"If My Pain Helps Others, It's Worth It": A Mom Opens Up About Divorce

Updated 04/19/18
coping with divorce
Rennai Hoefer

As Alexandra Evjen recalls how she met her ex-husband, it all seems like a fairy tale. The duo met at Arizona State University when she was a college freshman. They were both in a Christian club on campus and had been placed in some of the same business classes (she was a communications major with a love for fashion, and he was a computer nerd turned business major). But it wasn’t until they became swing dancing partners that they struck up a friendship. In fact, he had originally planned to take the class to win the attention of another girl, only asking Evjen to be his partner after his crush chose someone else to dance with.

The pair soon transitioned their relationship off the dance floor and into real life, becoming an item when she was 19 and he was 20. They shared a sense of adventure and spent every waking minute of their college experience together. As it often goes for young love, there was no waiting for the couple, and they tied the knot right after graduation so they could begin their lives together.

Fast-forward a decade later, and it seemed they had it all—a beautiful home in Chandler, Arizona, satisfying careers, and two adorable children. Evjen worked from home at her successful personal styling business and blog AVE Styles and was a major style "Pinfluencer" in her own right, thrust into the world of influencer marketing before it was really even a thing. So when one morning her husband told her he wanted a divorce out of the blue, it left Evjen a single mom raising two kids under the age of 5, bewildered and in shock.

It’s been eight months since that morning, but Evjen is ready to share her story about finding a new reality. As she tells us, “If my pain helps others, it’s worth going through and sharing.”

Here, she shares her story about coping with divorce, transitioning into life as a single mom, and emerging stronger than ever, as told to Michelle Guerrere.

life after divorce
Rennai Hoefer

The day someone asks you to leave a marriage is definitely a surreal and unforgettable moment. I can remember the date, time and what the weather was like, as if someone I love had passed away (July 3, 10:30 a.m, scorching hot and sunny as most Arizona summer days). Our kids had a sleepover at their grandparents’ the night before, so we were having a lazy morning, just the two of us. As I sat down at the kitchen table to make some plans for our day off, he sat across from me. I asked where he wanted to go.

He said, “I don’t want to go anywhere.”

Then, it all started to flow out of him. He said he’d been doing “a lot of thinking,” and the words just came right out: “I’m really unhappy in our marriage.” He said he didn’t have fun with me anymore, he didn't enjoy spending time with me, and he felt we were incompatible. We and our kids would all be happier if we were apart, he said. Reconciliation was not an option since his mind was already made up. And just like that, on July 3, 2017, my marriage as I knew it ended.

He moved out that week, and six months later we signed the divorce papers. And while it sounds on paper like it happened really fast, I tried so hard during those months to get him to stay. We had been in marriage counseling three years earlier, and I attempted to reconcile even after he left. We each own certain mistakes in our marriage, but in the end, there has to be a willingness on both sides to want to fix things and stay married. You can’t control other people. All you can control is yourself, seek help and support, and hope for the best.

A couple weeks after he left the home, we met with a family counselor to learn the best way to explain it to our kids and to try to manage our emotions in a healthy way for them. Their advice was not to overshare about the situation. We simply said, “Mommy and Daddy have made mistakes, and their marriage is broken. We tried to fix it, but we can’t. But we love you and we are still a family—our family just looks different now.” It was so hard for me to say that, though. In fact, I still struggle with it.

I genuinely feel it could have been fixed if he had wanted to, but I had to keep the message unified for them. If they were older, it would have been different (they’re 2 and 5), but our counselors explained to us that it’s important to foster attachment at this age. So that’s what we did.

Most of my support came from friends and some family members. My family doesn’t live close, and relying on your in-laws is suddenly very confusing when you’re being removed from their family by the person you love most. My friends called and texted me every day. They folded laundry next to me, helped me create a budget, and showed me how to run my pool pump. There were so many things I didn’t know how to do because I had always had a partner to share the load. My counselor also provided support and wisdom throughout.

Surprisingly, I also got a lot of encouragement from my social media community. That was really special.

