7 things I have learned about relationships (since my divorce)

Guest post by Laurasonja
Happy Single's Awareness Day!

It has been interesting, over the last two years or so, to be an outsider to the relationship world. The dust has settled on my divorce, I have had time to reflect on things, and it is so much easier to see certain situations from an emotionally detached vantage point.

Let’s start with something that I have been guilty of not doing in the past…


It’s easy to take stuff for granted — people, what they do for us, and life in general — especially when things are going well. Don’t! Show some appreciation. Even the smallest gesture can go a long way. Don’t underestimate what a word of thanks — or telling someone you appreciate them just being in your life — can do.

Don’t lose yourself in the process of finding or being in a relationship

This is a big one for me. Hopefully, you come into a relationship as a person with interests, passions, and friends (a life basically). Keep all of those things in your life. Balance is so important. A relationship is supposed to add to your life, not take away from it. You can be with someone and still see your friends and do the things you enjoy. Time for yourself is vital for your happiness and therefore the success of the relationship.

If you are not happy on your own, no relationship will fix that

Your relationship with someone else is a direct reflection of the relationship you have with yourself. If you are unhappy with yourself, then looking for external sources to fill a void will not work — someone else cannot fill you up. It may work temporarily, but deep down, the issues you have will still be there unless you actively do something about them.

Using someone else to recharge your batteries is not sustainable, for either of you. If you both show up to your relationship whole and complete, then you will complement each others’ lives, not simply try to make up for apparent deficiencies.

Don’t let the small things become big things

This is one of those relationship issues that I have only been able to see from the outside. Life is far too short for the stress we allow into our lives. A lot of things that bother us are really trivial in the greater scheme of things. I see people fighting (and this was something that happened in my own relationship) over the stupidest things! Another thing I have noticed (from both my own situation and watching others) is that always being right isn’t worth the drama it creates.

Expectations can ruin relationships

We attach expectations to all sorts of things. When we expect people to act or treat us a certain way and they don’t, what happens? We feel disappointed.

We’ve decided that because they’re our partner (or friend, brother, whatever), they should do things that go along with the particular label they’ve been given. It’s our thoughts about what has or hasn’t happened that make us disappointed. How can we be sure the person we have put this expectation on feels the same way about the situation? Was it even an issue for them? We can’t change the situation, but we can change how we think about it.

You teach people how to treat you

A relationship is supposed to add to your life — being happy is a perfect reason to be in a relationship. But you need to remember you’re accountable only for your own actions; you cannot control anyone else’s. If you are unhappy in a situation, then it’s up to you to do something about it. Sometimes it might be a matter of looking within — do you respect and love yourself? If not, start there. Create healthy boundaries. If you’re not happy with how you are being treated, staying simply reinforces to your partner that what they’re doing is okay. What you allow will continue.

You are not a label

“Single.” “Divorced.” Whatever. Some people will rejoice in that life situation while others will feel negatively about it. But single is just a word. We put weight on words, with judgment, fear, and perceived meaning. I would rather be happy or feel good in whatever situation I am in, rather than getting hung up on whether I am in a relationship or not.

Anyone else gain some valuable relationship lessons post-divorce or breakup?

Comments on 7 things I have learned about relationships (since my divorce)

  1. “Expectations can ruin relationships”

    I think this is true, but also necessary in some ways. I have expectations of my SO (and we just had an argument the other day because he wasn’t meeting them, and he let me know that I wasn’t meeting his either). For example, if I ask SO to mow the yard and he agrees, I expect that he will do it. I develop an expectation that he will be responsible for that task and accomplish it. If he then doesn’t do it for 2 weeks, he hasn’t met the expectation and then we have a problem. I think people need expectations in order to plan their lives and feel safe/secure. I know my SO expects for me to continue working at my job and making $X so we can buy things, just like I expect him to continue working at his job as well.

    I think the key is not to get rid of expectations entirely, but to realize that they MUST be communicated and that they must be reasonable. It’s not reasonable to EXPECT my SO to bring me flowers and chocolate every day. Would it be appreciated if he did? Hell yeah, I love me some chocolate! But it’s not a reasonable expectation. However, it is reasonable for him to expect me to cook dinner when I said I would, and if I don’t, I think it’s okay for him to be grumpy about it because I didn’t meet our communicated expectation. It’s not okay for him to expect me to paint the house when he hasn’t asked me to do so, I haven’t said I would, and then get upset when I don’t read his mind and paint the house.

    Communication is so important!

    • I think you’re talking about different kinds of expectations.
      Expecting someone to do what they agree to is different than expecting someone to “act like a husband.” One is an agreement settled upon by both parties, and the other is a subjective set of standards that may or may not fit the person you married. That’s why, like you said, communication is SO important.

      Reasonable and unreasonable expectations are completely subjective, and I believe that’s where you get into a lot of issues with judging other people’s relationships. For example, you consider it reasonable for your SO to make you dinner once in a while. What then would you think of my marriage if I told you that expecting my husband to make dinner occasionally is an unreasonable expectation? I may think it’s reasonable to expect my husband to accompany to every event I attend, and someone else may consider that unreasonable. Imposing your own “reasonable and unreasonable” standards on another person’s relationship can often lead you to believe that they’re in an unhealthy relationship just because it’s different from yours.

