Divorce is such a painful loss for many people.
It is the end of a life promised. What you thought was going to be true for the rest of your life is not true. And the gaping hole left in your future can feel overwhelming and unfair.
It doesn’t matter if the decision to divorce was the right one. Or whether it comes with a measure of relief. Where there was once love, trust, and belonging, there is likely now, too, some sense of emptiness and disappointment that accompanies the process of disconnecting permanently.
Even if the relationship wasn’t a happy one, safe one, or loving one, surrendering to divorce can still feel like a very painful, and public failure in your personal life. Many divorced partners compare the loss to death. The life they imagined is gone.
But unlike death, there is usually no burial or rush of mourners who sit with you and help you try to get your bearings. In fact, you may lose support and community. Yet, you’re told to “get on with it”, “you’re better off”, “find someone new.”
But how do you mourn a marriage well and move forward without dragging the pain of the past into the future?
Though this is a difficult time in your life, there are some specific things you can do to cope with your loss and recover. Consider the following:
Give Yourself Permission to Grieve
Any kind of loss takes its toll on you emotionally. This is especially true when it comes to divorce. You are experiencing a serious blow to your core need to belong. Losing the sense that you were part of a couple and the married community can feel disorienting. You may feel lost and less able to cope with your emotions. Any added pressure to “move on” can make things worse.
Thus, you may be tempted to ignore, stuff, or bottle up your emotions and barrel through the discomfort. Or perhaps you pretend to be okay because you are afraid your ex or other people may think you’re weak for revealing any vulnerability.
Your feelings are not uncommon, but ignoring grief can stress your mind and body further. Instead, find safe places to release your grief. Holding in those emotions won’t do you any good. Reach out to trusted, empathetic people. Loved ones who listen well or an experienced counselor can be safe places to express and contain your grief.
Watch Out for the Warning Signs of Depression
As with any kind of major loss, divorce can be the catalyst for depression. Watch out for these warning signs:
- Are you isolating yourself from others?
- Have you lost of interest in activities or things you once enjoyed?
- Do you struggle to sleep or sleep too much?
- Have you felt sad or “down” for two weeks or more?
Divorce is a life-changing experience. As the daily realities of divorce become reality, it’s important to check in with yourself. This loss could easily trigger depression if you aren’t intentional about self-care and remaining aware of your emotions.
Stay on the Lookout for Isolation
Isolation is easy when you’re divorced. What starts off as simply needing time to process your loss can slide into unproductive withdrawal and isolation. It’s okay to spend time working through the divorce on your own but also consider group therapy or a support group to help you balance time alone with people who understand your mourning period intimately.
Now more than ever before, you need human connection. In the past, you may have sought this from your partner. Now you must create new means of connection and support. A solid support system will help you get through this difficult time.
Be Kind to Yourself
Mourning the loss of the marriage may also involve mourning a view of yourself that was deeply connected to being a life partner. You may blame yourself for the divorce. You may even feel rejected, guilty, or unattractive. Now is a time for self-compassion and patience. You have a responsibility to treat yourself with kindness and allow yourself time to navigate your healing one victory or setback at a time– without self-judgment or indulging judgment from others. Work with a therapist may be a good way to start setting goals to help you feel more comfortable and competent in your post-divorce life.
Acceptance allows you to devote less energy toward the past and more energy towards creating the future you desire. You don’t want to get stuck in perpetual resentment or sadness. But know that true acceptance is a process that involves grieving, and it takes time to get there. To get a handle on what life can look like going forward, you may require some support and therapy here as well.
The ultimate goal? To work towards expressing the full range of your emotions as you come to grips with life after marriage. This will allow you to honor the past and move into greater intimacy in your future. Then you really can move forward assured that your loss will ultimately serve as a source of meaning and empowerment.