With the right mindset, you can turn an ending into a beginning
The end of a marriage or significant relationship, has been likened by mental health professionals to the death of a loved one. The grief that a divorce can inflict is no different to the experience a person will endure when someone they love has died.
So if you feel like your life is over now that your marriage has ended, you are not being dramatic, and you are not alone. One man in my divorce support group likened it to being in a car crash every day for two years.
I held on to the sentiment as I was going through my own divorce. Each day I woke up to another crash. I had to mentally and emotionally steel myself for the spiritual death that was coming.
“Divorce feels like being in a car crash every day for two years”
It’s important to know this because when you are being put through the emotional meat grinder that is divorce, at times you can actually feel as if you simply do not have the strength to carry on. It can be a shocking feeling.
There is no way to truly prepare for what comes emotionally after a divorce. Especially if you have children. I’m not minimising the trauma that childless couples experience, however there is the additional guilt and trauma of feeling responsible for the pain of your children that adds another layer of pain.
No matter how bad it seems, no matter how small the chance of pulling through seems, you will come out the other side of the pain. Believe it or not, you may even be grateful for the experience.
Through pain comes growth
Forgiveness is key
People who have divorced in particularly traumatic circumstances, such as spousal abuse or infidelity may question that forgiveness could ever be a possibility. However, by consciously working towards forgiveness of yourself, and of your ex, it is absolutely possible.
Why do you need to forgive? You don’t forgive someone for their sake. You forgive them for yours. When you are still in the grip of blame and anger, you will not be able to move through the grief. Part of the grief cycle is acceptance. Acceptance appears when we are finally able to forgive.
You played a part in the marriage, and you may feel as if you would do things differently if given another chance. This is where forgiving yourself comes in.
You may be angry at yourself for choosing this person as your partner. Forgive yourself.
I remember when I was in the first months of my divorce, a friend and I laughed (through the tears) that you couldn’t even take divorce one day at a time. You had to take it one HALF day at a time. If I could go until lunchtime without falling to my knees and sobbing, then I was having a pretty good day.
The mess of divorce can often shroud the fundamental differences that existed in your relationship. While you are fighting, or recovering from the trauma of discovering an affair (or any number of things that have made the relationship untenable) you become so focused on the turmoil of your emotions, that you can miss the most important reasons why you and your spouse are no longer able to live a life together.
Once you have some time and space on your own, take the opportunity to reflect and really understand what your core values are. What is that you truly believe about love and relationships? Do you know what your needs are? I honestly did not know what I needed until I was on my own.
I came to the realisation that it would’ve been almost impossible for my ex husband to meet my needs if I didn’t even know them myself. If I couldn’t communicate them, how was he going to be able to meet them? And vice versa.
I learnt a lot about my ex after the divorce, which made me realise why it didn’t work out with us. We had fundamentally different values, needs, attachment styles, money habits, parenting styles. I thought we were open and honest with each other. We weren’t.
Once you understand the extent of your incompatibility, you may start to soften. Anger can be accepted and moved past. This is when you may be able to find some empathy in your heart for your ex, regardless of the hurts caused.
Most people genuinely want to part ways while still salvaging some of the love and friendship that was once felt. It’s not impossible to do this. But it does take a lot of introspection and work. If you stay on the ‘top’ level of your thoughts and emotions, you will not be able to move deeper down into a place of understanding and forgiveness.
How can you support yourself find those core values that may have been lying unrecognised? Here are some strategies I used to help myself come to those realisations:
*Following divorce bloggers that you resonate with
*Reading books on separation and divorce
*Becoming knowledgeable about the grief cycle
*Writing in a journal every day
*Talking to a coach
*Talking to people who had been through divorce
It was a daily discipline. I set a goal to do one small action every day, that moved me towards a place of understanding myself better.
Today, I feel like I am a completely different woman to the woman who was in that marriage. My ex husband and I are great friends, and I marvel when we get together for family game night, that we get along so well. Yet, I know that in a relationship, we would never be able to meet each other’s true needs. And that’s ok.
I want to make a specific mention of divorces that have been caused by abuse. As a person who has experienced domestic abuse (not my ex husband) I understand that it is virtually impossible to stay friends with someone who has abused you. However, it is possible to forgive them. Forgiveness does not mean condoning the behaviour.
In this instance, forgiveness means letting go of the pain in order to thrive again as a whole person.
Divorce grief can be overwhelming. It forces you to accept that the world is now a different place. You are now a different person. Although it feels like you will never experience happiness again, I promise you that you will. You will feel joy, hope, optimism and safety again.
One half-day at a time, one foot in front of the other, you will start to understand that this path is exactly the one that you and your ex are meant to be following.
This is truly a gift if you allow it to be.