Divorce is never an easy option. You didn’t enter a marriage for it to break down and end up in the divorce courts. Your intention was to spend the rest of your life with your partner and live happily ever after. You didn’t imagine yourself starting all over again several years later because things just didn’t work out.
Yet divorce is so much part of everyday life, evidenced by how often we see it in the media – Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are the latest celebrity couple to announce their split – and there’s even a new US dark comedy, Divorce, that unflinchingly observes the pain of marriage breakdown.
Except anyone who has been through a divorce knows that it’s no laughing matter – especially when there are children involved. The decision to divorce may have come after months or even years of rows, sulks, broken promises separate bedrooms, and intense feelings of being so alone. The hope with which you entered the marriage may have been replaced with spite, hate and recrimination. You may feel lost and depleted, wondering how you could have allowed yourself to end up this way.
Yet the effects of being in a relationship gone bad can be toxic to you and your self-esteem. You may have tried couples counselling; you may have made many attempts to patch things up. When that fails too it can be soul-destroying. Whatever the reason for a divorce – infidelity, boredom, communication breakdown – sometimes a split is the kindest option all round.
There’s no denying that a divorce can bring up a multitude of complex feelings. There may be a sprinkling of relief mixed with the simmering resentment that it’s all over. A divorce can feel like bereavement: you have to mourn the loss of the person you once loved. The once secure attachment you felt in your relationship will be lost too, and that can stir up feelings of abandonment, rejection and betrayal. Depending on how you experienced childhood and your relationship with those parents, those feelings may tap into more painful areas too. All of these mixed feelings can take a while to work through.
From our experience working with couples and individuals before, during and after a relationship breakdown, we can offer some dos and don’ts for surviving a divorce intact.
- Take time to feel all the emotions as they emerge. One day it might be anger. The next you’ll be in tears. Allow yourself to feel. This moment will pass.
- Trust that you WILL feel better one day. Divorce is like bereavement, and there are stages of grief to work through. This is normal, and you will feel emotionally healthier if you allow yourself to go through the stages of shock, denial, anger, depression and finally acceptance.
- Resist the urge to get revenge on your ex for all the hurt they’ve caused you. Keep your dignity.
- Re-connect with people who know and love you. When you exit a relationship that has wounded you, it can be hard to remember what it feels like to be liked and loved. Take time to meet friends who will support you.
- Clear out old stuff to make way for happier memories instead. Sorting through clutter and paraphernalia of an old relationship can be healing – when you’re ready for it. Let go of old attachments.
- Set new boundaries – and stick to them. Whether it’s how you communicate with your ex, or how often you’ve agreed to see the children, you’ll need to renegotiate how, when and how often you interact with each other.
- Argue in front of the children. They will probably have seen enough anyway. For their sake, don’t descend into squabbles every time you’re dropping off and picking up. Try to keep things amicable.
- Throw yourself into a new relationship straight away. You can’t leapfrog the painful process of recovering from a broken marriage. You would just take all your baggage into the new relationship without having healed any wounds. Take your time before you move on.
- Feel ashamed or embarrassed. Going through a divorce can make you feel as though you’ve failed somehow. Both you and your ex had your part to play in the relationship breakdown. It takes courage to move on rather than stay in a toxic environment.
- Track your ex on social media. It can be tempting to keep an eye on them but it will only hurt you more. Un-friend them from Facebook, Instagram etc, or you’ll keep dragging yourself back to the past.
- Forget all the things you used to love doing. Painting, dancing, gardening, knitting – whatever your thing, find yourself a project to give you something to focus on.
- Suffer alone. Speak to a professional if you’re finding it tough. Talking through your feelings can help you come to terms with them, as you start to shape your future life.
If you’d like to speak to a therapist to help you process painful feelings and get back on track after a divorce, you can make an appointment by calling 020 8673 4545 or emailing [email protected]