Your Ex Is Your Greatest Teacher

My daughter Leah was born with a blockage in her intestines. I didn’t know it. She seemed fine to everyone, but when she spit up, it was green. She was born at about 7:30pm, and when I asked two different nurses on their respective shifts about the color of her spit up, they told me it was normal and she was fine. She was my second child, and it didn’t seem fine to me. The pediatrician did her rounds in the early morning hours, at about 5am the next morning, when Leah wasn’t even 12 hours old, and she cleared her to go home. So I anxiously awaited my doctor to clear me so we could get out of there! Her first night home, she didn’t make a sound. Not one peep. I found it odd. I fed her and laid her next to me in bed so I could snooze a little, and she stared at me. Silent. Then she would throw up everything I just fed her. Green again. 

The next morning, my cousin Suzy came over to help. She gathered up laundry to start a load and came into the living room holding up Leah’s blanket and said, “This is the color of stomach bile. This isn’t good. Call the doctor.” I immediately knew something was wrong. I started crying immediately. I left a message with the pediatrician, and they called me back instantly. Told me to come in right away. We met with the doctor who had already consulted a surgeon unbeknownst to me. Everyone knew what it was. Except the mom. He told me to go to the emergency room right away and they would do X-rays and let us know what to do from there. And I was instructed not to feed her, which was torture for me. I couldn’t feed my 2-day old baby. 

Into radiology we went. They gave me a bottle to feed her that was filled with white thin liquid that would enable them to see the insides of her intestinal track. She gobbled it up and never made a peep until they strapped her to a board to do the x-ray. Then she howled. The radiologist showed me the part of her intestines that were enlarged because of the “web” they called it, blocking the rest of the way. Panic set in. No one said the word “surgery” until I got to the next doctor, the surgeon. He explained that he was going to make an incision, cut the web out, and stitch her back up, like it was a routine tooth cleaning. I handed my precious teeny little 7-pound bundle over to a sweet nurse who reassured me everything was going to be ok and that the doctor was phenomenal. And I went to the waiting room. My then-husband said, “I can’t handle this. I have to go outside.” And left me there alone. Terrified.

I used to say that this night was the straw that broke the camel’s back in my marriage. Him leaving me in the waiting room alone, two days after I had given birth, while our daughter was in surgery. But I don’t say that anymore. It takes many moments and many years to get to the decision to end a marriage. And that story paints him as the worst husband ever. That’s why I used to tell it all the time. It made me look like a victim, and made him look horrible. And neither of those things are true. I wasn’t a victim. He wasn’t horrible. He was telling the truth. He couldn’t handle it.

My daughter recovered like a champ and is fifteen now. And my husband and I separated when she was just over a year old. I remember spending so much time and energy being angry. I was completely focused on blaming my ex-husband. I tortured myself ruminating over what he did, what he didn’t do, what he should have done, and what he shouldn’t have done. I felt betrayed. Up to that point, I spent my life under the assumption that this was the natural and automatic progression of life: you fall in love, get married, buy a house, have 2.4 kids, and after a few decades, you sit on the front porch with iced tea (or a Long Island iced tea, depending on the day) and watch the grandkids playing in the front yard (thank you, Disney). I thought that when people change, they change together. I thought that married couples grew together, and people want to do anything to be happily married. But no one could have predicted how much I would change in our 7 years of marriage. And not all in good ways, either. I was a workaholic, completely obsessed with my career and acquiring material nonsense trying to increase my self worth by “proving” that this college drop out was successful. He didn’t want change. He wanted everything to stay the same. 

We went to marriage counseling, and he said, “This is who I am. I’m exactly the same as when we got married.”

He was right. But that doesn’t make him bad.

I was the delusional one thinking that we would automatically want all of the same things for the rest of our lives, and that we would magically become similar one day. We are about as opposite as two people can be. I expected him to be and do everything I wanted him to do because I was his wife. He wanted me to stay the same girl he married–the one who loved him unconditionally no matter what he did. I had no idea what codependency was. I had never heard that word until I started going to counseling. Most people think codependency is being dependent on someone. It’s not. Codependency is getting your “happiness” from someone depending on YOU. So you spend your life trying to make someone else happy. And I was a genius at it. Until I got tired of it and started resenting him. For MY actions. Absolutely insane.

The first six years I was single, I told sob story after sob story. Always about how he had “done me wrong.” I’d get together with my girlfriends, and we’d swap sad stories over bottles of wine. I was devastated, and I would talk to anyone who would listen. My ex-husband was always the antagonist in the story. I was always the martyr who “did everything” and “tried everything” to keep our marriage together.

I always had a bit of a dramatic flare.

Then, I watched my best friend fall in love and get engaged. She was also a single mom with two kids. We were business partners, and we both went through our divorces at about the same time. We both worked from home. Her wedding was in the summer of 2013 and I was the maid of honor. The whole weekend I was surrounded by people who were happily married and still in love. Her husband’s father was the best man, and in his toast, he said, “You think you love her now, just wait 47 years, and you will love her more than you can even imagine.”

I cried myself to sleep.

