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If You Are Contemplating Divorce, Consider This

For those seeking a second chance at happiness.

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Carolyn Sewell
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My kids recently asked me, “Does everyone just get divorced?”

When I decided to divorce my husband, our children were 9 and 7 years old. I think back to the last picture taken on our front steps of us as a family. It was a photo on the first day of school with me sitting between my children. The shot captured their innocence and a turning point in each of our lives. It is a picture I have on my current to-do list to frame in our new home.

After this picture, we would transition to a shared-custody schedule and a constant stream of continually changing “new normals.”

It is important to recall how small they were that day and recognize that knowing what I know now, I would make the same decision again today.

On the cusp of turning 50 this year, I recognize how quickly life is moving. I am grateful for the years I had to shape my children in my home with my own value system. Not that I would have wished for divorce, but given the circumstances, it was the right decision.

Only the individuals living behind closed doors can make such a difficult choice for a family. When someone is contemplating leaving, we each have our (heart) breaking point of no return. Funny how the spectators are always the most surprised when the news breaks — reality is, things have been churning and burning for some time around them.

Over the past seven years, I’ve had friends share their stories, reach out on behalf of loved ones and ask for lawyer and therapist names. If it takes a year to plan a wedding, it takes that or longer to plan a well-executed divorce.

If children are involved, every detail must be perfect. I’ve seen it executed well, and I’ve even had my divorce superheroes lead the way. The heroes remain friends with their ex-spouses and share family traditions — and one couple even shares a holiday card with their former spouse and new partner.

Sure, not everyone can do that, but it’s something to appreciate. If your lens of divorce is not seeing it as a second chance at happiness, the road can prove more difficult. One must seek out small moments of love, light and even humor. Laugh as a family when you can, maintain birthday traditions and sit on the soccer field sidelines with your ex (hug and pass his newborn baby gently to the left). What else can you do? This is life.

I remember the summer afternoon we told our kids we were divorcing. We sat in the living room. It was an emotional moment full of tears. Jack instantly inquired in which house his Wii game would be located. Maddie asked if they could tell their friends the news. Afterward, the next logical step was to offer a trip out for ice cream.

“Anything you want, kids!” When we approached the ice cream counter, Emma, our family babysitter, was working that day. Jack sprinted to be first. Emma said, “Hi Jack, what’s new?”

He responded, “Well, my parents are getting divorced, can I have a twist with sprinkles?”

Emma looked at me. Crestfallen, I gave her a nod. Jack looked back at me, “You told us we could tell our friends?” These are the moments. If my memory serves me, both kids had extra rainbow sprinkles and chocolate sauce. Tragedy+Time=Comedy. People are struggling behind closed doors. More than we realize. I write today for those who have asked me … how to do it.

Where to start? Who to talk to first? I write for those who have had the epiphany moment like so many of us. I would share mine, but it is too painful for this platform. I write for those who have done the therapy and realize their situations remain unchanged. I write for those who have given away third and fourth chances.

But, I mostly write for those who are seeking a second chance at happiness as life is moving at lightning speed.

If you are contemplating leaving, here are things to consider.

1. Give yourself the grace to know you tried and that you deserve better.

2. Empower yourself to know that staying in an unhealthy relationship can be harmful to your physical and mental health.

3. Create a plan. (Six to 12 months, depending on what you need to accomplish.)

4. If you can, move to an alternative space in the home to create distance and peace.

5. Seek a therapist to listen and provide objective advice.

6. Find the proper representation for your unique situation: Do you need a mediator? A divorce lawyer? The more you can agree without lawyers involved, the better. Staying out of court is cheapest.

7. Prepare your financials. (What is in the bank, savings, debt and 401K?) Do you need to go back to work? A lawyer can estimate support numbers based on salaries and/or time you have been at home.

8. What housing can you afford? Do you need to stay in the school district if kids are involved? Can just one of you remain in the district?

9. Vision: The ability to know that divorce is a process and, at times, will be very difficult. The vision to see your new life on the horizon.

10. Create a budget and stick to it.

11. Change your perfume. (Nobody else will tell you this advice.) We associate our strongest memories with scent. I alternated two perfumes for 16 years. They became the smell of sadness. Treat yourself to a new perfume (insert product plug for Jo Malone London fragrance).

Sure, there are more things to do, but the above are solid places to start. Build your support network around you and begin to plan, task by task. As a music lover I find that music can change a mood in an instant, and it sustained me through divorce. Lyrics in one particular song, "Shake it Out" by Florence and the Machine, moved me, as no words spoken were ever truer: "It's always darkest before the dawn."