breakdown of a marriage is one of the most traumatic things that can
happen in your life. Divorce can cause profound feelings of loss,
failure, regret, abandonment, emptiness, fear of the future, and/or
powerlessness — especially if you didn’t initiate the split.
no quick fix to your anger and grief, but there is a journey toward a
more satisfying and fulfilling life that you can start right now. The
transition from despair to satisfaction starts with your determination
not to be a victim of your circumstances; happiness doesn’t depend so
much on what happens to you, but on how you deal with what happens to
you. Change your way of thinking: decide that you’re not going to let
divorce take control of your life and you’ll be taking the first step
towards recovery. If you are determined to wallow in defeat and sorrow,
then the divorce has already won.
Feel the pain, then let it go
yourself to grieve,” advises Chet Mirman, Ph.D., a clinical
psychologist who co-directs The Center for Divorce Recovery in
Northbrook, IL. “You need to recognize that divorce is a loss. In the
case of a death, society has rituals to encourage people to grieve; we
have no such rituals with divorce. Many people don’t realize that the
end of a marriage is a psychological equivalent to death.”
that you’re in pain won’t work, either. “Suppose I have a wall in my
house that’s all scarred with paint peeling,” says Russell Friedman,
executive director of the Grief Recovery Institute in California. “If I
want to redo it and paint it over, do I just slop the paint over the
cracks? Of course not: I have to strip the wall down and sand the old
paint off before painting with a new coat. In order to participate in
life fully, you have to strip down the damaged wall — regardless of
whose fault the damage is — down to the heart of the matter. Covering
up your pain never has a positive conclusion; unresolved grief makes you
make bad decisions.”
have to allow the hurt to run its course,” says relationship expert,
workshop leader, and best-selling author Bill Ferguson. “The more you
allow yourself to feel the pain, the more it comes and the more it
is a process, and it takes time. How long you will take to heal depends
on many factors, including the length of your marriage, whether you
were abused, and the support you receive from family and friends. “You
must take the process of recovery seriously,” urges Micki McWade, who
has developed a 12-step divorce-recovery program in her book Getting Up, Getting Over, Getting On.
“People have high expectations of themselves; they think they should be
getting over it quickly and immediately. But for every five years
married, it takes about one year to get over it. Don’t suppress your
feelings or act as if it never happened, but give the process respect.
If you bypass the process, it sets you up for a fall.”
Erase revenge, blame, and guilt
when the divorce is over, anger, blame, and/or guilt may be dominating
your thoughts. If you want to feel better, you have to work through and
release them. It’s unlikely that either you or your spouse is 100%
responsible for the end of your marriage; perhaps both of you should
have put more effort into it, or perhaps you were simply not a
compatible couple. Whatever your situation, you have nothing to gain and
a lot to lose by lashing out at yourself or at your ex-spouse. “Beware
of getting stuck in anger, fighting, or blame,” Dr. Mirman points out.
“Even if the anger or blame is justified, it tends to keep you from
feeling your sadness.” It also prevents you from moving forward toward
you’re depressed and angry, you really don’t feel you have anything to
give,” says Barbara Sher, the best-selling author of such motivational
books as Wishcraft: How to Get What You Really Want, Live the Life You Love, and I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was.
“Often you can’t see why you should give at all, since you’re the one
who has been robbed and mistreated. Doing anything at all is hard when
you’re in the dumps.” But once you let go of thoughts that depress and
anger you, and prepare to start giving of yourself again, “the energy
inside you rises to meet the challenge.”
definitely do not resort to revenge. It’s a dish best not served at
all, even if your ex has hurt you without shame. Vengeance doesn’t make
the hurt go away; it sets a horrible example of social behavior for your
children, and it stalls you from moving on. Revenge never fulfills its
intended purpose: it doesn’t “teach a lesson” to the person that hurt
you, but rather provokes that person to get back at you in turn —
starting a cycle of tit-for-tat vengeance that causes unnecessary
anguish on both sides. Revenge is extremely harmful at its worst and a
waste of time at its best.
all you’ve gone through, it may be tempting to see yourself as the
eternal victim of your former spouse. But adopting this role prevents
you from embracing responsibility for your own actions, whether or not
you really have been a victim. On the other hand, it’s no more
constructive to blame yourself for everything. Immersing yourself in
guilt — or playing the “if only” game — will keep you stuck in the
past and afraid to make a decision in case it’s the wrong one.
“You need to let go of the non-empowering emotions,” says Mike Lipkin, a Toronto-based motivational speaker and the author of Your Personal Best. “Anytime you stay angry at someone, you are letting them live rent-free inside your head.”
Look for the hidden gift
are just opportunities in their work clothes,” said the late Henry J.
Kaiser, an American industrialist, entrepreneur, and the father of
modern shipbuilding. In the long run, dealing with problems can open up
unexpected opportunities — or at least make you stronger. Sometimes,
good can come from bad — although your current upset, anger, or fear
may prevent you from seeing it. If you change your way of thinking to
consciously look for the positive effects in any negative event, you may
experience a radical change in your emotions and your outlook on life.
is admittedly not an easy thing to do, especially during periods when
life seems to be throwing you disappointments and crises without mercy.