It hit me that finding lasting love was possible. If it’s possible for one of us, it’s possible for all of us. And I asked myself, “What does she have that I don’t?”

Self-worth. As in the actual self worth, not the “I buy things I can’t afford so everyone will think I’m awesome” fake self worth.

It hit me that I wouldn't attract an awesome husband until I felt like a boss when I walked out the door.It hit me that I wouldn’t attract an awesome husband until I felt like a boss when I walked out the door. And I asked myself, “Why don’t I feel like a boss?” And I thought about all the things that I really wanted and needed to do in my life so I could feel better and believe that great men existed and one of them would be perfect for me. I could have my dream of sitting on my front porch with my husband and grand children someday. I made a list on the plane on my way home and got after it.

When I realized that all of the men I had ever known and had ever dated had been teachers. If I really stopped and told the truth (instead of the dramatic villain stories where I was the perfect victim) I would realize I had learned incredible things. And my greatest teacher was my ex-husband. Sometimes we don’t even know we’re learning anything if we don’t pay attention, and we’re trying too hard to get sympathy. Sympathy really is a crutch. It keeps us stuck in the same place, with the same people, drinking the same wine at the same table, swapping the same stories. Nothing happens. We don’t feel better. We feel worse.

But everyone is put in your life to teach you something if you really pay attention. Sometimes what we are learning has nothing to do with the other person. Sometimes we learn what we don’t want. It’s a powerful thing to learn something we don’t want. It helps us clarify what we truly want and what we truly desire to create in our future lives and future relationships. I truly want to be heard, and I want someone to listen to me. I want someone to sit by my side when I’m going through a hard time. I want someone to grow with me. I want a partner who is an avid seeker, leaner, and wants to experience these things. It’s asinine for me to think that the man I married would ever be any of those things. He is not wrong. Our marriage was not a mistake. We came together for a season to create two incredible humans. Our ex-husbands may have said something or done something that we wish they hadn’t, but how many times have we said something we wish we hadn’t and done something we wish we hadn’t? I don’t know, I think I might be up to about a hundred million by now. We have all made huge mistakes. 

Looking backward is useless because we’re not going that waySo it really comes down to taking responsibility for our own decisions, our own personal growth, and our futures. We can’t change the past, but we can spend the rest of our lives bitching about it. Or, instead, we could focus on the lessons we learned and take those lessons with us. We can decide what to do with the experiences we just endured, and use them to help us create the version of ourselves that will attract people who have the same goals and dreams as we do. Looking backward is useless because we’re not going that way. If we focus on what we learned (what we want and what we don’t want to create in the future) then we can create it. The only way we can create the life we really want is to get crystal clear about what that looks like. What we want the people in our life to be like. And guess what? In order to attract those people into our lives, we have to become like those things. In fact, I wrote a whole book on this subject if you haven’t heard!

I want a husband who cherishes me exactly the way I am. And now I know I have to show and be who I am in order to attract someone who loves the real me. I want a husband who buys me flowers and spoils me on our anniversary. I want a husband who tells the truth. Then I have to tell the truth. I want a husband who listens. Then I have to listen. I want a husband to come to my concerts and enjoy them. If I want a husband who is supportive, then I have to be supportive of my friends and loved ones. The only way to attract a partner we’ve never had is to become someone we’ve never been.

One of the best books I read in my recovery from my divorce was called Broken Open by Elizabeth Lesser. I put a great book list together for you on my resources page. She says a broken heart is broken open, and only when it is open can we grow. We can’t grow and learn if our hearts stay closed. I have a thousand lines underlined, and post-it notes all throughout, but here’s my favorite quote from this book:Nothing has given me as much strength as the time I spent along in the ruined aftermath of my marriage.

“While I have been broken open through travails at work and in the world, nothing has awakened my heart as much as the pain of a broken family. Nothing has given me as much strength as the time I spent alone in the ruined aftermath of my marriage.”

My divorce gave me the most challenging event of my life. And only in the greatest challenges do we have the greatest opportunities to grow. Our ex-husbands showed us how strong we really are. I have the privilege of being a mother. I have learned resilience. I have learned to let go of the past. I’ve learned to stop blaming and take responsibility for my life. I have learned to see the good and focus on the good that comes out of every situation. I didn’t do that before.

“You can’t love yourself and hate the experiences that shaped you.” – Unknown

My first marriage shaped who I am today. Every experience, whether we’ve labeled it “good” or “bad”, is a gift. Time has a way of dissolving those labels. Stories we used to categorize as “bad” and “good’ are just lessons. Just experiences. Perhaps we could only learn that specific lesson from that specific person at that exact moment in our lives. Perhaps it was all by design. Some people are meant to come into our lives for a day, week, or season, not forever. Maybe we marry people who were meant for a season and not for life. But I don’t believe in accidents. Perhaps our first marriage was the training and coaching we needed in order to become the person we were destined to be. We all learn in different ways. Maybe we can only learn when we live with someone. Now, I’m grateful for the lessons I learned. Now, I have all of the things I wanted in a partner. Everything I learned I wanted. That I could only have learned from my first marriage.

Wishing you lots of love,



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