The past wasn’t as great as you remember it; otherwise, you wouldn’t be getting a divorce. I am not saying to bury the past. It made you who you are. Every mistake you ever made brought you to this place. Just don’t ruminate on it – it’s really not worth your valuable time. Valuable insights from the past will come without you consciously thinking about them.
Misremembering the Past
Leona Lewis sings “Better in Time,” which admits that time helps, but it doesn’t heal all wounds. I wish it did. What time does is allow you to figure out how to deal with the end of a relationship and the beginning of a new life.
I spoke with a woman recently who shared that it had been three years since her divorce. She was no longer in love with her former husband, yet she would still become upset when she would hear about what was going on in his life. This time it was especially difficult: on Facebook, she saw that he was getting married. She told me that after her initial hurt, and a flood of sadness and anger, she got very real with herself and remembered that the past was never as great as she remembered it. In fact, it was not very good at all. She had to be honest with herself about what was reality, instead of painting a picture of something that never really existed.
In my case, I have done the same thing and am still guilty of it, until I used what I learned through the grieving process and therapy to help me move forward the right way. Each day I work to make sure I am not living out a fantasy that is not there. I make sure (as difficult as it always is) to move forward. I stop taunting myself with photos, reminders, emails, and conversations about my ex. When you do those things, you keep that person very present in your life. Work hard to move aside all reminders of your ex. One day you won’t have to do that, but do it while the wound is fresh. Let it heal.
Get Real with Yourself
When you are going through a divorce, you have to divorce not only your partner, but also your old self. This is the time to assess your life and get real with regard to what you want. After my divorce, the following questions forced me to streamline who I was, what I wanted, and where I wanted to be.
- Are you in control of your emotions or are your emotions in control of you? Choose control and choose happiness. If your emotions are in control of you, there is no chance you will be able to focus on who you are and what you want to do. You must create boundaries, and make sure that if you do feel emotional (and you will), you can figure out why you feel that way and determine an approach to work through it.
- Who is the love of your life? You are. Don’t forget that. It’s not what society dictates or what the online dating sites tell you. You should be the love of your life – and always be open to letting love in.
- How are you at your best: single or in a relationship? Think about how you feel when you start a new relationship: you’re excited to get out of bed every morning. Just because you’re single doesn’t mean the soundtrack to your life has to include a sad-sounding trumpet (wah-wah). What makes you excited to wake up and start a new day? If the person you really, truly want to be is the person you are in the first stages of a relationship, then there’s no reason you can’t feel just as full of life now – you’re starting a new relationship, right now, with yourself.
- Where do you see yourself in five years? It’s a classic job-interview question, but it works for where we’re going. Not just five years, though. Where do you want to see yourself in six months? One year? Three years? It’s time to start living your life consciously and deliberately – and that means setting goals for the long term and the short term.
Good Old Days?
Let’s revisit the past, think about it logically in the present, and plan for future relationships and how they are connected to the most important relationship of all – your relationship with yourself. Make a list of all the glorious things about your past life with your ex. For example:
- He cooked dinner for me.
- He knew great wine.
- He was selfless.
- He knew great restaurants.
- My family liked him.
Maybe you have a list of 20 things that you miss about him. It’s a beautiful and healthy thing to be able to understand and accept that your ex had a number of positive qualities. Unhealthy, though, is our human nature to romanticize the past. It’s tunnel-vision focused on the positive feelings and obscuring the reasons the relationship ended.
So, go back and take a look at the first list. Put it on the table right next to you while you make a more honest list. For example:
- He cooked dinner for me, but I had to clean up for hours after the meal.
- He knew great wine, which is why he drank a bottle a night.
- He was good to himself in the relationship and I was secondary.
- He knew great restaurants but wouldn’t try any new ones because they were “just too loud.”
- He liked making fun of my family.
- Welcome back to reality.
Moving forward is a scary proposition, hence our desire to harken back to the good old days. But just maybe the good old days weren’t all that good. The moral of just about every fairy tale, fable, and formulaic rom-com ever made is that it’s never too late to change your future. So, time to make just one more list:
- What makes you truly, genuinely happy?
- Who is your support group (your best friends)?
- What are the qualities you want from a future partner?
The majority of things we reminisce about in a past relationship never really existed outside of our romantic dreams. Or perhaps they did at the beginning, but by the time the relationship ended, we were “remembering” a relationship that didn’t really exist.
This article has been excerpted from The New Single: Finding, Fixing, and Falling Back in Love with Yourself After a Break-up or Divorce (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2015). This book provides a realistic and proven game plan to help you recover from divorce, showing you how to survive the split-up and start over, 90 days at a time. Tamsen Fadal is an Emmy award-winning journalist, producer, and author; she is currently a news anchor for WPIX in New York City. www.tamsenfadal.com