Your marriage has fallen apart, and now you have to find a new way of being.
While “new” can be something exciting, it can also be scary—especially if you weren’t looking for anything new in your life beyond a pair of great shoes or meal at a hot restaurant you’ve never been to before.
Still, in attempting to help the newly divorced, a lot of people offer somewhat pep-rally-like speeches. “It’s a time to reinvent yourself,” some may say enthusiastically. “It’s an opportunity,” others may advise. And, if you’re not getting with the program in a timely fashion, eventually you’ll most likely hear someone admonish, “It’s time to move on.”
Move on. What exactly does that mean?
Many would say it means healing from whatever pain and anger you carry from your former marriage, and coming to a place of acceptance—even happiness.
It’s a process with no quick or easy answers. Still, those who have either gone through it themselves, or who have offered support to others, have some suggestions.
- Be intentional. “Try to stay as conscious about the choices you are making as you can, ”say relationship coaches Susie and Otto Collins. “Too many people walk around clouded by intense emotions or in a dulled haze, and they end up making mistakes that add even more difficulties to their lives.”
- Don’t draw it out. “If there's no dire reason to keep you legally bound to someone, making the divorce official sooner than later helps you grieve,” says blogger Laura Lifshitz.
- Own your stuff. It’s tempting to make your former spouse the bad person. Don’t. If it takes two people to make a good marriage, it takes two to make a bad one. “Divorce forces a person to take inventory of every error, abusive behavior, deception, corruption, and manipulation. This is an ugly process [that] most people would rather not experience. So instead, the flaws of the ex are exaggerated to spare self-accountability,” says Christine Hammond, a mental health counselor. Understanding your mistakes in the marriage will help you become stronger and wiser.
- Get rid of stuff. “When you get divorced, you probably have an array of wedding items, attire, and gifts from your ex. Keeping these items, I think, takes up both physical and mental space,” says Tiffany Beverlin, founder of DreamsRecycled. “When you purge these items, you make some money; but more importantly, you free space in your home, mind, heart, and soul.”
- Address your anger. “Anger demands action,” says blogger Lisa Arends. “I identified the primary sources of my anger toward the situation and actively worked to address each in turn.”
- Look forward. “You have to live your life as forward-facing as you can,” writes Andrea Gillies, whose husband surprised her one day by announcing he was no longer in love with her. “And you learn as you go; you learn so much. I live my life differently now.”
- Choose happiness. “You commit to being happy, or commit to being right. The smartest women I know choose happiness, and this has been the key to rebuilding their life,” writes family lawyer and mediator Alison Patton. “That includes making a mental shift from victim to survivor, accepting the economic realities, and developing a 10-year financial plan; recognizing they can’t change their former spouse and channeling their energies into examining their life, their goals, their mistakes and how they can learn from the past.
- Choose forgiveness. “Forgiveness is the most effective way out of the pain, but it doesn't happen overnight. The concept of forgiveness is confusing to most of us. We associate forgiveness with letting someone off the hook,” says Kanya Daley, a marriage and family therapist. It’s not, but that’s a common misperception.
I am a believer in forgiveness, but not everyone agrees—nor is everyone willing to attempt it. That’s okay. “The professionals also tell us that we need to forgive in order to heal our wounds and get on with our lives. That’s dubious advice, too. Forgiveness that is not earned is what I call 'cheap forgiveness,' says Janis Abrahms Spring, author of How Can I Forgive You. She advocates for acceptance instead. “Acceptance is a healing alternative that asks nothing of the offender. When the offender is not sorry, or is not physically available—when he or she is unable or unwilling to make meaningful repairs—it is not the job of the hurt party to forgive. But it is the job of the hurt party to rise above the violation and heal him or herself.”