I can remember years ago wondering if there was a bush I could hide under to stop the life lessons that were pounding me all at once. Forget bad things come in threes—this was multiples of threes.
Most of us have had times in our lives when we wanted to yell "uncle." Well, throw a divorce into the mix, and we must make a conscious decision to sink or swim. At first, we think: I can't handle this. Then we realize we are stronger than we ever knew.
"Life is not about how fast you run or how high you climb, but how well you bounce." —Unknown
The first challenge you will probably meet are the words I want a divorce. Yes, it is harder if you hear these words from another unexpectedly; there may also be an emotional hill to climb if you suddenly realize you are the one who wants to end the marriage. The severity of the loss you experience will vary with the length of the marriage, the quality or lack thereof, the communication within it, whether you were able to fight for it, and your emotional history with loss.
Unfortunately, ending a marriage cracks open this emotional history. When the history has a lot of losses, and/or particularly painful ones, it may take longer to heal. Rent sad movies, cry until you can't cry anymore, hit pillows, exercise to the point of exhaustion, work out hard—whatever you must do to get to the other side of the grief process. Grief is something we know has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It can take a chunk of our soul, but we will be stronger when we finally accept our loss.
In most cases of divorce, amicable or not, you are going to visit the emotions of indignation and/or anger and rage. I believe, if you allow yourself more indignation, you don't have to visit the anger/rage phase of things. You need to set boundaries using your indignation: I ask that you don't speak to me with that tone; I don't accept your offer; Call to set up a time to meet, do not just show up at my home; Now is not the time or place to discuss this topic; I ask that you keep/honor your agreements; That is a conversation for my lawyer.
When you teach people how to treat you respectfully, you will be less inclined to scream, yell, name call, insult, etc. Once you have mastered the art of setting healthy boundaries, you will be stronger. With boundaries, you won't live in resentment. If you didn't have healthy boundaries before your divorce, you will certainly be a stronger person with them, post-divorce.
The ability to forgive yourself, and others, build character and will ultimately make you mentally stronger. The ending of a marriage is experienced by everyone as a failure—something you cared about, built, and worked on suddenly fell apart and is now broken. It is important to allow yourself the emotions of failure, and ultimately, to forgive yourself for it.
Whether you feel you picked the wrong person, didn't understand how to work with that person, or made bad choices, there will be a place for forgiveness. You must understand that making mistakes is part of being a human being. If you can't forgive yourself for your mistakes, and others for their mistakes, you will be at continual risk of shrinking your life. The ability to forgive is a key component to becoming a stronger person after divorce.
Remember the first moment you heard the words I want a divorce. Remember your first emotion of being overwhelmed and fearful. Now, think about your divorce journey, and how much stronger you are. No one wants to go through a divorce—you don't want to feel abandoned; you don't want to lose important people in your life; and you may not have a choice about these life events challenging you. You do have a choice about how you react to these events. You can reach deep down inside and find some hidden resilience you didn't know you had. You can find the silver lining, wisdom, and realize you are stronger than you ever knew.