People change in two basic ways. One way is called incremental change (Quinn 1996), which is exemplified by women who view their divorce as an event that happened to them. They see their circumstances as outside of their control. While they pursue new relationships and new activities, there is a strong likelihood that these women will return to many of the same dissatisfying behavioral patterns (such as the way that they related to others) that plagued their pre-divorce lives. The emphasis on just altering circumstances is typically not enough to produce life-enhancing change and long-term happiness.
A second model of transition is deep change. Quinn said, “Deep change differs from incremental change in that it requires new ways of thinking and behaving. It is change that is major in scope, discontinuous with the past, and generally irreversible” (1996, 3). This type of change takes a lot longer to accomplish and often does not result in “feeling better” as quickly as you might like. It involves the courage to look within yourself and develop new knowledge of who you really are. Armed with new self-awareness, you can journey into the future with new tools, understandings, and strategies with which to build a future that is substantially different from the past and has the potential for lasting happiness. Women who are willing to spend a period of time devoted to introspection, either on their own, with other women, or with a therapist, will emerge from the passage of divorce with an increased sense of confidence and self-esteem. They will have accumulated a fund of new knowledge and skills with which to build a more satisfying future.
As you approach the threshold of your transformation, it is important that you reflect on the kind of change, deep or incremental, that you want to make in your life. The model that you choose will determine the kind of actions that you will take as well as the time frame in which you can expect to experience your transformation. Although deep change takes longer and is usually more challenging, it will assure you a life that is different from your past and one that is most likely to provide you with the joy you most desire. In this chapter, you will learn the first step toward creating deep change.
Deep Change: Debriefing the Past
Deep change requires that you break your connection with past patterns of thought and behavior and open to new ways of conducting your life. To do this you must gain an understanding of the intricacies of your personality and how your actions and emotional undercurrents impacted your marriage. Debriefing your past by asking questions about your motivations, intentions, and beliefs when you were married will help you understand who you were when you were married, and enable you to create clarity about ways in which you would like to transform.
It is tempting to keep the focus of investigation on your spouse. This protects you from the pain of seeing your own imperfections. However culpable he might have been in the demise of your marriage, analyzing his behavior will not further your mission. The clearer you become about your own inclinations in relationships, particularly intimate ones, the more you’ll be able to discern more satisfying courses of action in the future. The greater your knowledge about yourself, the less likely it is that relationship difficulties will happen “to” you. Instead, you will have developed the tools necessary to significantly impact your directions and choices.
The Debriefing Process
In the pages that follow are powerful questions and lessons that inspired transformation for many divorced women. First, thoroughly answer in your journal each of the listed questions. Do this before reading further. Then, each question will be followed by a bit of wisdom that has been gathered throughout years of other women’s experience. (The growing never ends!) Read this section many times. Each reading can open a new door of awareness for you. Make notes in your journal as you consider the questions. Chronicle the thoughts that you ponder, the questions that arise, and the insights that allow you to think of yourself in new ways. You might want to reserve several pages in your journal for each question so that you can return to a particular issue and expand and deepen your exploration. Consider the various questions from as many vantage points as you can. Discuss your ideas with people who know you well or ones who have taken similar journeys. The more reflections you collect, the vaster will be the wisdom that will serve you in the future. As you progress through the questions and discussion, you may notice yourself becoming emotional. This is a very important signal that the issue at hand holds particular importance for you and may deserve further and deeper exploration. Consider the following reactions as “red flags”:
- You feel sad, angry, frightened, or guilty.
- You feel defensive.
- You keep the focus of your recollection on him and not your own behavior, feelings, or experience.
- Your self-reflections are interrupted by the thought that you are “right” as opposed to asking “What other ways could I have handled this?”
- You continually see yourself as a victim.
- The phrase “I am a failure” keeps coming up.
- You focus on the details of what happened, the story, as opposed to how you felt and what choices you might have had.
- The task of debriefing feels easy.
- You keep going over the same points and issues, as if walking around in a circle.
If you are signaled with a “red flag,” try to examine what thought or memory may be triggering the feeling. These are the areas that probably hold some important lessons for you. Reassure yourself if you become worried. If you reflect on a situation where you realize that you caused a rift in the relationship or you chose a direction that ultimately brought a great deal of pain into your life, embrace these realizations. It is appropriate to regret the impact of some of your behavior as long as you also celebrate the notion that now, armed with a new piece of self-knowledge, you will be less inclined to travel this same road in the future. (That’s great news!)
This article has been edited and excerpted from the book Transformational Divorce with permission by New Harbinger Publications, Inc. Transformational Divorce, copyright © 2003, Karen Kahn Wilson, Ed.D is an executive/personal coach and licensed clinical psychologist who is committed to helping women maintain a positive and constructive focus in their lives. She has worked with hundreds of divorced women, helping them to see the challenges of relationships as “cycles” of potential growth. Dr. Wilson maintains a successful executive, personal and divorce coaching practice with clients throughout the US and internationally. Click Transformational Divorce for more info.
Other articles by Karen Kahn Wilson, Ed, D.
- Embracing Independence
- Entering the Relationship
- The Commitment to Move Forward
- Why Divorce Is So Difficult for Woman