You have come to the heartbreaking decision to end your marriage. Regardless if you or your partner made the first move, it is now your move to position yourself to not only recover, but thrive after this major life event.
Whether you have been married only a short time, or built a lifetime together, taking care of yourself is a priority through this process. Many times people experience profound grief, pain and fear – to the point that they succumb to hopelessness and depression. I’m not suggesting you skip down the street, carefree and happy. However, working through this to-do list will help you transition through the divorce to a life you love.
1. Accept – There is a period through the divorce where you may have hoped things would change. If you sought counseling, talked with your pastor or genuinely tried to work through the differences yet the divorce is still happening, it’s time to accept the situation.
Being angry, refusing to cooperate in the negotiations, or acting out may seem to get your point across, but it also prevents you from working through the divorce in a way that will help you heal and rebuild your life. You may still love your spouse, but denying that the divorce is actually happening only hampers your own well-being. Accepting the divorce doesn’t mean you like it or want it, but it does mean that you have faced facts and realize the divorce is actually happening. This allows you to let go of those angry or confrontational feelings so you can think more clearly and make rational decisions.
2. Grieve – Grieving is an important step to healing. A divorce is a loss – of a partnership, of dreams and goals. Your day to day life will be different, you may be living alone or moving to a new place, taking on responsibilities that your partner handled before, or parenting on your own. Trying to play it cool or stay strong only works so long. Something as simple as seeing your spouse’s name on a piece of mail or having an acquaintance ask how they are can trigger some very strong emotions. Take the time to grieve. If you have children around, make arrangements for them so you can have an afternoon for a walk in the park, a massage or just take a relaxing soak in the tub. Feel the feelings, cry if you need to. Writing in a journal or recording a voice message (that you don’t send) can also be a way to release the pain.
Even if you were the one who decided on the divorce, it’s not unusual to grieve the marriage. You may feel that you tried everything you could. Give yourself credit for that and realize that you cannot control the other person.
3. Forgive – This could be a long list, but the first one on it is you. Forgive yourself. Many people going through a divorce or other painful break up spend a lot of time blaming themselves. It’s easy to tell yourself over and over, “I should have done this,” or “I should have known that.” Second guessing won’t lead to healing. Instead, change that soundtrack in your head. “I did the best I could. I forgive myself for my part in this.”
Secondly – Forgive your ex. Holding on to bitterness, anger or blame only hurts you. It has been said that holding a grudge is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Resisting the temptation to make their life hell or get back at them is possible when you practice forgiveness. Notice I said practice. You may need to forgive them or yourself multiple times a day at first. Do it – it’s free, it’s powerful and it’s amazingly healing.
Third – if there were other circumstances that contributed to the divorce, identify them and forgive them too. Anything from an affair to a difficult boss, troubled child or meddling in-laws. Free yourself of the baggage by forgiving them then let it go.
4. Love Yourself – If you’ve done the first three steps, you are already doing it. But it’s time to make a more concentrated effort. Loving yourself comes in many forms. Everything from learning to speak up for yourself to taking time for prayer, meditation, exercise or getting a makeover. When we say we don’t have time to do those things, we are really saying we don’t care enough about ourselves to make the effort.
If we don’t love ourselves first, it becomes easier to fall prey to those that take advantage or possibly abuse us. When we feel unlovable, we drop those healthy boundaries with others and often find ourselves struggling with even more pain and possibly depression.
Loving yourself does not mean blowing all the money in your checkbook on a shopping spree – it does mean educating yourself about your financial situation and having a clear understanding of how you will support yourself. Loving yourself does not mean running all around town pretending to be the newly single party girl, it does mean eating right, exercising and getting enough rest to effectively deal with the challenges you are going through.
If you think you can’t possibly love yourself, think of how you would stick up for a friend or a small child who couldn’t speak for themselves. Be that protector – do it for the most precious person you know – YOU.
5. Make a plan – After a break up or divorce, I commonly hear “I don’t know what to do!” A divorce changes your life plan, but that doesn’t mean you stop there. Making plans, no matter how small, gives you a confidence boost and removes that cloud of uncertainty. Your plan may be as simple as: I will be out of bed, showered and dressed by 7:30 every day. Baby step? Yes, but it’s something to build on. Add to it. I will spend 15 minutes a day learning about money management, or I will sign up for a computer class to sharpen my skills.
Start small and keep going. In time, you’ll be able increase the scope to include career, financial, spiritual, health and yes – even relationship goals. A plan gives you direction, motivation and focus.
6. Be patient – It’s not uncommon to feel pressure from family and friends to get back out in the dating world. While they think they are being encouraging, sometimes the last thing you want to do is start another relationship. Only you can determine when you are ready to start dating again. There are many other ways to be active and involved with others. Volunteering changes your focus from “poor me” to thinking of others. People who volunteer report feeling happier and that their efforts are making a difference in other’s lives.
There are support groups for newly single people that include group activities without the emphasis on finding a date or potential partner. You can also find sports leagues, ballroom dance classes and special interest groups on everything from hiking to knitting. Take this time to discover something new that adds purpose and fun to your life.
7. Love your life – You have a choice after a divorce: stay stuck in the mire of poor me, or emerge stronger, more confident and clear about who you are. Working through the steps in this list will help you establish boundaries, care for yourself, discover your strengths and passions, and change your mind set to a more positive outlook. Don’t be surprised when others notice you – strong, confident, positive people naturally draw others to them. We all want to be around those type of people! You can be one too. You may find that while you are having such a good time another strong, confident, and positive person that is right for you has noticed you.
Above all, remember, it will take time to work through these steps. There is no predictable timetable however, you will get through it. If you feel that you are stuck and can’t seem to move on, seek the help of a professional therapist or coach to guide you through the process. It may only take one conversation or a series of sessions. Either way, you are taking care of yourself and setting the foundation for a whole new outlook on life.