It’s November, a time when many of us take stock of all the things to be thankful for. If you’re in the middle of a divorce or newly divorced, however, it may be hard to focus on the good things in your life. After all, a divorce — no matter if it’s a continuous or a conscious uncoupling — takes its toll emotionally, physically and financially.
It’s hard to feel grateful for anything unless you’re the one who wanted out and feels a great sense of relief. And even then, you can underestimate the sense of loss you’ll feel, says psychology professor Janet Reibstein. “Divorce is not just a legal event, but a psychological and social process. It’s about two people who were in love and the trust and expectations they had. You were waking up with that person. Now you have to change the whole way you live. It requires an enormous adjustment.”
And it was a huge adjustment, even though I — thankfully — didn’t have a continuous divorce. My former husband and I agreed on a lot of things on our own and decided together that we’d seek the help of a mediator to sort out the harder stuff, but always wanted to make sure we were doing our best for our two boys, then age 9 and 12. Even though I knew our marriage couldn’t last, I felt incredibly grateful that my former husband and I had many good years together and that we raised two wonderful children together. And those feelings of gratitude have lasted all these years.
That said, I didn’t necessarily feel that way at first; I didn’t fully see the many gifts that my marriage had given me. I was just reeling from the pain. But when I finally felt healthy enough to look back at the many years we shared, I began to appreciate what we had accomplished and enjoyed as a couple. It helped me feel more forgiving of our faults and more compassionate toward each of us.
Research has found that there’s a lot of good that comes from developing a grateful outlook post-divorce, according to attorney Ann Grant, aka the Divorce Hacker. Those who were able to
– Felt better about their lives as a whole
– Experienced greater levels of joy and happiness
– Felt optimistic about the future
– Got sick less often
– Exercised more regularly
– Had more energy, enthusiasm, determination, and focus
– Made greater progress toward achieving important personal goals
– Slept better and awoke feeling refreshed
– Felt stronger during trying times
– Enjoyed closer family ties
– Were more likely to help others and offer emotional support
– Experienced fewer symptoms of stress
Great, but how can you suddenly feel grateful when everything feels so wrong and broken?
It won’t be sudden, but there are a few things you can do right now that will help you come to a place of gratitude for what you had, where you are now and where you want to be.
Here are four ways to do just that:
1) Appreciate the hard stuff: “Your experience right now feels hard, but that is all part of living your life. How can we fully experience and appreciate joy without first having experienced pain? They don’t say life has its ups and downs for nothing. Diversity and contrast are what makes life exciting and bright. Who wants a beige life?” asks Laura Miolla, a certified divorce coach.
2) Learn from the bad stuff: “There are positive aspects even in the most negative of situations. When you make your split a learning experience, you will benefit from knowing more about yourself and your ex — for the benefit of all of you,” says Honorée Corder, author of The Successful Single Mom.
3) Ask and record: “What is yours and yours alone that nobody can take from you?” “What in your life have you overlooked but is worth celebrating?” These are questions divorce coach Martha Bodyfelt says we might want to ask ourselves. Then write down five things you’re grateful for — it could be as simple as hearing the crinkle of the fall leaves under your fee or the smell of clean sheets. In fact, keeping a gratitude journal, according to researchers, increases joy, enthusiasm and a sense that, yes, life is getting better.
4) It’s OK to honor the good times: While it’s dangerous to romanticize a former partner, there’s nothing wrong in acknowledging that there were some good things that came out of the marriage that’s ended. “Be grateful to any man who gives you memories that years later still make you smile,” says Glamour writer Jillian Kramer. And most relationships have that — memories that make us smile. While I have never regretted divorcing my former husband, I still appreciate the many fun times we had over the years and the two children — now amazing young men — we raised together. And I am incredibly grateful that we have been able to be kind enough to each other after our split to avoid an ugly, messy situation that would no doubt hurt all of us.
While you may not be in a place to fully feel grateful, there’re always things to be thankful for no matter where you are on your divorce journey.
Vicki Larson is a divorced mom of two young men. She is a longtime journalist, author, writer, editor, and freelancer, whose work can be found in numerous places — websites, magazines, books, newspapers and here. Vicki is the co-author of “The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists, and Rebels.” You can learn more about Vicki at http://omgchronicles.vickilarson.com.