When a marriage dissolves because your partner leaves or betrays you, it’s normal to experience feelings of rejection. After being rejected, you’re likely to become introspective and examine yourself in an attempt to figure out which of your faults caused him/her to leave. Self-examination is part of the healing process, and it can help you relate to others in new ways. However, it’s important to resist the temptation to feel like a victim because this will prevent you from moving on with your life.
If you were blindsided by your partner leaving, it can be a devastating experience that leaves you feeling angry, sad, and self-critical. You may be in shock and feel shaken to the core of your being. Self-defeating thoughts can grab hold because you’re vulnerable and trying to make sense of things. However, it’s important to realize that feeling rejected is a normal part of grieving and letting go after a marriage ends.
One crucial step in overcoming feelings of rejection is to recognize that the breakup of your marriage may not be your fault. Because your love relationship ended does not necessarily mean that you are inadequate or that there’s something wrong with you. Relationships end; the end of your relationship may have had nothing to do with your shortcomings.
Although it’s natural to go through a period of self-reflection when you’re rejected by your partner, it’s important to keep things in perspective. Ask yourself if your fears of being alone are preventing you from looking at the breakup honestly. For instance, it’s likely that there have been problems in the relationship for some time and that one or both of you were unhappy.
Part of the grieving process at the end of a relationship is accepting that what you wanted to happen no longer will happen. Thoughts might range from “We will never be sexually intimate again” to “We won’t ever watch a TV show together again.” During a counseling session, Caroline told me that the hardest part of being left by her husband John was facing not eating meals together after he moved out.
Is it possible that you are listening to destructive “inner voices” – which are rarely based in reality? According to Dr. Lisa Firestone, the author of Conquer Your Inner Critical Voice (New Harbinger Publications), these voices can cause us to stay in the victim role. “When we’re listening to these destructive thoughts, we’re more likely to feel humiliation than real sadness over our loss,” she notes in “Why Do Break Ups Hurt So Much?” (www.huffingtonpost.com, 07/17/2013). “Our inner critic fuels feelings of not being able to survive on our own, often saying that no one will ever love us. When these voices aren’t viciously attacking us, they are often raging at our partner, which only supports a victimized orientation to a situation.”
Seven ways to Heal from Feelings of Rejection
- Accept that it’s natural to feel rejected when a relationship ends. Most likely, there have been problems in your marriage all along, but they are intensified during the divorce process.
- Don’t take your divorce personally. Just because your marriage is over, it doesn’t mean you’re inadequate or inferior – or there’s something wrong with you. Give yourself a break.
- Focus on self-love. You are a worthwhile person who doesn’t have to let the end of your love relationship define your self-worth. No person can complete you.
- Work toward forgiving your ex and yourself. Moving beyond feelings of anger, bitterness, and resentment does not mean you condone their behavior. Forgiveness allows you to create a new story for your life. Research shows that practicing forgiveness is good for your health.
- Discover that relationships are our teachers. It’s easier to move on from feelings of rejection if you learn from your experiences and can approach the next partner with your eyes wide open.
- Adopt a mindset of adventure and expanding your interests. Stay open to new experiences, hobbies, or interests that you couldn’t pursue with your partner.
- Cultivate supportive relationships. Being with people who accept and support you can help ease feelings of rejection. Get energized by the possibilities ahead for you.
An essential part of the healing process after divorce is recognizing and accepting that the way you feel about yourself inside affects the way you relate to others. Feelings of rejection are closely tied to feelings of self-worth and self-love. Consequently, as you learn to accept what happens and begin to love yourself again, your feelings of rejection will diminish. When you’re connected to feelings of self-worth, you’ll have more energy to relate to others in meaningful ways.
Being Left vs. Leaving
Let’s take a closer look at rejection and examine whether someone is a dumper or a dumpee in the divorce process. These two terms were coined by divorce expert Dr. Bruce Fisher in his groundbreaking book Rebuilding: When Your Relationship Ends (Impact Publishers). “Dumpers are the partners who leave the relationship, and they often feel considerable guilt; dumpees are the partners who want to hang on to the relationship, and they often experience strong feelings of rejection,” explains Dr. Fisher. As a result, dumpees usually have a desire to work on the relationship, while dumpers are likely to feel guilty but are unwilling to make the changes needed to preserve the relationship. For instance, a dumpee might say, “Just tell me what you want me to change and I’ll work on it,” and a dumper might say, “I have to go and find myself.”
Keep in mind that the roles of dumper and dumpee aren’t always clearly defined and that sometimes they can be reversed. For instance, a partner might be told by his/her spouse that the marriage is over, and then the dumpee is the one who files for divorce. Sometimes, the dumpee simply gets tired of waiting and takes this bold step as a way to take charge of their life.
For your own sake, you need to learn to accept the breakup of your marriage and come to a place of “it is what it is.” But healing takes time and patience. Consulting a counselor, support group, or divorce coach may help to facilitate healing. Be gentle with yourself on the journey.
Looking at how feelings of rejection may be impacting your mood and attitude toward life can help you gain a healthier perspective. Are you neglecting your health, interests, family, or friends due to grieving the loss of your marriage? It’s critical that you don’t fall prey to a victim mentality because your partner made a decision to end your relationship. Ultimately, being able to forgive yourself and your ex will help you to let go of negative feelings. Developing a mindset that you don’t have to be defined by your divorce experience can help you to heal and move forward with your life.
Terry Gaspard (MSW, LICSW) is a licensed therapist, college instructor, and non-fiction author, specializing in divorce, women’s issues, children, and relationships. She specializes in helping people heal from the pain they experience related to divorce and other losses. Two of her research studies on the long-term impact of parental divorce have been published in the Journal of Divorce and Remarriage. www.movingpastdivorce.com