Nobody in my family had ever gotten divorced, not as far back as anyone could remember, anyway. But what initially felt like the biggest failure of my life, I came to view as an opportunity. I had a choice about how I would tell the story of my divorce. Was my divorce as the worst thing that’s ever happened to me? Or did it teach me lessons I needed to learn to cultivate more meaningful relationships in the future? Was it a disappointment so great I would never get over it? Or did it crack me open and help me grow into a better person?
How we recount the story of our divorce matters because the stories we tell ourselves have power. They influence our actions and our self-image. To see two very different tales that women told themselves after they were abandoned and in pain, consider two stories that will be familiar to many: Hollywood actress Jennifer Aniston, who made headlines for years after her husband left her for his costar, and Miss Havisham, the unforgettable jilted bride from Charles Dickens’s novel Great Expectations.
For years during and after her divorce, Jennifer Aniston was cast by the media as the spurned woman who couldn’t make a romantic relationship work. She spoke openly about the challenges of having her divorce play out in front of the world and struggled to rise above the fray. Rather than criticize her ex publicly, she spoke of wanting to grow and said she was grateful for the chance to rediscover herself. She was also determined to make a different choice from her mother, who had been angry and bitter after her own divorce. In time, the actress moved gracefully past the press’s unflattering portrayal. She gave her divorce story a happy ending by learning about herself, seemingly keeping a positive attitude, and making peace with the experience.
Miss Havisham, the jilted heroine in Great Expectations, tells herself a very different story. Heartbroken and humiliated after she is left at the altar and defrauded of her fortune, she never again ventures outside her home. She leaves the wedding breakfast and wedding cake rotting on the table. Even the clocks in the mansion are stopped at the exact time she received the letter from her fiancé calling things off. She stays stuck in a bitter place, never again making herself vulnerable to another relationship, or even taking off her wedding dress. That one disappointing man who left her shapes the rest of her life . . . because she lets him.
I hope you discover, as I did, that you’re the author of your tale. You decide how you want to view your divorce—and whether you might want to reframe the story you’ve been telling yourself and others.