Patrick Sallee wasn’t sure he’d survive his divorce. Three years later, he’s thriving.
The third anniversary of my divorce being final passed recently—in fact, it didn’t actually occur to me until a few days later. But it did get me thinking about life, changes and how sometimes things we don’t know that we can survive, turn into being the best things for us.
I certainly wouldn’t make the argument that all people need to experience divorce to experience personal growth, but in my life, it is a defining moment that has contributed greatly to me being a better person.
Realizing my strength
When my wife came home one morning and said it was over, I didn’t think I would recover. I was unhappy, she was unhappy, but somehow I still felt like it was better if we kept trying. I thought there was no way I could start over and build a new life. In my head I was un-dateable, I was a failure and I was lost. It took close to a year, but I began to realize what I was capable of. A much more optimistic future became very real to me.
I spent a lot of time with friends in the months after we separated. I don’t know exactly when it started changing, but my mindset moved from a feeling of everything falling apart, to everything is being built stronger. It was as if life had actually been broken for the last five years and I was finally rebuilding.
Realizing my value
I remember it like it was yesterday; I was having breakfast with a really good friend I’ve known since before I met my ex-wife, but had not seen in months at that point. She told me, “it’s good to have the old Patrick back.”
I had worked so hard to build a picture that looked like happiness. I allowed that picture to define me … beautiful wife, twin daughters, great job …t hings are perfect. In my head I rationalized away everything that was wrong with the marriage and all of the feelings of being beaten down, to keep that picture together. I lost any sense of my value as an individual.
The change forced me to evaluate life in a very intentional way. As I spent more time with friends I hadn’t seen much of and met a lot of new people I gained a new perspective for how other people saw me. Where I saw weakness, they saw strength. While I felt bad for myself, they refused to join the pity party. Their view of my life pushed me to see the value I had lost track of.
Finding new hobbies
One of the things I was quickly overwhelmed by was all of the alone time I had. Where previously the calendar seemed always full and I was always with someone, I now was put in a position to decide again what I wanted to do with my time. While it gave me the freedom to throw more time into the things I love: my work, fitness, golf, etc. I also had time to try new things and find new hobbies, like writing, live theater, etc. New hobbies make anyone more well-rounded and interesting, and my experience has been no different.
More empowered parent
While being funny, there is definitely some truth to Louis C.K.’s point here: “I’m an attentive, focused and responsible father. Do you know why? Because I get to say, ‘Goodbye’ to these kids every week! Are you shitting me? It’s like every parent’s fantasy. Who can’t be a good father for half of every week?”
I was a very involved parent from day one, but I also took direction from my girls’ mom. She made all the parenting decisions in the house. Separating and having two households has allowed me to be more thoughtful and engaged as a parent. I set the rules at my house. We still co-parent and communicate about more significant things, but the way the household runs is definitely different and I enjoy the opportunity to define how that is going to be done in my home.
By no means was divorce an easy experience. It was heartbreaking, challenging, and long, but it taught me many things and forced me to confront issues I was too scared to face before. It has turned me into a better friend, father, and man.