It takes patience, clarity, and objectivity to spot the gift in an
unhappy event. For example, your divorce may turn out to be a blessing
in disguise: you’ve been released from a marriage that wasn’t working;
you’re now free to make your own decisions about your future; and
eventually, you may find a much more compatible partner to share your
life. You’re losing the benefits of a committed relationship, but you’ll
also be losing the trials and unhappy compromises it required as well
as regaining some of the perks of singlehood.
Sometimes, the most beneficial thing to come out of bad times is what you’ve learned
from them — and you should acknowledge that to yourself. You need to
look at the situation and say, “What’s the lesson here? What have I
learned from this experience?” The benefits of doing this include a
sense of empowerment from having used your experience to grow wiser, and
using your new-found wisdom to avoid the same pitfall if it comes up
again. Experience is a hard way to learn how to get through life, but
it’s a very effective teacher.
“gift” that comes out of suffering isn’t always immediately apparent.
This is where you need to develop the ability to “turn a lemon into a
lemonade,” as the old saying goes. It takes courage, character,
imagination, and perspective to accept the inevitable and even use it as
the basis to create something positive. Great artists through the ages
have channeled their suffering into classic novels, paintings, and
music; poverty, disease, and social ostracism have fueled the eventual
achievements of many great people — from Charles Dickens and Abraham
Lincoln to Helen Keller and Stephen Hawking.
If you’re having trouble seeing the gift in your situation, just think of it this way: it could be worse.
Things frequently are not as bad as they seem. Your divorce may have
caused you extreme grief, ruined you financially, filled you with
massive stress, and turned your life upside-down — but would you rather
be starving in a desert, stranded alone on an island, or on death row?
Sometimes, your life itself is the gift; there are probably millions of people in the world who would love to have what you have right now, even in the worst of times.
to the 19th-century philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, “We seldom think
of what we have but always of what we lack.” This tendency to focus on
the negative causes unnecessary upset. Look for the gift: the silver
lining. With practice, you’ll get faster at finding it — and happier
for having done so.
The power of choice
that you’ve grieved, let go of your hurt, and looked for positive
aspects of your situation, it’s time to start exploring your options as
to where life can take you next — or, rather, where you will take it.
If fulfillment is your aim, you have to pro-actively make choices about
where to go instead of waiting for things to happen to you.
divorce, it’s important to heal your hurt, and it’s also important to
get on with your life,” Ferguson points out. “The main thing is to be active.
Life is like being in water: as long as you’re swimming, you stay above
water, but if stop moving, you sink. During divorce, some people get
caught in upset and then withdraw from life, eventually sinking into
depression. You need to move forward and start creating dreams. Find
things that you love to do.”
the pros and cons, then take action. If you’re dissatisfied with your
job or your financial situation, take the initiative to update your
resume and look for something more fulfilling, or at least to work
toward promotion to a higher position or ask for a raise. If you’re
feeling courageous, you might even switch career paths completely and
start over — although you have to balance this desire with the need to
put food on the table and maintain a roof over your head. If you want to
improve your education or technical skills — or if you just have an
unsatisfied hunger for learning — go back to school in the evenings.
It’s not too late to start or finish a college/university degree. You
have the power to choose your next step in life.
anything happening to us and our response is the power to choose our
response,” says Stephen R. Covey, renowned motivational expert and
author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Through the
power of choice, Covey has helped numerous people overcome setbacks in
their lives and go on to achieve valuable contributions to their
community. “Use the power of choice to bring yourself new meaning and
new relationships. It will transcend a difficult past and help you learn
from it. The only real failure is a mistake not learned from,” he says.
power to learn from your past and choose where to go next is the
opposite of seeing yourself as a victim with no control over your life.
“If we get obsessed with the past, we lose a sense of the future and its
possibilities,” Covey continues. “So we continue to feel embittered and
take the road of least resilience. The upward motion is acting
on one’s conscience and refusing to let the negative energy consume
you. If you move from the outside-in, you build a frame of reference in
which only the outside will take care of you. You need to rise out of it
by taking initiative and using your willpower. Moving from the
outside-in, in which you’re victimized by circumstances, leads to
misery; it’s the lower path. But the higher path — inside-out — leads
to optimism and success.” And working from the inside-out gives you the
confidence to actively pinpoint and solve problems instead of letting
them continue to worry you.
Covey points out the four “basic human endowments” that go into the power of choice:
- Self-awareness. We can observe our own past and see how it has developed our own strengths and weaknesses;
We can picture ourselves in a new way and reinvent ourselves. “Our
memory is limited and self-limiting,” says Covey, “but our imagination
is unlimited and expansive, and it feeds on optimism and hope.”
