Life After Divorce: Are you a difficult woman?

Being labeled a "difficult" woman contributes to the downward spiral of self-doubt that tends to happen to women during divorce.

We get that label not only from our exes, but sometimes from family or even from our best friends.  

We hear that it's the reason husbands cheated or decided to initiate the divorce.  Or the reason why we chose to leave, and wanted and needed something more than what the marriage had turned our life into.

Women hear things like, "You're too outspoken -- if you had just kept your mouth shut more, this never would have happened."  Or, "If you had just never, ever said no to sex . . ." Or, "You expected too much from him.  Men's self-esteem is too fragile.  You can't speak freely."  Or, "You need to be sweet.  You need to know how to butter men up."  And, my personal favorite, "You're too independent."

I want to suggest that by infantalizing men (the woman must always give in, the woman can't hold a man to his word and expect that he will act like an adult, the woman needs to read dozens of self-help books about how to cater to her man . . .) we keep all of these dangerous myths in play.

Why is this dangerous?  Because it casts women in the subservient role, as if this is the way it's supposed to be.  We need to be consistently fluttering around, making sure that everything is okay -- not only for the man in our lives, but for everyone.

When, for example, was the last time you saw a man poring over a self-help book to teach himself how to understand his wife better and cater to her needs?  Such books are hardly ever written because, as any publisher will tell you, men don't read them.  Most men are not worrying about how to please us, how to make us feel confident, how to build us up, and how to be sure not to slip up on catering to our needs -- and I'm not suggesting that they should be.  But, neither should we!

Are you a difficult woman?  I don't believe that the answer lies in relation to a man's opinion, or in relation to male/female relationships at all.  Rather, are you able to sustain good relationships with friends and in the workplace -- in a way that you feel your opinions are valued and needs are met, and the needs of others are respected, too?  That's not "difficult," that's healthy.

Cultural expectations for women's behavior in male/female relationships can't be held as the standard for whether or not you're "difficult."  So much is expected of women that is never expected of men.  Often, merely expressing an opinion is seen as "high-maintenance."

The same thing goes for how you're seen within your family.  Often families are structured to enable the needs of just one family member, sacrificing the rest of the family in order to keep up the charade.  If you're part of such a family, it would be devastating to trust their various biased opinions of you.

So, unless absolutely everyone in your life is telling you that you have serious issues, you're probably just a woman who dares to have a brain and an opinion, and who wants to be fully alive while she's living.

And that's a good thing.

Divorcees: Books *not* to read, and what to do instead

After my divorce, I read and read and read.  I bought self-help books.  I borrowed self-help books from the library.  Friends lent self-help books to me.  

I spent hundreds of hours reading these books, self-diagnosing and trying to discern my numerous faults (because, if I weren't so flawed, I wouldn't have made so many mistakes in my life -- including having married my lying, cheating husband).

Of course, I can't stop you from reading self-help literature as part of your healing journey, but I sincerely do feel that it's a waste of your precious time.

The top three self-help categories that will drain any woman going through divorce

  • Books about the stages of grief that confirm your distressing belief that it will take years to feel better)

  • Books about how to attract and keep a man which carry the message that we have to cater to their needs, never say no to sex, be sure not to overwhelm them with too much conversation . . .

  • Books about narcissism and co-dependency that anger you and frighten you in equal amounts.

If you feel you're becoming more exhausted and confused with every book you read, it's time to stop.

When your mind is constantly cycling, trying to figure out what went wrong and how you can fix it, self-help books seem like the perfect fit.  If you just read enough of them, you'll figure it all out.

It feels as if you're doing something productive.  Especially if you're too exhausted to actually "do" something else.  With a book, you can curl up in bed and just read.  But, after a few months of this (or a few years of this), why isn't it getting better?

So, I'm going to suggest some things you can do instead of reading self-help.  (But, no worries, if you absolutely must read this kind of book, scroll down to the bottom of this post for my top picks.)

What to do instead of reading relationship fix-me (or fix-him) paperbacks

Of course, you could watch an engrossing series on Netflix (and this will give you a break from the pain and anguish), but, how about learning something new that can not only stop the anguish for a while, but replace it with something new and fun in your life? 

