By Piyali Syam, Google Author
Though the vow traditionally goes, “til death do us part,” half of all marriages in the United States end in divorce. Of course, no one goes into a marriage thinking it will end, and so it’s natural to not know exactly what to do after a divorce.
The aftermath, like the event itself, can be confusing, painful, disorienting, and potentially devastating. Yet you can survive this trying time – with patience, empathy, and openness.
To embark on the path to healing, follow these crucial initial steps to dealing with divorce. It can be challenging, but by doing so you’ll emerge the other side happier, stronger, and ready to begin afresh.
Step #1 – Forgive your ex-spouse
Marriages end in a variety of ways, some amicably and others – perhaps less so. Yet whatever happened between you, the healthiest emotional decision is to find it within yourself to forgive.
Forgiveness allows you to accept your feelings and to let them run their natural course. Maybe your former spouse did something terrible (and in your mind, unforgivable) to prompt the divorce.
Maybe the resentment and negative emotions had just built up to such a crescendo that this could be the only outcome. Whatever the cause, holding on to toxic emotions prevents you from truly being able to let go and move on.
Step #2 – Forgive yourself
Forgive your ex-spouse, but also forgive yourself. Recognize that it’s okay to feel anger, sadness, loneliness, and whatever else you’re feeling. Remember that a marriage is not an indicator of your success in life.
Having a failed marriage does not mean you are a failed person. Two people aren’t always right for each other. Just as marriage should not comprise your identity, divorce should not negate it. It is not a measure of your competence, your goodness, your value, or your lovability.
What if you still have feelings for your partner? This is perfectly natural. You did, after all, choose to marry this person. Allow yourself time to adjust to the new reality, and realize that feelings don’t go away overnight.
You may always love this person, but that doesn’t mean you had to stay married to him or her. Have faith in your decision, and in your strength and resilience as an individual.
Step #3 – Work Through Your Feelings
It is vital to work through your tumultuous emotions in the aftermath of divorce, particularly if you are already prone to certain mental health problems, such as depression.
You may be overwhelmed with traumatic feelings, including anger, grief, low self-esteem, fear and anxiety. Whilst talking these through with close friends and family can help, therapy remains the most effective and powerful means of tackling these issues.
Working with a trained therapist provides you with a much-needed objective, rational perspective. They can arm you with the tools you need to overcome the daunting mental challenges you may now face – something family and friends may not be able to do. If there are children involved, then therapy can be critically important for all of you.
Step #4 – Accept Help
You don’t like to ask people for help. You feel like you’re bothering others or imposing on their lives when you ask the smallest favor. You think your problems are your responsibility, and so you should deal with them yourself. Sound familiar?
You’re not alone. Many people are reluctant to reveal their vulnerability, whether out of pride, a desire or need to prove their own independence, difficulty confronting emotional situations, or any number of factors.
But this is a time you need the support and love of your friends and family the most. People will ask what they can do for you, and try to let them. Cut yourself some slack. You don’t have to be tough all the time. Lean on loved ones – that’s what they’re there for.
Step #5 – Be There for Your Kids
While you may need to lean on others, recognize that you can be a powerful and invaluable source of support yourself, especially to any children you may have had in the marriage. A divorce can be a traumatic event for you, but its effect on a familial unit can seem earth-shattering to a child.
You may have lost a husband or wife, but your kids feel as though they have lost a parent, and, on the verge of a split household, a way of life. Having empathy is essential at a time like this.
Talk to your children honestly. Reassure them that your love for them is unchanged, that you will do what you can to make this transition easy for them, and that a divorce is not the end of the world, or of your family.
Step #6 – Move on with Your Life
Treat a divorce as you would any difficult event in your life. Give it the time it deserves. Allow yourself to adjust to this change in your life. Take some time to focus on yourself. You could even consider “reinventing” yourself to some degree – even the smallest positive change could give you a tremendous boost! Check out some intriguing tips and ideas for ‘self-reinvention’ here.
Reconnect – with your hobbies, your career, your friends, your family. When you feel comfortable, step back into the dating pool —you may be pleasantly surprised at the new stronger, happier you who’s emerged!
If you are having difficulty figuring out what to do after a divorce, PARC’s experienced, highly trained, and empathetic relationship therapists can help you to work through this emotionally difficult time. Call us now on 212.289.0295 to speak with one of our experts. Your privacy and confidentiality are assured.