9 Things I Wish I Knew Before Getting Separated From My Wife

#1: Yes, everybody chooses a side.

by Chris Illuminati
Man at table in dark room alone.

My 8-year-old talks superpowers the way some men break down sports stats. His favorite question involves which superhuman ability I’d take should every power suddenly become available. My go-to reply is the ability to gorge on food without gaining a pound. It’s not quite a superpower but ask any man over 40, and they’d likely choose super metabolism over super hearing every time. But, if I’m being honest, the real superhuman gift I’d wish for after a radioactive spider bite or gamma ray bath is the ability to see into the future. This would certainly make life a hell of a lot easier to foresee the consequences of my decisions — particularly that of separating from my wife. Marriage separation is seen more clearly through hindsight.

When I separated from my wife, it was a sad and scary process. But the decision to go through with our separation was, ultimately, a smart one. That said, there have been more than a few bumps in the road I wasn’t ready for or simply didn’t see coming. So what have I learned about separating from a spouse that might be useful for anyone in a similar situation? Well, using my power of hindsight, which might be a superpower to some, here are some of the things I wish I knew before getting separated. I hope it will serve as inspiration, or in some cases a warning, to others going through a similar situation.

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1. Yes, Everybody Chooses a Side

If you thought your friend group was mature enough to stay friends with both parties after a separation or divorce, then you thought wrong. Nope. People pick sides. Sometimes the choice is obvious. Usually, the friends brought into the relationship or made during the marriage stick with their original team. Although, that’s not always the case. Usually, sides are chosen based on convenience or whatever causes the least trouble for everyone involved. No matter what though, awkward run-ins and joint social gatherings are bound to happen so my advice would be keep your guard up. I choose to be kind to everyone, even the people who refuse to acknowledge my existence.

2. Separating Suddenly Makes You a Marriage Counselor

Breaking the news of my separation to friends elicited one of two reactions. Some are generally concerned about my well-being, how I’m handling the situation, how the kids are doing after the split, and how they can be of assistance. Others unload all of their relationships issues on me. “I’m separated” sounds a lot like “how’s your marriage doing?” to some people. Maybe I should work on my pronunciation? Whatever the case, I’m now privy to far, far too much information about the crumbling unions of friends, coworkers, and even the mailman.

3. People Get Honest About Your Old Relationship

Telling people about the separation is suddenly an invitation for their opinion about my marriage, my ex, and assessments about where the union possibly went off the rails, in their eyes. Even though I remain tight-lipped about details, because it’s none of their damned business, people jump to conclusions based on a small sample size of interactions or peeks into the marriage. Suddenly, everyone has a psychology degree and dabbles in marriage counseling.

4. People Will Try to Tell You What To Do

After being honest about my relationship, and sharing way too much about their own marital issues, people have told me what to do now that I’m single. Most suggestions are beneficial to my health (plan a trip) while others are ridiculous (move to a new town) and all seem to reflect what they’d do in my situation even though we’re not similar at all.

People are especially forthcoming now that I’m dating someone. They ask “Isn’t it too soon?” “Aren’t you worried about how the kids will take it?” and “Aren’t you afraid what people will think?” to which I answer, “No, not when it feels right.” “No, I’m not” and “No, screw people and their opinions about my life.”

5. It’ll Take Time For Your New Place to Feel Like Home

I like my new apartment — except for the damn couch — but there are things I would have changed or added to the rental agreement that didn’t come up until it was too late. In an effort to get the place — it’s the ideal location, on the second floor, and situation in the quiet part of town near a park — I failed to notice a few major issues that should have been addressed before signing the paperwork. Little things like none of the windows working properly or the washer and dryer only handling one towel at a time.

6. Being Single Doesn’t Mean Being Lonely

The ex and I split in September 2017 but I didn’t find a place and move out until December of that year. For those three months, my visions of life as a single dad involved sitting alone in a living room eating takeout surrounded by only my stuff. It wasn’t true: Living alone doesn’t mean being lonely. In fact, I haven’t felt lonely at all. Sure, I miss my kids, but the rest of my downtime is dedicated to new writing projects, working out (I’m training for a Tough Mudder), reading more, and filling the time working side hustles and starting every project I’ve put off for the past few years.

7. Everything You Worried About While Married Becomes A Bigger Worry

Married couples share the burden of worry. Financial concerns, problems around the house, kid issues, and every other thing that comes with being a husband and wife and parents. Now I’m twice as worried about everything — especially the kids because I’m not around them as much — and lay awake at night thinking about the bills, the house, and all the issues I’m now handling on my own. I’ve memorized every wet spot on the ceiling and break up the worrying with regrets over not looking up during the final apartment walkthrough.

8. Living With The Guilt Gets Easier

Guilt weighs heavy on my mind every time I drop off the kids or when I’m not around. But it’s getting better. I’ve been listening to motivational speeches every morning during my morning run. In the advice from entrepreneurs, engaging speakers, and occasionally a few fictional characters, each extolls the same nugget about living in the past: It’s never healthy or constructive. What’s done is done. There’s no way to change what has already occurred. A person can only work towards the future. The past involves guilt and must be forgotten to move forward.

Things are much better now. Sure, I still feel twinges of remorse about not being around to tuck them in every night or being the face to greet them first thing in the morning, but every day gets a little more comfortable as the entire family settles into the new normal. I still get heartburn after eating too many buffalo wings, but that doesn’t stop me from ordering a second helping.

9. Even If You Try To Keep It The Same, Nothing Is The Same

At the onset of the separation process, and especially during my move out of the house, the ex and I kept telling the kids that “not much would change” and that we’d “still be a family.” We were lying but only because we believed the lie ourselves.

Instead of telling the kids we are still a family, I say we still are family. The slight change in wording explains why dad doesn’t eat dinner at the house every night or get dressed in his old bedroom anymore but still shows up for family birthdays and has the same last name.

Life has changed. Change isn’t always bad. The third plate of wings. That was bad.

Chris Illuminati is the author of five books, including The New Dad Dictionary, and far too many post-it notes about parenting.