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What I Wish I Knew Before My Divorce

Here, nine divorced dads explain some lessons they learned about themselves and their relationships after the dust settled.

Divorce happens. Not all marriages end in happy endings, and having and holding can often have a time limit. Mistakes are made. Trust is broken. Life’s curveballs prove too stressful. No matter the reason a marriage ends, it’s hard on both parties. There’s stress. There’s grief. There’s probably a lot of sadness.

But, as with every disappointment, there are important lessons to be learned. And in looking through the rearview after a divorce, many are able to learn a lot of lessons about love, marriage, the way people evolve over the years, and what mistakes were made. The lessons aren’t always positive, but they aren’t always negative either. To provide some insight, we spoke to 12 men about what they wished they knew before they got divorced. Some spoke of the importance of knowing their partner better; others of being better prepared for the judgement. Still others expressed happiness at the surprising places support will be found. All shared something that might offer some

I Wish I Knew My Wife Better Beforehand

“I wish that I knew that my ex thought a relationship would complete her. I never saw that, because we were always so happy when we were dating and engaged. But something in her was missing, and I sincerely believe she thought it would just fall into place the day we got married. I struggled with that a lot during the divorce, because I thought I failed to fill the hole. But that hole will never be filled, unless it’s by her. Some people are waiting for someone to complete that puzzle, and I just don’t think that’s how it works.” – Caleb, 34, Tennessee

I Wish I Would’ve Traded Fights For Pep Talks

“I wish I knew that having a plan isn’t the same thing as having a plan that works out. When we got married, we tried to see the future. Jobs first. Then house. Then kids. Then better house. And so on. That was our plan, and we were both on board. But then ‘life’ happened. I lost my first job before we could buy a house. When we could finally afford one, her credit was so bad that it was almost impossible to get a loan. All of these little things derailed our perfect plans. And instead of saying, ‘That’s life…”, I think she  — and, in a way, me too — took it as a sign that we weren’t meant for each other. Looking back, I probably would’ve traded a lot of those fights for pep talks, instead.” – Liam, 33, Florida

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I Wish I’d Pushed Harder For Therapy

“I wish I’d pushed harder for regular therapy. Maintenance therapy. We could’ve stocked up our arsenal with communication techniques and empathy practice long before we started despising each other. She didn’t think we needed it, because we weren’t fighting. It was sort of, ‘Don’t fix what’s not broken.’ But, you don’t — or you shouldn’t — install smoke detectors during the fire. It’s preventative. I really do think that regular mental/relationship checkups could’ve saved us.” – Mark, 44, Florida

I Wish I Knew What Would Happen to My Friendships

“All the ‘mutual’ friends I lost just devastated me. As a couple, we spent so much time with each other’s respective friends. We bonded, across the board. But divorce is a divider, in every sense of the word. I never would’ve imagined the people I was so close to acting the way they did during the divorce. A lot of people, I think, put our marriage on a pedestal. When it fell apart, who knows? Maybe it brought up feelings about their own relationships? Whatever the case, the people I was friends with then aren’t the same as the people I’m friends with now. I wasn’t prepared for that.” – Jason, 40, Pennsylvania

I Wish I Hadn’t Underestimated the Support I Would Receive

“This is kind of an ‘upper’, I guess. I wish I would’ve known that I could’ve counted on support from so many unexpected people and places. When the news went public, people I hadn’t talked to in years reached out to say that they’d gone through something similar, or that they knew I was a good person. It sounds superfluous, but those random outpourings of support really helped with the loneliness. Not so much in terms of, ‘Oh, I have a new friend.’ But more like, ‘In a time when I feel like the whole world is against me, I know that there are people who’ve been through this, and survived.” – Ronnie, 42, Rhode Island

I Wish I’d Better Prepared Myself For the Judgement

“This wasn’t completely unexpected, but I didn’t anticipate the level of judgment that would happen during and after the divorce. It started with her family and friends. Whispers of me being a bad husband, and stuff. Then it got a little more…casual? People I would see regularly at church started veering the other way instead of coming to shake my hand. Church was actually where I felt most judged and ostracized for getting a divorce. Very unforgiving. Ironic, right?” – Matt, 37, Ohio

I Wish I Was Prepared For How Many People Would Have Opinions

“The opinions. Christ, everyone — everyone — has an opinion about your divorce. ‘Maybe you could’ve done this.’ Or, ‘It’s for the best.’ Even the most well-meaning opinions from the most well-meaning people just eat you away. The best thing I heard during my divorce was when a friend said, ‘I’ve got advice, theories, pep talks, all that. But I’ll wait until you tell me that you’re ready to hear them.’ Truthfully, nothing she said was unique from what I’d been hearing. But her willingness to just let me fucking breathe was so, so refreshing. If you’re getting divorced, just be ready to hear about it.” – Jeremiah, 41, Kentucky

I Wish I Knew How Much Grief I Would Feel

“I was the one who wanted and filed for the divorce. But it still hurt like hell. It’s like a death in the family. It is a death in the family. It’s a death of the family, really. I wasn’t prepared to grieve like I did. Just like death isn’t something we want to accept, divorce isn’t a choice we want to make…even when we’re the one who wants it to happen. If you’ve been married a long time, you think back to those vows you made on your wedding day. You’re not just letting them die, you’re the one killing them. That’s a hard thing to accept.” – Steven, 43, California

I Wish I Knew How Good It Would Feel When It Was Finally Done

“I honestly wasn’t prepared for the freedom. My divorce was a ‘hard reset’ on my entire life. My marriage wasn’t good. When I got divorced, it was like letting the genie out of the lamp. I went back to school. I moved to the east coast for a while. I got back in shape. I had been trapped — willingly, admittedly — for so long, in a destructive relationship, that my divorce was a true chance to start over. I wish I knew how good it would feel. I would’ve done it much sooner.” – James, 35, Massachusetts