Even when the relationship is bad and leaving means you’re freeing yourself from a terrible situation, the effects of divorce can be tragic.
We have heard it said a million times that breaking up is hard to do; frankly that’s putting it lightly. Many have likened the pain of divorce to the pain of death and well… it is a death; death of a dream, of a union, of the future you envisioned. Divorce, even when it’s the best choice, can be incredibly devastating.
There is much literature available about the stages of grief – you’ve seen that before right? If not, here they are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. We know these stages do not necessarily take place in order and we may revisit any of the stages repeatedly, before getting to that last stage of acceptance. Knowing the stages is a great start, however, knowing isn’t healing.
As a woman first, and psychotherapist second, I want you to emerge from the ashes of divorce healed and whole. The healing process looks differently for each of us but I would like to share some steps to help you along the way:
Do not pretend.
You do not have to wear a mask. You have experienced a major loss and heartbreak. Divorce hurts. Do not bury the pain behind a smile in an attempt to seem like you have it all together. Acknowledge the loss.
Allow yourself time and space to grieve.
Grief is a natural response to loss, and the divorce involves many losses as I briefly mentioned earlier. Things may have gotten rocky toward the end but the big picture is you’ve lost a companion. You’ve lost the hopes and dreams you created together. You’ve lost financial and emotional support. You might have lost your family or the family dynamic you once knew. That shit hurts! So cry when you need to cry. Let the pain out. You may feel that if you allow yourself to come undone that you will not be able to get yourself together again but you will. You are resilient.
Do not suffer in silence.
Find a safe person to share your pain with even if that means hiring a professional counselor or psychotherapist. You need a safe place to vent and externalize your emotions. Often if we do not get the feelings out in a healthy way, we find ways that are destructive. A trusted friend or therapist can walk with you through the healing journey or at least get you on the right path.
Guard your heart against rebounds.
Do not rush to date or to get into another relationship. Jumping into another relationship may be a way to avoid sitting with the pain you feel. It can also be a sign that you are not comfortable with being alone. Also, if we rush into another relationship with out assessing what went wrong in the marriage and how we contributed, we may jump into a similar situation and/or make the same mistakes.
Reinvest in yourself.
The choices you make on a daily basis affect you and the people around you. Invest in self-care by being mindful to get rest, eat well, read or listen to inspirational books or messages. Take on new activities (or perhaps reengage in something you’ve done before, maybe even before you were married). Make time to exercise, write, or develop a new hobby or healthy distraction. I do not want you to run from your pain but channel it into something positive that might uplift you and others.
I know how simple that word is and how hard it is to actually do. I also know that you do not want to carry negative emotions, or “baggage” into future relationships. Failing to forgive is failing to be free. The weight of unforgiveness is overwhelming and can lead to anger and bitterness. Let go. I have seen clients who have been divorced for years (sometimes as long as 20 years) and are still in as much pain as they were in when the break-up took place. They say that all wounds heal with time, but in my experience I realize that wounds heal with intention. You’ve got to be invested in your own healing process.
Make New Connections.
Often when we are married we tend to have friendships with other married couples. Our friendships shift and we might start to surround ourselves with more married friends. You might have lost touch with a lot of your single friends and find your social network is lacking. Married friends might start acting weird about invites or you might show up and feel like the third wheel. Chances are you might have completely lost some friends along with the marriage. Go out and make new connections and cultivate new friendships. You can do this by joining a new church, taking a class, getting involved in community activities, etc. Perhaps there are some old friendships you’d like to reestablish.
Do the things you’ve always wanted to do.
This is the time to explore and reinvent yourself. Take a dance class. Join a book club. Go skydiving. Write a book. Start that business. Whatever it might be for you – now is YOUR time. Go for it! Failure of the marriage does not make you a failure and remember failure is not final. Often failure is only a failure if you perceive it to be. This may sound really unbelievable right now but one day, after the dust settles, you may look up and find the divorce was the best thing that ever happened to you.
Really…. it could happen.
*If you’re interested in booking a therapy session with Cynthia send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org