what’s actually his? You can do this if you’re divorced, you can do this if you’re thinking about divorce anywhere in there, you can ask these questions, which part is mine? Which part can I hand back? If they might be saying things to you about, “Well, if you would do this better, then I wouldn’t have to do this thing.” A couple power questions to ask are, is that true? And then it’s either a yes or no. Maybe it is, maybe it’s not, and then if you can see, “Yeah, sometimes I do do that or don’t do that.” Then go, “So what?” Am I making that mean about me and my worth?
What am I making it mean about me and my overall kindness and goodness as a wife, as a person, as a woman? Do I like that? Is it fair? Is it true, challenging that story? None of us in this life are ever going to get it all right, none of us. We’re always going to be growing. We’re always going to be checking in and seeing where we can improve forevermore, even in the best relationships, it’s part of living. But we can hand back the things that are not ours, and we can fully look at the things that are ours and we can decide to change them. This is the most courageous work you can do. It is easier to blame. It’s even easier to feel shame and to hide and think that you’re not worth more. Because guess what? When you do this work, you drop that story and you say, “I am worth more.
I’m worth telling the truth. I’m worth working through this and showing up and changing my life,” whether it means staying in your marriage or leaving your marriage, it is the most courageous and most probably difficult work, because it means holding a mirror up to ourselves. But to me, that’s the greatest gift I could give myself, is really taking a hard look at me and handing back what wasn’t mine and working on the things that I wanted to change. It was freeing to me to go, no. Those choices were never mine. I never caused them. I never made those things happen. These are the areas I’d like to work on, but I did not make them happen. To end this out, I want to tell you that divorce is neutral. If you go back to my podcast about the thought model, the circumstance here is divorce and divorce is neutral.
We get to think whatever we want about it, then we get to feel whatever we want about it. We show up in the world from our feelings. If we’re feeling powerful, we’re going to show up in that power. If we’re going to create more of it. If we’re showing up, like I said before, with that like Scarlet D on her forehead, maybe some shame, we’re going to show up in the world that way and create more of that. The story is yours to tell. This goes for the circumstances that you find yourself in with the choices of your husband. The circumstances are neutral, and you get to decide what you make them mean. So I challenge you if you get to make it up, tell a story that serves you, tell a story that lifts you up, that empowers you. This doesn’t mean turning a blind eye and going, oh, it’s all him. I didn’t do a thing.
That’s not what I mean. It’s owning what’s yours and handing back what is not. For me personally, divorce was the thing that needed to happen to serve everybody the most, including him. For you. You might have a different way to go, and that’s fine, but I challenge you to ask those questions and to really challenge your story. What am I making divorce mean? Am I staying because I think divorce is so bad and that I don’t want to carry around that sense of failure? Challenge that, what is your story? What are you making it mean to stay, to leave any of it? I personally look at that time in my life as one of the most sacred times of my life, because it’s the time, like I said, where I learned who I am, where I recognized I just might be actually really strong and really powerful.
It opened the door. It led me to a life that I could only dream up. So my friends, I challenge you to challenge your own thinking. Ask yourself what you’re making it mean to stay, to leave all of it. Make sure you like your reason. Make sure it feels like truth to you. Okay? I look forward to talking to you next time. I’m really grateful that you’re here listening. If you know of people who you think this would benefit, feel free to pass it along. Thank you so much, and I’ll see you next time. Bye-bye.
Thank you for listening to The Heal from Infidelity podcast. If you would like to be kept in the know about upcoming free classes, new podcast episodes, and other ways of working with me, go subscribe to my weekly email. You can subscribe at andreagiles.com/ lies-about-infidelity/. Again, it’s andreagiles.com/lies-about-infidelity/. I will see you next time.