Many people say, “I’ll be happy once the divorce is finalized.” They focus, understandably so, on the goal of achieving the divorce. In their minds, the journey is downhill after that. And sometimes they’re right. They feel more relaxed, more optimistic, and less burdened. But then it can hit them: the emotional journey through divorce doesn’t always end just because you signed some papers. Sometimes, moving on after a divorce can require more time and energy than the process of legalizing a divorce. Although everyone’s journey is unique, there are common problems and, fortunately, successful methods for handling them.
Forgive and Forget
One issue you may need to deal with is forgiveness, especially if the marriage or divorce was acrimonious. Sometimes people don’t want to forgive, believing their former spouse doesn’t deserve that kindness. Work towards forgiveness, however, because you deserve it. Stoking anger and holding grudges rob you of your time and your energy. You’ll need that time and energy in order to move on after the divorce. Also recognize that you may need to forgive yourself for any mistakes you may have made. You’ll have a harder time motivating yourself to improve your current life if you keep beating yourself up over your past.
Simultaneously, you may need to let yourself grieve. You might think, “My ex isn’t worth grieving over!” Unfortunately, though, you lost more than a spouse. You likely lost certain prized possessions or the place you lived. Worse than dividing property, however, is discovering that your friends and family got divided up, too; certain friends you shared with your ex no longer call you back, or members of your family seem to talk to your ex more than they talk to you, now. And even if you made it through all of the dividing of property, friends, and family relatively unscathed, there’s usually another reason people need to grieve: at some point you thought your marriage was going to be happy, successful, and nurturing. If nothing else, people sometimes need to grieve for the marriage and future they expected to have with their ex, no matter how unreasonable those expectations may have been.
Once you’ve given yourself the permission and time you need to forgive yourself and your ex as well as grieve for anything you may have lost, it’s time to start rebuilding. Some people seem to inherently know their desires and needs, and how to begin reincorporating those back into their lives. They’re in the minority. The majority of people need to work at remembering what it’s like to be single or, if you don’t care for how you’ve handled being single in the past, creating a foundation for a new you.
As you work on determining how you want your new life to be, another important point is to focus your time and energy where it can most help you. Although this sounds like common sense, it isn’t. Time and energy are a lot like money in that they’re all limited, so you want to make sure that you get the most emotional return from your investments. Recall those friends or family members you may have lost or are now losing. It’s a good idea to repair some of those relationships if they’re precious to you. You can make it clear to your loved ones that they don’t have to choose between you and your ex, that they can talk about your ex without upsetting you, and that you can hold your tongue if a sensitive subject about your ex comes up. However, if you keep pursuing a relationship with people that have closed themselves off from you, you’re wasting time and energy that could be better spent creating new friendships. Your new life may require a new social support network, and your time and energy are best spent creating that new one rather than fighting your ex over your old one.
Let it Be
As you do the work of rediscovering yourself, allow yourself to take your time. It’s normal to want to ‘be done’ with rebuilding your life following a divorce. If you rush, however, you may make decisions with long-term consequences before you’ve had a chance to think them through. Also, don’t be afraid to try out new ideas, especially if they don’t lock you into anything long-term. Consider this a period of self-discovery; it’s okay to try something that doesn’t work out.
Let’s recognize, though, that there may be some times when you feel down or your energy level is low. You may find yourself alone during holidays or special occasions. It can also be normal to doubt whether the divorce was the right decision, or discover some negative consequences from the divorce you just never expected. How do you handle times like these?
First, if you can predict the problem, try to solve it before it arrives. Do whatever you can to ease any future blows you know are coming, and don’t be shy about enlisting the help of others, when possible.
Taking Care of You
Finally, you’ll help yourself navigate the journey of moving on after a divorce if you routinely practice self-care. Self-care is what you do to take care of yourself. While this sounds obvious, it is perhaps the most helpful technique that people routinely neglect. Some examples of self-care are eating healthy, exercising, and getting enough sleep. Other examples, however, are less obvious but equally important. What are you looking forward to today, this week, and this month? If you can’t easily answer, focus your time and energy here. The activity can be as small as carving out some time to read, to talk to a friend, to go out to lunch, or to watch a favorite movie or show. These activities are essential because they renew us, giving us the energy and strength to make it through the tough times.
Although the emotional journey may be difficult, people successfully move on after a divorce on a regular basis, and the above techniques can help you do it.