- Conscience. Our inner sense tells us what is right and wrong;
synergy results from using all four of these. “It will enable you to
take a higher path to a new consciousness and a new peace of mind,”
explains Covey. “The main barrier, however, is when people don’t use
these endowments. Environmental, social, or economic factors overwhelm
them, and they literally withdraw from the use of imagination. They
surround themselves with people who make them feel validated and
justified in their beliefs. Sometimes, we look for evidence of support
for our views, such as people who tell us how right we are and how wrong
power of navigating your own life can awaken powers within you that you
may have forgotten you had, or of which you were unaware. It will at
least revitalize your confidence and control — and this has to come
from within. “You need a sense of autonomy and independence, a
celebration of the self,” says Lipkin. “Many of us have a strong
tendency to underestimate ourselves, and we credit others for what we
have. You need to have an acceptance of what happened and then move
forward and see yourself as an extraordinary being with gifts that
others can appreciate.” If your partner defined much of your self-image,
you need to take a fresh look at yourself and decide who you are now —
as well as who you want to be in the future.
Find new love and friendship
you choose to try new things, you’ll meet new people as well. And one
of the best ways to take your mind off your own problems is to get
interested in other people. New friends may, in turn, provide a
sympathetic ear and a fresh outlook, particularly if they’ve also
experienced relationship breakdown. “It helps to be with other divorcing
people,” confirms McWade. “They aren’t tired of hearing you talk about
it, and they understand what the process is like.”
involved with some kind of project that involves other people,” says
Sher. “The best kind is a rescue effort, like the Red Cross or a similar
cause. This kind of activity has important benefits. Firstly, your
concern for others will take you out of yourself. Secondly, the
affectionate and generous side of you — often the first casualty of a
bad relationship — will emerge again. You may think you have
nothing to give, but you’ll find that giving will heal you more than any
amount of taking right now. Thirdly, you’ll be reminded of what a
decent person you really are. One’s self-esteem is usually battered by
the time a divorce happens, and this is the best way to rebuild it. And
lastly, you’ll meet a great class of people. The people who go out to
help others are usually empathetic and concerned, the kind you need
you may consider beginning a new relationship. Beware, however, of
leaping into a relationship before you’re ready. “When people are hurt
from a broken relationship, they often jump into a rebound relationship
to find relief,” notes Ferguson. “But this is dangerous, because when
you break up, all the hurt is still in you. If you rush into a
relationship, the pain may subside, but it’s still there. The more hurt
that you suppress, the more you sabotage the new relationship. So heal
the hurt first.”
problem with jumping in too quickly is that you may not yet have had a
chance to think through what kind of partner you really need at this
point in your life. “Until you work through your emotional issues, you
won’t make very good choices in subsequent partners,” says McWade. “You
need to reassess your needs as of today. The ideals you had before you
were married often do not apply 15 years or more down the road.
Hopefully, you’ve learned from the past. But unless you do a personal
assessment, you’ll keep making the same mistakes over and over. The
patterns repeat, as what intimacy means to you was mostly set up in your
childhood.” You need to recognize the pattern before you can change it.
sure that your new partner has also recovered from past relationships
and destructive patterns. Ferguson says, “Look for the other person’s
willingness to feel their hurt. That’s the biggest factor in a
successful relationship. The more unwilling people are to feel hurt, the
more walls they put up and the more they protect themselves and get
upset easily. But the more willing they are to feel, the more they flow
with life. The dangerous ones are the those who can’t access their pain.
Look for people with open hearts.”
you have worked through your issues and regained control of your life
— and found a partner who’s willing to do the same — then you should
be set for a satisfying new relationship, hopefully one that will
complement (though not be the sole cause of) a happy future.
Getting better all the time
in this world, when it comes, comes incidentally,” wrote Nathaniel
Hawthorne. “Make it the object of pursuit, and it leads us on a
wild-goose chase, and is never attained. Follow some other object, and
very possibly we may find that we have caught happiness without dreaming
of it.” At this point in your life, during or after divorce,
“happiness” may seem like too much to ask of yourself. But if you can at
least “follow some other object” that isn’t moving you back into
misery, you’re making progress. Let go of grief and anger, find some way
to profit (or at least learn) from your losses, and start making
choices that will create a life you’ll love.
probably won’t feel wonderful tomorrow, but every positive action you
take to recover from divorce takes you one step closer to a satisfying
life. “Grief-recovery is action-based, not time-based,” adds Friedman.
“Time is never a function; the result of the action is what’s
beneficial. Time doesn’t do anything but go by.” With perseverance and
patience, you will start feeling better about yourself and about the
world in general. Happiness awaits down the road, so start walking!
Improve your outlook
it may take a while to completely recover from your divorce, there are
many little things you could do to boost your spirits in the meantime.
- Have a guys’/girls’ night out with your friends.
- Do a good deed without expecting a reward.
- Join a club, sports team, arts group, support group, or any other special-interest organization.
- Play with a puppy or kitten.
- Take a night class in some subject you’ve always wanted to learn about.
- Surprise an old friend you haven’t spoken to in months or years with a phone call or e-mail.
- Volunteer at a charity or cause.
- Buy yourself a treat. Stay within your budget, however, or this one will rebound on you.