Divorce is one of the most stressful situations an individual can go through. The first step to healing is meeting yourself where you are and admitting that you’re hurting. You’ve experienced something traumatic and things are going to be hard for a while. Our culture of comparison and perfectionism tells us that you should be able to go through hard things without looking like you’re having a hard time, but I am here to give you permission to look like you’re having a hard time for a while.
A divorce is devastating.
It’s going to be hard.
But you are capable of doing hard things.
Whether you asked for your divorce or not, you’re going to struggle. Because this is a place you never intended to be. Healing from your divorce isn’t about moving on as quickly as possible, rather, it’s about meeting yourself in your grief, your trauma, your rejection, your fear, your shame, your anger, your loneliness, and all of the feelings you may be feeling. It’s about learning how to take care of yourself in these feelings, recognizing your needs, and then lovingly responding to them instead of just telling yourself to get over them already. We put together a roadmap for how to do this and then shared some tips for moving forward.
Let yourself grieve. You have just lost one of the most significant relationships in your life, but there are losses beyond this as well– a family member, a friend, a companion, a sexual partner, a co-parent, financial stability, a vision of your future, even friends and neighbors. Each loss needs to be grieved on its own. It’s going to be emotional and this will be hard because you also have lots of stressful, important decisions to make for your family, for your finances, and for yourself. You may be tempted to try and do this process without your emotions, but you need them, and avoiding your emotions has actually been shown to make your experience of them worse. For example, avoiding emotions like anger, fear, and grief will only lead to a greater eruption of that emotion later on.
The stages of grief aren’t linear. You will move in and out of them. Certain events and triggers will throw you right back into emotions that you thought were behind you and you’ll find yourself processing through things that you thought you’d already processed. Noticing your denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance as part of a larger grief process isn’t about checking off each box to move on more quickly. Working through these stages of grief is about normalizing your emotions and reminding yourself that no matter what stage you’re in at the moment, you are right where you’re supposed to be.
Find a release for your feelings. Take care of yourself and dignify your feelings by feeling them completely and then letting them go. It’s easy to get stuck in feelings like anger and depression, but if you stay there too long without processing and releasing them, you’ll find yourself sinking into lengthier seasons of bitterness and hopelessness. First, notice, name, and validate all of your feelings. Notice where they take root in your body and observe them curiously, make space for them and let them be. Next, find ways to release them whether it’s through exercise, creativity, connections with others or nature, gratitude, laughing till your stomach hurts, or spending energy on your passions again. Finding routines like these to release your stuck emotions and stress will help you remain in the present more, feel more rested, and restore hope about your future.
Focus on what you can control. Throughout the separation and divorce processes, there are so many things that are outside of your control and you will come face to face with the feeling of powerlessness. But there are also so many things that you still have control over: Your story, your beliefs, your body, your responses, and your commitments. You get to choose to own your story, to explore the dark parts, and move toward the light. You get to challenge your negative belief systems and find one that actually works for you. You get to choose how you respond to the trials that you’re faced with. You have control over how many commitments you take on during this time and the time you spend on self-care. You still have power.
Notice how you’re making meaning. Making sense of and creating meaning around what’s happening to you is such an important step in the divorce process. When we experience something traumatic, it’s common for our brain to develop irrational beliefs about the event, ourselves, and the world. The conclusions you draw and the meaning you make of your divorce will directly influence your belief systems about yourself, your family, your relationships, and many other aspects of your present and future — some you may not even realize.
For example, notice if you’re feeling like a failure. This is a narrative of divorce that our culture perpetuates. Longevity is seen as the ultimate indicator of marital success, but plenty of people with long marriages are miserable and plenty of people with divorces are happy. When a marriage ends, it doesn’t necessarily mean that either partner failed or that the relationship was worthless. Take time to reflect on what you learned from your relationship, what you’re grateful for, what you’ll miss, what you get to keep from it, and what you’re proud of. Take your time to create a more balanced, complete, compassionate, growth-minded narrative about both your marriage and divorce.
Prioritize ending the relationship well. There is no contradiction in working toward a successful divorce —one that’s respectful and dignifying to the relationship and to your family. Esther Perel, a psychotherapist, author, and podcaster, shared in her book The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity once that “Just as we have marriage ceremonies to mark the beginning of a union, we also need rituals to mark the end.” What can you do to mark the end of your marriage? Maybe it comes in the form of a letter to say goodbye, or perhaps a gathering of close friends to show you their support in your new chapter. It could be the packing away of parts of your life together. This conclusion could be a final hug, handshake, dinner, or taking off your wedding ring. Or maybe it’s your personal journey towards forgiveness.
Don’t race to move on too quickly. Give yourself the time you need to heal and process without adding more stressors onto your plate like a new relationship. You don’t need to prove anything to your ex by moving on faster than you’re ready – doing so ends up extending your grieving process even further. Take the time you need to find yourself again and gain confidence in who you are outside of the roles you assumed in your marriage. Your divorce doesn’t have to define you, but moving on too quickly won’t prove that it doesn’t.
Your plan to heal. If you’re struggling to let go and move on, however, it may be helpful to remind yourself that all of those past hurts, betrayals, losses, and mistakes don’t define you at all and that there is so much in store for you when you choose to live by that knowledge. You get to choose how your story continues.
Divorce is never easy, but you don’t have to make it harder by trying to go through it alone. Lean into your community and the people you trust. Lean into professionals who can help you identify and meet your needs during this time. You are not alone. Reach out to us if you need support as you grieve, own your story, and find your power.
If you are ready to schedule an appointment and live in North Carolina we can help. Contact us to get started. We offer virtual sessions only right now to accommodate the safety of our staff and clients during the time of COVID-19.