Heal your heart by finding gratitude for the time you spent with your former spouse and extended family. Here’s how.
Whenever we’ve been betrayed or disappointed, it’s natural to hold on to our pain as a defense mechanism. The voice of anger and hurt always tells us to watch out and be careful. Our pain hardens our hearts and clouds our vision, blinding us to the gifts we have received from our marriage and our divorce. But we have the freedom to go beyond our past and beyond our negative feelings. We have the power to choose to view our breakup either through the eyes of suffering or with a heart of gratitude.
The power in choosing forgiveness
At this point, you may not feel like you are quite ready to be grateful. But as long as you deny the lessons and gifts that your partner has been trying to give you, you continue to be tied to the very thing you want to break free from. Even though you think your anger, hurt, disappointment, and resentment are well deserved unless you are prepared to carry this person on your back everywhere you go for the rest of your life, you may want to consider forgiveness as the only solution to becoming a whole, complete, free person.
When I first began to understand how my resentments bound me to the people I most disliked, I found it almost comical. My intention had been to use my anger to protect myself from being hurt again by those persons who had hurt me before. My bruised ego wanted to create distance between me and my enemies, yet instead of taking something away from them, I was giving them my most valuable asset. I was giving them my energy as well as complete power over my emotional well-being. Simply the mention of my enemy’s name or a reference to a similar story would set me off. In an instant, the person I resented had the power to join me wherever I was.
We belong to anything we are linked to in a negative way, and the negative implications of our hate are astounding. Our old resentments drive all our relationships. They tell us how close we can get to others and how thick the walls need to be to maintain emotional safety. They inform our daily behaviors, telling us how many risks we can take. And they build an invisible fence of protection around our hearts. This kind of safety, however, is an illusion. We are never truly safe from hurt and pain, which is simply a part of life, of living and growing. My ex-husband said it beautifully the other day: “There is no change without loss.”
Choosing forgiveness is a necessity for good emotional and mental health, for like attracts like. If you choose to come from a place of gratitude and forgiveness, you begin to naturally draw others in who reflect that back to you. If your heart is filled with love and compassion, you continually elicit that love and compassion from others. Similarly, if your mind is full of resentment and judgment, you attract others who are resentful and judgmental or who magnify your emotional pain.
Receiving the gifts of your marriage
Only you can choose to receive the gifts of your marriage. Otherwise, they remain unopened and unused. Looking at your life through a lens of gratitude allows you to receive the gifts and learn the lessons from your time with your mate. The lens of gratitude is always there. It may need to be dusted off, but if you want to, you can choose to look through it at any time. Finding and embracing your wedding gifts allows you to cut all the karmic cords that link you to your partner in a negative way. Then you can choose to go on with your life.
The experience of karma is having our attention in the present impinged upon by experiences from our past. That is why it is imperative that we complete and heal all of our relationships. Until we embrace the gifts we received from our marriage, the karmic link to that relationship remains intact. Burdened with the pain of our past, we continue to drag our unhealed emotional issues with us wherever we go. Our past drains the vitality out of our future relationships. What’s more, our past is a constant reminder of our fears and all our pain. Holding on to our past is a sure recipe for re-creating similar situations until we learn the lessons that our partners have been trying to teach us.
Often I hear, “I’ve learned the lesson, but I’m not glad it happened.” I would suggest that if you feel this way, you have not really received the gifts and embraced the lessons of your marriage. When we have truly learned the lessons taught to us by our former mate, we appreciate and value the experience no matter how difficult it has been. We integrate the experiences and use them as a resource to make ourselves better people. I guarantee that if you feel really good about who you are, you will appreciate everyone who has added to the recipe that made you. Honoring your experiences instead of dwelling on the pain fosters gratitude and rewards you with the joyous state of emotional freedom.
The gifts are revealed through our acknowledgment of what we have received from our marriage, including things we’ve learned from our mate. During my marriage, I learned and experienced at least 100 things that have contributed to my life. When I breathe them in and honor my life by honoring my experiences, I bask in the joy of emotional freedom. My list of the gifts of my marriage looks like this:
- I have the child I always wanted.
- I moved to beautiful La Jolla, California.
- I get to be a parent to Beau.
- My sister moved to La Jolla to be close to us.
- I began working with Deepak Chopra.
- I developed the Shadow Process.
- My ex-husband paid off my school loans.
- I was able to experience having a family of my own.
- My parents moved to La Jolla to be near Arielle, Beau, and me.
- I received enough money to stay home and write my first book.
- I had the privilege of being the daughter-in-law of Bernice and Marty.
- I’ve learned how to look at life through the eyes of another.
- I learned that you don’t have to go to Harvard to be brilliant.
- I’ve learned how to share and include others in my life even if I disagree with them.
- I’ve become more thoughtful in my words.
- I received the inspiration for my second book.
- I’ve learned to not verbalize every thought I might be having.
- I’ve had the profound experience of seeing how others change as I change.
- I learned that I could make it on my own with a child.
- I’m learning how to be a good mother.
- I’ve learned that co-parenting can be a joy.
- I’ve learned that in conflict I need to keep the attention on myself.
- I had the wedding I always dreamed of.
- I’ve learned to ask for what I need.