There was always sadness attached to my perception of divorce, but what I experienced was akin to grieving a death with abandonment thrown in. I threw up. I had panic attacks. I cried almost every day for six months (or so it seemed). The experience was gut-wrenching, and I would never wish it on my worst enemy. What most people don’t realize is that a break like that in a family causes cracks and wounds throughout your friendships and extended family. Everyone has felt the weight of this divorce.

how to deal with divorce
Rennai Hoefer

Life after divorce is hard. I wish I could say it wasn’t, but it is. With my new routine, I wake up around 4:30 a.m., get dressed, wake the kids up, drop them off at early care, and go to work. I’ve moved into a new role at an agency, and I have to prove myself all over again and start from scratch. Here, instead of being an influencer, I work as an account manager and source influencers to work with our roster of different brands. Being self-employed and a single mom of two is scary, so this job provides stability.

After work, I come home and make dinner. Then I bathe the kids, put them down, and jump on my computer to work on creating content on AVE Styles to make ends meet (blogging is limited to nights and weekends, and it’s hard since I’m always tired). I miss being able to see my kids more, and I feel like my time with them is just going through the motions of dinner, bath, and book.

We need to start educating our communities that single moms are similar to a widow, especially if they are being left in their marriage. We experience abandonment, grief, and even betrayal. Sometimes they’re losing family, friends, their home, financial security, and parenting support all at once. Some may need career services, financial planning advice, legal support, childcare, or counseling. And the effects last long after the papers are signed. So if someone you know is going through a divorce, the best thing to say is, “I’m so, so sorry to hear that. What do you need most right now?” Instead of offering advice, offer an ear to listen, a shoulder to cry on, and hands to help with small tasks that can feel overwhelming like laundry, groceries, and childcare.

There were a lot of things that got me through this divorce—and what happened after—but I would say the biggest one was my spirituality and faith in God. I prayed and meditated a lot. Though the storm was raging all around me, my faith gave me peace in the midst of it all. It also gave me a clear course of how to handle the process in love. It’s an emotional roller coaster, but in the end, you want to make sure you have done your best. So I felt that my faith helped me make loving choices toward my ex-husband, even though I felt angry a lot.

My community of friends and family also helped me tremendously, and I have an amazing counselor who encourages me to understand my needs and use my voice. She helped me come to terms with my feelings and identify healthy behaviors (and unhealthy ones). I’ve been in counseling a total of four years now, and it has transformed my life. I cannot recommend it enough—there are just some problems that we can’t fix on our own.

moving on from divorce
Rennai Hoefer

When I became a mom, I expected to tuck them in every night, and I sure as heck expected to have every Christmas morning with them to open gifts together. I guess I always thought single moms were just exhausted from doing everything, but they never missed anything. But that’s just not how custody works. And so now, though I never wanted a divorce, I have to be without my kids about half the time. It hurts so badly. It’s the worst part of it.

Divorce has forever changed me. I’d like to think it doesn’t have any negative effects, but the reality is that it has set me back me financially, taken away parenting time, changed the trajectory of my career path, impacted my health, and caused me to doubt all men. And at the same time, with every wound it has given me a challenge to rise up because failure just isn’t an option with two dependent children. Tenacity and grit are two attributes I currently display daily, and I can’t say that was the case before now.

I have been forced to do everything on my own, and I am rising up to the challenge and setting an example for all women that they can do these things and be okay.

Through all of this, I have learned how capable I am. I can face my deepest, darkest fears and be okay. I always looked at other people in this situation and said: “I don’t think I can ever go through that—I don’t think I’d make it.” But then it happened, and the minutes kept ticking, and life just kept passing, and here I am. Somehow, I just found a way for my kids. It was survival, and I’m stronger because of it.

I have learned how deep my love goes for my family as well as how special marriage truly is. It has made me a mom who listens more and asks better questions like, “How are you feeling?” I’ve realized how my children depend on me and how keeping a routine supports them when other things are changing around them, beyond their control. Small things like a touch of a shoulder or company on the couch or a cup of coffee can change your life. Now, I just look at the marriages and families of my friends, and I am their biggest advocate and champion.

Some people say, “When you lose your life, you will find it.” And it could not be truer.

From the pain and loss, I have realized that I can not only be okay, but my heart can grow even more. I can be more patient, more loving, more hopeful, and more joyful. Pain gave me the eyes to see the treasure. I see how precious hugs are, how loving emptying a dishwasher is, how powerful the words “I love you” really are. Now, when I get a hug or when a friend helps me with my laundry, I see their acts of love as shiny pieces of silver that I can store in my heart. It’s like finding buried treasure every time.

Divorce isn’t the end, even though it is an end to a chapter in your life. And though the hurt is deep, it doesn’t mean that love, goodness, and hope can’t rule over all.

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