What's important when choosing this activity:  Make it something totally unrelated to your divorce.  

Here are some things I did:

Learned to play ukulele.  Ukuleles are comforting to hold -- plus they're fun and easy to play.  There are hundreds of youtube videos that teach you how to play just about any song you love.  When I felt blue, I'd go to sleep and wake up by playing my uke in bed.  It never failed to make me smile and feel better.  (Here's one of my favorite ukes, which comes in just about any color you love, and you can buy one of these cuties for the same price as a haircut.)

Became certified as a yoga instructor, so I had trainings to attend on weekends with people who, like me, loved yoga.

Got outside my comfort zone socially (and I don't mean dating!).  I remember being so shell-shocked that it was actually easier to get out and try new things than it ordinarily would be for me, since I was too numb to know whether I was comfortable or not.  I started attending a singer-songwriter friend's weekly open mike night.  I showed up to a monthly experimental jazz evening with some acquaintances I hardly knew.  I said yes to literally anything to which I was even tangentially invited.  I turned up to business networking events where I knew no one. This was the perfect time to stretch my boundaries, because I was by turns too numb or in too much pain to feel social discomfort.  It was better than staying home with my tortured thoughts.

I can feel some of you rolling your eyes and thinking, "I have young children at home!  I can't take a weekend certification program or go out to events in the evening!"  But, you can unearth a few things that you've always been interested in.  Things that, for one reason or another, you weren't able to explore during your married life.  There are a host of free youtube instructional videos about every subject imaginable, and there are all sorts of ways to find excitement over new interests -- even if you never leave your home in order to check them out.

But, what if you really, really need a book to help you in divorce recovery?

If you're a book person and really need a friend (in the form of a book) as a companion on your divorce journey, there are a few I do recommend:

Eat, Pray, Love  Either you'll love it or you'll hate it.  I loved it.  Here's the story:  Author Liz Gilbert is married to an underachieving Peter Pan, who is pressuring her become a mother in addition to continuing to support him financially.  In the divorce, he refuses to settle until she gives him all of her assets just to get it over with.  Having to start her life over, from scratch, she gets a publisher to fund a year-long odyssey in which she heals by traveling to three distinct places which have always intrigued her.  Even though we may not all be able to engineer this level of divorce healing, it's inspiring to read Gilbert's journey -- and it may give you some ideas of your own.

Ask and It Is Given  The Esther Hicks classic.  I don't know whether Hicks' advice comes from channeled beings or not, but it's simple to understand and easy to put into practice in daily life.  You'll learn the importance of (and exactly how to) feel good, no matter what is going on in your life.  And, in the process, you'll learn exactly what kinds of thoughts have been habitual for you, and you'll have many aha! moments about the path you've been on so far.  The book gives specific advice and "processes" to put yourself on a path that takes you where you want to go.

I Need Your Love -- Is That True?  A simplified version of self-inquiry questions used in cognitive therapy (although author Byron Katie claims to have originated it). Katie leads you through four questions that truly work fast to slow down or stop tormenting thoughts.  If you're looking for a quick fix that has a logical basis rather than positive self-talk/affirmations, this is it.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up  Is there anyone who hasn't heard of this book?  One of the things I love about Marie Kondo's decluttering system is that it's based on having only things in your life that "spark joy."  Post-divorce life can be made more difficult when you're still carrying around all sorts of mementos of your married life, as well as objects that keep reminding you of your ex.  One of the most empowering things you can do is to go on a decluttering rampage, keeping only the items that feel good to you, or have an important practical purpose in your daily life.

My parting thoughts on self-help for women in divorce

Truly, if possible, stay away from self-help books specifically related to divorce, your ex, your ex's problems, and male-female dynamics.  There will be a time for trying to figure out who did what, why he did it, what to look for in a new partner, how to find a new partner, etc, etc, etc.  

That time will be after you prioritize yourself, remember who you are, decide what you want as an individual, and start to feel strong and confident.  After that, when you are feeling terrific about you, there's plenty of time to read a book or two about narcissists, co-dependency, what men want, or whatever will give you a better understanding of what went wrong in your marriage.  You'll be in a better position to be objective and understand his part in what went wrong as well as your own.