It’s hard to describe the pain that comes with separation and divorce. It’s so overwhelming that you think you’re going to explode. One minute it’s like being locked up in a tiny box that’s too small for you and the next it’s like your limbs are being torn apart. Something is being ripped from inside you. It’s like a grasshopper trying to hop with only one back leg. And yet, there is hope. Even the grasshopper can keep hopping with one leg. Yes, divorce does eventually make you wiser. It forces you to learn about yourself, your unmet needs and essentially, what you want in life.
It’s worth trying to understand why divorce causes us such pain. We have created an identity and a story about who we are as a couple and divorce shatters that reality. We feel huge confusion about who we are and fear about how we can cope on our own. It’s perfectly normal because suddenly the key person available to meet our needs is now gone. A fundamental part of being human is having our needs met and many of us rely on our spouses to meet some, if not all, our needs.
So how can you find a way forwards? How can we deal with our unmet needs during this time?
Your Unmet Needs
1. Protection, Security and Certainty
As part of our survival instinct, we all have the need to feel safe both physically and emotionally as well as financially. We need clarity and structure in our lives in order to feel in control. Without it, and when the ‘safety’ of marriage disintegrates, we start spiraling and our confidence is shattered.
Part of moving forwards is finding a self-care routine, reconnecting with ourselves and rebuilding our self-esteem. Our emotions are all over the place and while this is hard, it helps to accept them and to feel them. I know it takes effort but journaling is one of the most powerful tools for sorting your thoughts and emotions and finding clarity.
You might even surprise yourself with what you learn about who you are in relationships and what unmet needs you might have had. For those who are curious, attachment theory comes into play…but that’s a blog for another day.
2. Find Your Tribe
I remember the loneliness that kicked in when my husband moved out all those years ago. This knotted ball of emptiness appeared in the pit of my stomach. The tears would never stop. I felt hollow and I very nearly gave up. I was never one to ask for help before but I forced myself to pick up the phone. Connection, sharing and being touched are such a core part of being human and having those unmet needs can be so emotionally damaging.
Not all friends know what to say and I even had to counsel a few, including my family. But I connected, I talked and shared. It’s a powerful human need and by doing so, we also create natural, feel-good chemicals in our brains.
- Call your friends. You’ll be surprised how many want to help, share and listen.
- Consider making new friends as nicely described in this blog.
- Remember that a hug from a friend can be just as healing as a hug from a spouse.
3. Find Your New Identity & Meet Your Needs
One of the scariest moments during divorce is the sudden realization that you don’t really know who you are as a single person. It can feel a bit like it’s suddenly you against the world. But what does the world expect and how do you fit in? Who are you?
Having a deep identity crisis during a time of turmoil such as divorce can force us to stop and search. It can help us understand how we identify with ourselves in the first place. Whilst identity crisis originally referred to childhood development, more recent research now applies it to adults to help us through crises around change or uncertainty, such as divorce.
In the case of divorce, the first step is detaching from the ex and understanding what your values, beliefs and passions are in life. Purpose can change through our life phases but what is yours today? Are you living in accordance with these values and beliefs or have you been sacrificing them for the marriage? Do you know what you want in life?
And where do you even start?
4. Find your Flow
Have you ever been so engrossed in doing something that time feels as if it doesn’t exist? You’ve even lost sense of yourself. You feel positive and at ease and you’re in that magical zone where nothing exists except what you’re doing. You could be doing anything from painting to doing a crossword puzzle to playing a sport or even working on a project. We reach a state of flow, a concept from Positive Psychology, during which we’re using our skills effectively and we are no longer aware of time. We are essentially happy.
Divorce is one of the most overwhelming and painful experiences anyone has to go through. Having experienced it myself and now working with people going through it, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. However, it’s also an incredible time to learn about yourself and what you want in life. What are your unmet needs and how do you deal with them? Explore them, feel your emotions and learn about who you are and you’ll come through wiser and more at peace with yourself.
There is hope and there is a way through the pain to reach contentment and happiness. But don’t do it alone. Use your network of friends or reach out to a coach or a therapist. It’s braver to ask for help and face your pain than to wallow into the darkness of being a victim. We can all get through it – you can too.