12 things I’ve learned about marriage from my divorce


I'd like to get married again someday. I'm from a divorced family — neither of my parents remarried or had long-term relationships afterwards — and I'm divorced. I'm fascinated by what it takes to make a marriage great — not just last, that is an easy, lazy thing — but have a really fantastic, sexy and enduring partnership.

Aside from reading the research and examining the relationships of couples I know personally, I have found some lessons about marriage in — ironically — my own divorce.

After all, a relationship is a relationship — even if you're not romantically involved with the other person and sometimes find smoke billowing out your ears when dealing with them.

Here are 12 things I have learned about marriage through divorce:

  1. What goes around comes around. If you are nasty, manipulative or vindictive, it only makes your own life hell eventually.
  2. When you give the other person what they want, you are really giving it to yourself. Good will is a powerful thing.
  3. Sometimes you can be so right you are wrong. I wrote the book on this. I can say with confidence that my logic is far, far superior to my ex's. That doesn't mean that I shouldn't have let a whole, whole lot of stuff slide. Or argued so goddamn much about every little stupid thing. Just. Let. Stuff. Go.
  4. Relationships can get really bad. But then they get better. Then worse again. Then really great. Then you wish you could get divorced from your divorce. But you're stuck in your divorce. So you make it work.
  5. Sometimes it is so bad it really, truly will not work. Then you must take drastic measures.
  6. Sometimes when you see red, you are being irrational. Sometimes you need an outside party — friend, pastor, therapist, judge — to lend perspective.
  7. Family can mean lots of things.
  8. You can't change other people. But you can change how you react. Cliche' but true.
  9. At the end of the day, the only person you can really truly count on is yourself.
  10. You always have to compromise. A dad friend bemoaned that now he's divorced, he is no longer free to relocate from New York to Los Angles as he'd dreamed. “But,” he realized as he spoke, “If I were married I'd have to negotiate that anyway.”
  11. There really is nothing like an old friend. I've know my ex for 13 years. He may not know EVERYTHING about me, but he knows a whole lot. We can talk about our families in short-hand and crack up if someone mentions a Pootie Tang quote. We share so much history — much of it really fantastic. There is an intimacy that is precious.
  12. Life is better when you can enjoy the kids with their other parent. No one loves the kids as much as their dad. When you can sit next to each other at the Mother's Day show or go for a burger after the little league game, that is a very real benefit for all parties included.


About Emma Johnson

Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post's ‘Must Read” list.Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.


  1. jessB21 on May 11, 2015 at 8:17 pm

    Thank you for this. I’m in the beginning stages of a split that has been a long time coming. & it’s the hardest thing I’ve had to endure so far. It isn’t always easy & most of the time I wish he could disappear in a cloud of smoke but your list has helped. It isn’t always easy to do the right thing or let it go but I am trying to get through this as easily & painlessly as possible. (Wine helps)

    • Emma on May 12, 2015 at 12:00 pm

      It is so hard. If it’s not hard, then the shit show is coming — you really just do have to go through the pain for a while. Please chime in here on on the forum when you feel alone — there is nothing you are going through that someone else can’t relate to!!! http://www.wealthysinglemommy.com/support

  2. Kaia on June 2, 2015 at 12:39 am

    Hi Emma. I found your blog as I was struggling with the definition of marriage itself. And btw – the 10 (or 5) year marriage contract is smart. Just had friend do a 3 year hand fast for all those great reasons.

    I am still currently married to a man I love very much. We have one beautiful son, and I’m currently pregnant with our second. There are a lot of good things in our relationship, including regular and heartfelt communication, even when it’s tough. And mutual respect and integrity and trust – even when we are both so upset at something that we’re pouring steam from our ears.

    The issue I’m having trouble resolving is – I married and had kids with a guy, who deep down thinks he never really wanted to marry or have kids. Um, oops.

    He’s got this existentialist, idealist streak that leads him to believe that the only person he is truly 100% committed to is himself. And let me tell you, this causes some massive problems between us.

    There are no take backs at this point. And 95% of the time – we rock it and are very happy together. But when the stress gets piled on – this root issue comes lumbering out and messes with both of us pretty badly.

    So – do I stay and sell my soul for the 90% good and 10% awful? Or can I maybe, possibly have some hope that he’ll evolve and get over it as we get older.

    Note – I’m 11 year older than him, and he’s currently 28. I don’t expect join to fundamentally change, but maybe I can be optimistic that he’ll mellow out as we grow into a more financially stable and less stressful era of life?



    • Emma on June 4, 2015 at 8:10 pm

      Wow, thanks for commenting. Honestly? If it’s awesome 90-95% of the time? I estimate that puts you in the 0.001 happiest couples ever! I wonder if you’re writing during one of your off times? The fact that you can communicate and work through the crap … well, that is everything. Cuz there is always crap. Sounds like he can be a dick sometimes, but I’d guess you are too? I can guess because I am often :)

      Hang tight, happy birthing and check back xxxx

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