      But it all boils down to what’s right for you and your SO and your partnership, and to find that out, you have to communicate constantly and suffer through some trial and error. My husband and I were big on discussing expectations before we even started dating, and we still bump into issues sometimes, but it’s usually when one of us (mainly me) changes our expectations without discussing it.

      • I think there are expectations (eg. “I expect you to pick up the kids from daycare” or “I expect you not to gamble away our life savings”) and there are ~*expectations*~.
        ~*Expectations*~ are those vague qualities and behaviors that you just assume your partner will have and exhibit. Take, for instance, how you expect your partner to react to you when you’re upset about a problem you’re having. You probably haven’t requested your partner to act in a particular way, though maybe you’ve requested that they listen intently. But don’t you kind of expect your partner to take your side on that issue, or to empathise with your plight? Don’t you expect their full attention and maybe even a hug while you’re crying?
        A huge aha! for me was when I realized that I expect my partners to touch me. Like, a lot. Always be touching. Except that I don’t consciously think “wow, why aren’t you putting your hand on my back when I’m stressed?” I just felt crappy, frustrated and unloved, like my partner wasn’t connecting with me. That’s the sneaky thing about ~*expectations*~: you don’t always know that it’s there.
        A lot of ~*expectations*~ are also things you were socialized to think make a “good” partner. Take the above chocolate and roses example. Nobody expects that on the daily, but special occasions? Once in a while, out of the blue? Random gifts are one of those things were taught that “good” partners do, according to society. And while you might never say you EXPECT that from your partner, there’s probably a little grumbly part of your subconscious that has ~*expectations*~ about that kind of behavior. And it’s getting more and more bristly the longer it goes without a gift.
        I totally agree that communication is the secret sauce, but also learn to listen to your feelings and analyze where they’re coming from. If you’re feeling like your partner isn’t following through on being a “good” partner, do some deep digging and look at what standard you’re holding your partner to. You said it perfectly: if you’re expecting your husband to “act like a husband”, you should figure out what your standard for “husband” even is.

      • After rereading my comment, I feel like I should clarify that I did not mean you, Kay, are judging other people’s relationships. I meant the general you, people on the street/forum/whatever. After finding what worked in my marriage, I found I was pretty judgy of other people’s relationships for a while. Then I figured out that hey, they’re happy and seem pretty damn healthy, and I wouldn’t want them judging my marriage based on theirs, so I should probably stop that.

        • I think what makes reasonable vs. unreasonable expectations is about communicating them and discussing them with your partner. Even expectations like Dootsie Bug talking about wanting to be touched. When you figure that out about yourself, it makes sense (to me) to communicate that to your partner. “Hey, I just want to let you know that when I’m upset, hurt, sad, that I really like to be touched/held/hugged” or even “hey, I need a hug right now”.

          And I’m glad you didn’t mean me in particular. I try to be really open about different types of relationships, different preferences, etc. I do agree that reasonable and unreasonable are subjective, but as I said, I think what makes an expectation reasonable is that it’s communicated and agreed to. I think it’s unreasonable to create unspoken expectations and then get angry when they’re not met. (And believe me, I’m still working on this in my own relationships).

          My perspective also wasn’t meant to be one to judge other people’s relationships. It was really meant as how I *try* to live in my own expectations and as anecdotal advice for those so inclined. Nothing more, nothing less.

  2. A lot of these resonate with me too, especially “Don’t lose yourself.” By the time my last relationship ended, I was so far gone that I couldn’t remember what it was like to have real opinions of my own. I spend a lot of time trying to make the people around me happy and comfortable, and I let my personality be slowly suffocated in the name of the relationship.

    Another huge lesson I learned: People focus on how important communication is to a relationship, but I would argue that without trust and respect, you can’t have meaningful communication. (Too) Shortly after splitting with my ex, we attempted reconnect to see if we could still be friends. Neither of us trusted the other, even with the basic amount of trust that strangers generally afford each other, and it was impossible to have a conversation. He was trying to protect himself, I was trying to protect myself, and neither of us could open up enough to actually connect and converse. We were both paranoid, looking for hidden meanings, and assuming the worst about the other.

  3. Regarding your point #3: I agree that no one can do for you what you can’t do for yourself, but I think it’s important to note that you can work on yourself while being in a relationship. No one should feel pressured to be perfect before seeking relationships. It can all be simultaneous, as long as you don’t simply use the person (or anyone, like a friend or sibling) as a crutch, and lean on them only with permission and with respect.

  4. I feel like the thing we should be attaching expectations to, rather than the person, is the *relationship*. I can’t say I have any specific expectations for my husband – I mean other than the obvious ‘expecting him to be a generally good person’ etc. but that hardly counts, it’s a non-starter – but I do have expectations for my relationships. I expect a romantic relationship will involve certain things such as open communication, fair/egalitarian divisions of labor, mutual respect for each other’s goals, careers, plans and wishes, certain thresholds for how we should treat each other, a certain level of commitment that, while there is no concrete way I expect that to be expressed, must be expressed in SOME way, etc. If those expectations aren’t met, then something is wrong with the relationship. And I don’t think I’m wrong for having such expectations (and yes, in the past I’ve broken up with SOs who did not meet them – e.g. didn’t show much commitment, didn’t seem to think of respect for goals and wishes as a two-way street).

    I also have expectations of my relationships with family, friends and colleagues, but obviously those differ considerably.

    If you think of it this way, then you’re setting clear and healthy boundaries (unless your expectations are wildly off the mark of reasonability), but not demanding specific behaviors from specific people.

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