By: Elana Chasser, LCSW
Divorce has turned your life upside down, and maybe you're wondering if and how the dust will ever settle. It will! And there is much you can do to help turn things right-side up. Although the hardest part of going through your actual divorce is—or will be—behind you, the future may seem overwhelming and starting anew may be daunting. Signing the divorce papers does not bring emotional closure or healing. Now is the time to mourn the loss of a life and marriage you had once dreamed of and hoped for. Although you may now be mourning the loss of the friendship you once had with your ex-partner, that friendship might have drifted long ago. You may find yourself in disbelief, wondering "How did we get here? When did it get so bad? How has it come to this?” Reflect on whether you are mourning the loss of what your marriage was or what you thought it would be.
Like walking through a doorway, change is about transition—shifting from one place to another, looking back at where you came from while also facing ahead to where you are going. This causes many people to feel extremely confused, overwhelmed and unsure of what to do about it. You are looking toward rebuilding your future while still feeling attached to your past. Feelings such as confusion, betrayal, sadness, fear, abandonment, loss or anger become your companions, and you may feel compelled to soothe your pain in ways that provide temporary fixes, numbing and fleeting relief, yet leave you feeling no better than before, perhaps even worse.
The power to heal and take part in authoring a brighter future is yours. Consider these guidelines for rebuilding your life after divorce:
Rebuilding Your Life
1. Choose Your Friends. You may be surprised to find that friendships seem different after you get divorced. Friends who used to be your "couple” friends may have chosen loyalties to your partner, or you may feel like it is hard to relate to them (or they to you) as a single person rather than as part of a couple. Perhaps as you go through this awesome time of rebuilding, your single friends seem less experienced and it feels difficult to relate to them in the same ways you did prior to your marriage. Be selective about who you bring into your life now. Invite people who will encourage your healing rather than those who will stoke your anger. The power is yours to create a compassionate support system.
2. Discover Yourself. Engage in enjoyable activities. Your identity may still be very connected to being "one half” of a couple and you may not yet know what activities interest or fulfill you as an individual. Explore and experiment with activities and hobbies that will make you feel excited about getting up in the morning and facing the day. Learn to enjoy spending time with yourself. Taking care of you is the greatest gift you can give to yourself and to your children as well.
3. Journal. Our human minds process thoughts, ideas, stories and opinions faster than we can speak or write them down. The task of putting thoughts and feelings into words on paper forces your mind to slow down and facilitates increased awareness and understanding about yourself. Journaling is a tool that encourages growth and helps you cope with feelings in a healthy and constructive way.
4. Enjoy Your Children. Healing is a process of personal growth and discovery. If you have children, you are growing and learning alongside them. Take time to enjoy your children. Create new memories with them that will foster their self-esteem, confidence and joy; create memories that they can carry into their futures.
5. Getting over Stigma. For some, divorce carries taboos and stigmas that make it difficult to reconcile and accept their new lives as single people. Religious and social stigmas sometimes create a sense of embarrassment and shame, and you may notice yourself pulling away from people or communities you have been meaningfully connected to in the past. Perhaps you are fearful of being forthcoming about your divorce experience while forming new relationships for fear of being faced with judgment. If you carry feelings of shame and humiliation, this means you are still in a process of healing. Use this time to come to a more accepting place regarding your past and yourself. How you do this is largely up to you, but it is a critical step in laying the foundation for a happier, more fulfilling future.
6. Seek Professional Support. While your support system of family and friends is invaluable, you may experience that even the most well-intentioned people aren't equipped to help you sort out, understand and heal the inner turmoil that may now be surfacing. You may be struggling to make sense out of how and why you chose the partner you did or are fearful about making another "mistake” in the future. Perhaps the thought of trusting and taking a chance again with someone else feels impossible from behind your emotional protectors that you have built because you do not want to see yourself get hurt again. Or maybe you have begun to date and recognize a pattern of attraction to the "wrong kind” of man or woman. Your trust in your own judgment and ability to make good decisions is down the tubes, and you find yourself doubting every decision in front of you, big and small.
Anger, sadness, loneliness, emotional guardedness, mistrust or other feelings may be overwhelming and may also be interfering with your life, responsibilities and relationships. Consider seeking professional help. A trained therapist will be able to help you navigate through these emotionally unchartered waters and help you heal. Finding a healthier relationship and trusting again is possible for you. Pay attention to and welcome the feelings you are having. This will empower you to feel freer and more peaceful inside.
7. Dating. People may be advising you to "get right back on the horse” and start dating. Their intentions may be to help you feel better more quickly or to find someone else so that you will get your mind off your ex. Feeling better is exactly what you want, and dating can seem like a logical way of distracting you from your sad and lonely feelings. And it may—for a while. Trust yourself to know when you are ready to date again and be honest with yourself about your inner life. Dip your toe in the water and see how it feels. When you are ready to meet new people and engage in a fulfilling and meaningful relationship, have faith that you will know.
8. Take Stock and Plan. Take a look at your life situation now in a practical way. Assess your finances and what, if any, options you have or need to consider regarding housing, employment, recreation and other expenses. Plan ahead and build up savings when possible.
9. Have Faith. Tap into your faith, whatever it may be. Life may seem large with mountainous pieces to pick up and put together. The good news is that you are "Life's partner” and have input in how you go through this rebuilding period. Faith is strengthening. Believe in yourself and have hope that your future can be brighter than ever.
While divorce was surely not in your plans when you decided to get married, it is an event that shapes you and the history of your life. How it shapes your life is up to you. Remember: your divorce is a chapter of your life; it does not define your life. You have the power to take part in authoring your future by taking care of yourself now, healing your pain and making choices that encourage, rather than sabotage, your happiness. The dust will settle, and you will have walked through the doorway. Open yourself up to finding hope and consider that life can be better than it ever was, not in spite of your divorce but because of it!
About the Author...
Elana Chasser is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in practice since 1993. She specializes in relationships, dating, divorce and post-divorce recovery. Ms. Chasser holds a private practice with offices in Brooklyn, NY and Merrick, Long Island.
Click here to contact or learn more about Elana Chasser
Last Update: 5/4/2013