How can I resent a man who has given me so many gifts? The gift of my son alone is reason enough to honor Dan for the rest of my life. Listing the gifts allowed me to see all that I had gained through my entire experience. At a time when I could see only pain and disappointment, looking for the good, the gifts, and the lessons opened me up to a place of authentic appreciation for my partner. It gave me a choice of realities in which to live. I could choose to remain in the painful reality of what didn’t work, or I could choose to celebrate in the joyful world of gratitude.
Choice gives us freedom. It gives us the miraculous ability to live the life we desire rather than one that has just landed on top of us. Living a life in which we can choose how we ultimately feel about every person, event and situation is miraculous. When we make empowering choices, we live in the wonderment of being a human being. Choice enables us to experience the ease of independence and the grace of loving who we are. As long as we are victims of other people’s behavior, we have no choice. Victimization prevents us from experiencing the gifts. And, if we don’t learn the lessons we are presented with, we will repeat them. Allow me to repeat this: if we don’t learn the lessons we are presented with, we will repeat them.
Gratitude is a choice
As I was growing up, my heart never knew gratitude. I felt entitled to what I had and always wanted more. My discontent showed up in every area of my life. No matter what gifts I received, they were always less than adequate. I believed that I was owed a better hand. I can honestly say that most of my problems stemmed from my inability to appreciate what I had. It never occurred to me that I could change my life by changing my attitude, that my unhappiness stemmed from my discontent, and that my discontent stemmed from my belief that I was entitled to a better everything. Having the wrong attitude drove me to search and find the dark side of life.
One day someone suggested to me that until I developed “an attitude of gratitude.” This statement struck deep at my core because I feared living a life without meaning, a life that made no difference. Then the revelation came that caused me to shift the lens I was looking through. I found out that gratitude is a choice, something that can be acquired through practice. The more I practiced, the easier it became. Then, instead of having to work constantly at viewing my world through gracious eyes, over time it became a more natural reality.
Gratitude is the gift of an open heart. It is a divine state of being that comes from the great wisdom and understanding that everything is as it should be. Gratitude comes when you look at all that you have instead of dwelling on what you don’t have. Gratitude is a self-generated love tool you can give yourself every day. When you choose to live a spiritual life, you come to understand that everything you receive is a gift.
Taking the high road
We are brought up in the illusion that our lives will turn out the way we want. We live with the dream that this person, this job, this financial agreement will make our lives better. Most of us are looking to have our emotional, physical, financial, and spiritual needs met by this one person whom we have deemed special. It’s often an impossible task for those given the giant responsibility of making us happy. But no matter how many times we have been disillusioned in love, we will search until we find someone who appears to be our savior, who will fulfill our expectations. When our dreams are washed away once again in a pool of disappointment, we get bitter, angry, and resentful. Someone has to pay the price for this terrible lie we were told. When our partners fail to fulfill our expectations and the relationship falls apart, it is of course, their fault. Some of us refuse to see the wall of expectations that block us from seeing our other options.
Having awareness of our other choices is an extraordinary gift. But it comes with a price. The more awareness we have, the more difficult it is to lie to ourselves. When we don’t take ownership of our wisdom, all the energy has to go somewhere, so it goes to the only place it knows – back into ourselves. If we fail to use the knowledge of our new insights to make choices to empower our lives, this knowledge turns on us, driving us deeper into our darkness. If you insist on denying responsibility for your current reality, you will probably go deeper into denial, creating more justifications and rationalizations. You are unconsciously driven to create more drama to prove that your circumstances are different and beyond your control. You create a righteous reason why you need to maintain your battle, and it always seems to you that you are right and your enemy is wrong. You may even tell yourself that you have to battle to take care of yourself. Or better yet, maybe you say it’s your karma, your mission, to teach your opponent a lesson. But maybe instead of teaching the lesson you would be better off learning the lesson that got you where you are today.
Healing action steps
- Think back over the years of your marriage, list all the gifts you received from your ex-partner. Reflect on the things you have learned about yourself as a result of being with him or her. What people and hobbies are in your life now that weren’t there before you met? What weaknesses of your ex-spouse have you had to compensate for? How has this helped to build your character? Be thoughtful and honest, and spend some time compiling your list. Making your wedding gift list will transform your negative feelings into positive ones.
- List all the things in your life for which you are grateful.
- Each day acknowledge yourself for at least ten things you have done that you are proud of. Appreciate yourself for the little things that add up over time – getting out of bed, exercising, eating only one hot fudge sundae. . . . Do this in writing and out loud. Don’t wait for a big accomplishment, like stopping smoking, to acknowledge yourself for your progress.
This article was excerpted with permission from Spiritual Divorce: Divorce as a Catalyst for an Extraordinary Life from HarperCollins by Debbie Ford. Copyright 2006, HarperSanFrancisco. In this powerful book, first released in 2001 and re-released this fall, Ford (The Best Year of Your Life, The Dark Side of the Light Chasers) offers a new perspective on the challenging life event we know as divorce. Ford, a New York Times #1 best-selling author and founder of the Ford Institute for Integrative Coaching, is an internationally recognized life coach and expert on the forthcoming ABC TV show, The Ex-Wives Club. In Spiritual Divorce, she challenge readers to look at their divorce as a means to improve their lives.