By Guest Blogger Clare Jordan

Today’s post is the first of a four-part series that will explore some of the lessons today’s blogger has learned through process of divorcing, dating, remarrying, and blending two families. It is Clare’s hope that this information is helpful, both for those who find themselves in this process, as well as for their friends and family members. Stay tuned for Part II!

I come from a family of zero divorces, and I always said – not me, I’ll never do that! I remember telling my first husband (a marriage of nearly 19 years) many times that he was “stuck with me no matter what.”

But life happens and things change. I have learned that although we cannot change people; people do change.

Couples often describe a “growing apart” that happens, the extent to which most happily married couples can’t truly understand. But sometimes it is more than that. And only those of us who have lived it can only truly comprehend the full impact of contemplating ending a marriage, especially one of many years.

I have been divorced for several years, and remarried for four years. My former spouse and I are what I consider distantly friendly. We can appreciate our differences, respect and genuinely care about one another, rarely argue, and don’t need to spend any time together.

Having come out on the other end of divorce with what most consider the fairytale “happily-ever-after” ending, I have found myself in the position of natural confidante to many facing a potential divorce, and am often asked for advice or just to serve as an understanding listener.

Every divorce is as unique as every marriage! So speaking only from the basis of my own experience and the many stories that have been shared with me since, I have formulated a mental list of questions that I ask to help friends determine if they are legitimately in a marriage-ending scenario:

~ Do you find yourself avoiding your spouse because you don’t want to be around him/her?

~ Are you holding onto resentment that you can’t seem to relinquish?

~ Do you feel certain you were wronged you in some way that you cannot overcome?

~ Have you seen a professional marriage therapist together?

~ Do you struggle to feel attracted and loving toward your spouse?

~ How do you feel when you look at him/her?

~Have you envisioned your lives separately?

~ Can you afford a divorce and its financial consequences?

~ This is a hard one: When your spouse comes home at the end of the day, would you rather they didn’t?

~ And the defining question: Would you rather be alone than married to your spouse?

When you reach the point that you’re happier on your own, divorce can be a relief.

Understanding that many partners in a divorce did not expect it or want it, these questions may not apply; but in hindsight they could be helpful in understanding how the marriage changed. One thing I say a lot is that “it always takes two.” Rarely ever is a divorce the sole result of one partner’s deeds in a marriage.

Alternatively, I also ask friends who are contemplating divorce if they remember those intense loving feelings they once had, and if they ever feel that now. Most tell me they are no longer “in love,” and I understand that. People can stay married for decades who share a genuine long-time love, but a marriage lacking true love suffers in ways people who haven’t been there don’t understand.

My list of questions also does not mention children. That’s intentional. Divorce is about your marriage; not about your children. Staying married “for the sake of the children” denies that children know what’s happening in their home. I usually find that child-focused marriages didn’t make the partners in the marriage the top priority; not realizing that children come second to the husband/wife relationship in successful marriages.

Of course divorce has massive consequences for children, but that is another topic for another day. Obviously it is critical to consider carefully when and how we speak with children about divorce, and choose our words very thoughtfully, but in my opinion children cannot be the deciding factor in divorcing or staying married.

I remember vividly one night shortly after our separation, rolling my trash to the curb and walking into my house with a big sense of relief and accomplishment. My former husband always took out the trash at our house, and now I had my own house and my own trash, and I knew with confidence that I could do this myself, and take good care of my three girls! It was a significant revelation, and symbolic of my attitude toward the whole process – I knew I would do all I could to always work to make things better.

No one enters into marriage thinking it could end in divorce. And just like every marriage is different, so is every divorce. This is just my story and my experience, and to the extent it is helpful for anyone else, I am grateful for opportunities to share it.

By no means do I have all the answers, or think that what I did was right just because it is what I did. But I do see my divorce as a major turning point, and I was determined to make it a positive one. I would also stress to everyone the importance of refraining from judging others facing a potential divorce. No one ever knows what is happening in anyone else’s marriage (often including the partners themselves), and it is not ours to judge!

Something to keep in mind whenever someone speaks with you about this topic is a phrase my second husband, Fred, often says, “There are three versions of every divorce story: his, hers, and the truth.” And we all need to remember that no one may ever know the whole truth of anyone else’s divorce story.