Starting over after a divorce is about learning to love yourself and developing self-trust. It’s an inner journey which involves examining your past from a fresh perspective and taking risks. You’re definitely venturing into unfamiliar territory, and it’s the perfect time to make changes in your appearance, career, and activities; or even finding new friends and social outlets.
Truth be told, that’s exactly what happened to me. During my divorce, it became obvious to me that I had lost the essence of myself in my marriage. Like many women, I was a people pleaser who spent a lot of energy trying to comfort and appease others – neglecting my own needs. As a result, I often put my needs last. In the process, I compromised too much and was left feeling like I had morphed into someone else.
The first step to regaining my identity after my divorce was freeing myself up to make some fairly radical changes. For instance, I changed my hair color and began wearing more stylish clothes. Many of my friends complimented me on my “new” look. I also started taking the time to eat a healthier diet and exercise daily. As a result, I lost weight and began to feel more energized. Looking back, they were pretty innocent changes, yet my family and friends were pleasantly surprised. The tips I’m passing on to you aren’t without risk and may be a challenge – but the beauty is in stretching yourself!
8 Tips for successful reinvention after divorce:
1. Make a fairly radical change in your appearance— including your hairstyle, make-up, clothing, or even losing that extra 10 pounds you’ve wanted to shed. It’s a great way to shake things up.
2. Set a goal to take up yoga, Zumba, running, weights; or, any exercise routine that works for you. Most importantly, plan to do it at least three times a weight (combining two types can work well). Inviting a friend to join you can encourage you to stick with your plan.
3. Set a goal to shed toxic relationships and develop healthy ones. Surround yourself with people who support your journey and can allow you to build self-worth. Don’t settle for less than you deserve.
4. Think about changing your job, taking a class, or completing that degree or project you’ve wanted to finish for some time. For me, it was finishing my master’s degree so that I could start my career anew.
5. Develop a healthy response to mistakes and failing. Practice forgiving yourself and your ex for your divorce. If genuine forgiveness isn’t possible, practice acceptance.
6. Don’t play the role of victim and begin to make decisions that reflect your strength as a woman. Give yourself permission to “think big” and want more.
7. Be more assertive in relationships. If you want to form a new relationship based on trust, you need to speak up when something bothers you or you have a request. Dating can help you learn what your non-negotiable or deal breakers are.
8. Practice self-compassion as you explore new relationships carefully. You don’t have to pick your next partner on the first date, so have fun and approach dating as a learning experience.
In terms of forming new intimate relationships, ask yourself: If you can’t believe you are good enough, how can you believe a new partner would choose you? Take the time to examine how your relationships have played themselves out and lessons you have learned from the experience. Try not to wallow in self-pity for too long. Regaining your sense of humor can help you accept yourself and to transform your life after divorce.
Let’s be honest, a divorce can shake your foundation and make you question your own judgment. You might find yourself second-guessing yourself because the breakup of a marriage can alter your sense of self, belief about safety and security, and understanding about love, family, and relationships. The world as you have come to know and experience it is suddenly turned upside down.
There are a lot of feelings and emotions that come with divorce – anger, betrayal, despair, guilt, rejection, uselessness, fear, elation – and they all go with the territory. You may feel confused as you establish your new identity and move on to develop new relationships. It’s normal to desire new intimate partners and to experiment with dating – but be prepared to feel mistrustful and insecure at times, so take things slow.
The challenge of going through a divorce can change your perceptions and can alter your feelings about relationships and expectations for your future. No one gets married with the intention of getting a divorce, so you might find yourself ruminating about what went wrong. Now in the midst of a breakup, your brain is being rewired and reconnecting with the world in new ways. How you choose to do this is up to you. It’s an exciting time with all sorts of possibilities.
It’s no wonder that I was fearful of falling in love again and getting hurt after my divorce since it was a long-term marriage, but I was eager to start over and share my life with someone. However, it took me several years to reclaim the joyous aspects of my life and to develop healthy relationships built on love, trust, and intimacy.
According to relationship expert Lisa Firestone Ph.D., “A new relationship is unchartered territory, and most of us have natural fears of the unknown. Letting ourselves fall in love means taking a real risk. We are placing a great amount of trust in another person, allowing that person to affect us, which makes us feel exposed and vulnerable. Our core defenses are challenged.”
Because of your past experience, you might approach relationships warily and come to expect the worst. It may seem at times as if you’re wired to recreate the past. However, with courage and persistence, you can learn to trust again and restore your faith in love.
Over time, you will get out from under the shadows of your ex and restore self-confidence. Believing in yourself is crucial to building relationships based on mutual respect, integrity, and honesty. You can’t alter your past, but you can make better choices each day. Don’t let your breakup define who you are today. Learn to be comfortable taking risks and trying some new ways to explore your identity as a single person. You don’t have to let the pain you’ve suffered in the past carry over to current relationships and you new life.