When someone enters into divorce, they have a lot of hope, hope that it won’t be as bad as other people's fights, hope that it won't cost a lot of money or be acrimonious. They hope the kids will talk with them at the end of the fight, and that they'll still have some money left over after paying the legal fees. They wonder when they'll be able to have lots of sex. These are big hopes and totally expected expectations.
The problem with these expectations is that divorce is way more than money or fighting. Or sex. Divorce is a shattering of long-held dreams. It makes you question who you've been, how you are in the world. So, on a deeply personal level, it takes way longer to heal from than we want, or realize.
Talk to anyone who's gone through a divorce and ask them: how long? And if they'll talk about it, they'll tell you the truth: a long time.
And worse, if you don't do your work, you'll get what I describe as Post Traumatic Divorce Disorder™—versions of staying stuck for the rest of your days. (News Flash: even with a new lover and marriage.) I know.
Usually, I too, hesitate to talk about how long it takes to heal from divorce; clients don't want to hear it, people stepping into separation definitely don't want to think about it, and usually it sets up this depressed state of mind. But I feel it's also important to stop the lying. Haven't you been lied to enough?
My first marriage ended within three years, start to finish—from the moment I met him to the moment I was divorced. I was young; it was a "practice" marriage. I went to court one day with my father and my step-mom attorney, and there was no fight. No big deal! We went out for breakfast afterward and celebrated. Super easy.
It took years to forget about my first husband, years to figure out how I went wrong and what made me marry someone I really shouldn't have. And that marriage was the easy mistake. That breakup was completely logical to grasp. My second divorce was after 15 years of marriage and two kids. It took years to unwind legally. It cost a lot of money. It rocked my world—and me—emotionally, and the healing took a heck of a lot longer to acquire.
I know from experience that it truly takes between 2-7 years after getting a divorce decree to really and truly heal—especially on your own. It takes work. You must dig deep and put a finger on what you're not doing well. It took me, being on my knees, to finally admit I had no idea what I was doing—and to figure it out.
When I coach clients, I help them hack this healing timeline. Sure, there's work to be done. But by focusing and setting up a new personal perspective while going through the separation, focusing on personal growth and not just how much money or time with the kids they're going to get, people are given a head start. So today, I'm going to share some of what I do.
- Admit you don't know what to do. If you're in a divorce, if you're trying to heal from your divorce or your breakup, then you've given your situation the best thinking you've got up until now. You don't know what to do! When was the last time you were in "marriage school?" Well, it's time to get into "divorce school," as I tell my clients. You don't know what you don't know. (I hate that phrase because it's so darn true!)
- Find a mentor. A teacher, a book, someone who can shine some light on your anger and confusion—or fear. Someone with more experience, who's been where you are. Grab a notebook, a keyboard, a whiteboard, or a writing app. Get ready to grow, and to learn.
- Decide what you want to change and pick two or three things to tackle. It doesn't matter if these things are super big or seemingly easy to you. Whatever. Just select and focus on three things you want to change. And begin paying attention to what you're doing, what you're thinking about them, and how you feel about yourself when you're in this headspace.
- Set up a time frame. Say, the next three months—and get to work! You're going to work on changing this goal every day for the next three months. What you focus on will shift. You will show improvement if you want to truly grow.
How you change, or shift, as I like to call it—shifting is less confronting—is up to you. Do you like to read, to study, to listen to others? Do you write, or must you walk in the woods or hit a punching bag? Setting up goals and having accountability will ensure you do what you say you're going to do.
Let me ask you: in divorce, how much do you trust yourself? Are you eager to walk down the aisle with another partner any time soon? Didn't think so. So get to work. You've got some growing to do!
Everyone always says: I’m not sure if I'll ever get married again. Sure, that one's easy—and why not? You definitely don't have to marry to live in our world these days! But on the other hand, this is a feeling life—and the institution of marriage has been here a very long time. There's a reason for that, and another article.
For now, go easy on yourself and step into that hope again—easy, not lazy. And this time, focus on the hope that applies to you and your own development. You don't have to worry about becoming vulnerable any time soon. But know that you most likely will whether you're ready to or not. You'll fall in love, want to be with someone, and walk down that aisle again. Before you do so, perhaps you'll take me up on my offer and get to work figuring things out?
Divorcing more than once stinks. It throws you onto the floor and makes you take a good, hard look in the mirror. Give yourself a chance to heal properly and completely before you take on another committed relationship (or marriage). No amount of sex will magically help you forget the breakup you just left. These are false expectations and do not work no matter how much hope you hold onto.
Written by Laura Bonarrigo
Laura Bonarrigo understands divorce. For most of Laura’s life, divorce dictated who she was. Her first divorce occurred at the age of seven—her parents’—and she has spent most of her life thinking about, or healing, from the experience. She married young and divorced in her early twenties, when most people are just beginning to think about marrying. Then, two decades later, after 15 years of marriage to her second husband and the father of her children, the stakes were higher and the decision more difficult. Through a lot of soul searching, she ultimately knew the best thing for her family was for this second marriage to dissolve. Three divorces have forced Laura to learn the hard lessons of forgiveness, understanding and patience. Visit www.LauraBonarrigo.com to learn more.