Most of us have watched others divorce and think we know what we'll face if we have to go through it ourselves. We expect it to be traumatic. We expect to fight over money and child custody and other details. We expect it to be hard on our children. However, there are things that many divorcing couples face that we don't talk about as much.
Because divorce is seemingly so common, you'd expect it to be seen as a fairly normal process, but it's not. In spite of the fact that up to half of all marriages end in divorce, it's still seen by society as the ultimate failure.
While you're probably braced for the anger, sadness and fear, you may also have to face guilt. Guilt that you couldn't make your marriage work and shame because you "failed" at something so important.
If you're the one leaving or instigating the divorce, you may feel guilty, even if you know it's the right (or only) thing to do. If you're being left, you may feel the shame of "not being good enough", even though you know it's not really your fault.
2. Things get (a lot) harder before they get easier
Everything that was bad about your marriage will get worse during the divorce. If your spouse was selfish, aggressive or abusive in your marriage, they won't suddenly become generous, calm and kind during the divorce.
Most people who feel the need to get out of a marriage focus on how things will be better when they're divorced. Maybe they will, but the process of getting there will probably be tougher than they ever imagined.
3. Being unfairly categorized
If you ended the marriage, you'll be seen as the instigator, even if the marriage was so bad you both needed to get out to survive.
There are many ways for a marriage to fall apart, most of which are very complicated. Don't expect outsiders to see the complexities.
4. Disappointing your family
If your family never liked your spouse, the worst you'll have to deal with is a lot of "I told you so." It's often worse when they loved him or her.
When you get married you bring someone new into your family and effectively merge two families into one. You provide your parents with a son-in-law or daughter-in-law, your siblings with a brother or sister-in-law, your nieces and nephews with an uncle or aunt. If you have kids you create aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents on both sides of the family who share the same love and affection for your children.
Dismantling all this is hard, and there will sometimes be people who are so disappointed over the break up of their extended family that they'll be less supportive than you would like.
5. Your own worst characteristics
Divorce is upsetting and frightening. Few of us are the best version of ourselves when upset and frightened. As you realize how much life will change, how deeply affected your children will be and how much your finances will suffer, it's unlikely your most endearing characteristics will be showing.
When you hit rock bottom and get really scared about your future, you may surprise yourself with just how petty, vengeful and vindictive you can be.
6. Taking off your wedding ring
It seems like such a small thing, but taking your wedding ring off can be an emotional moment. It's a strong and almost universally recognized symbol of marriage, and removing it can seem like a bigger statement than filing divorce papers.
As one friend explained to me, she didn't think too much about removing her ring until she was out in public with her young son.
"I suddenly realized that I had crossed the line from married woman to single mom," she said, "and it was one of the most emotional moments of my whole marriage break up."
Many unhappy spouses report a feeling of being "trapped" in a marriage and hope to feel free once they get out of it. But divorce doesn't always result in more freedom.
Financial freedom can seem further away than ever as you discover that your share of everything you had as a couple is less than you thought. Sharing custody of your children is restricting and joint custody orders generally mean you can't even go on vacation without written permission from your former spouse.
Some of the most vindictive divorce battles happen over child custody. Even if you're both willing to share custody, you both lose some of your child's time and company as they go back and forth between your two homes.
Most people are prepared for this. What you might not be prepared for is the pain you'll feel when your spouse has a new partner. Divorce means having to be prepared for the possibility that you won't be the only person your child calls "mom" or "dad".
Divorce is never an easy choice. Be aware you're not the only one facing some of these challenges, even if they're not discussed as often as lawyer's fees and custody orders.