Letting go is a process. It takes time. But you can do it. Your heart will heal.
Like most people, you really believed your marriage was going to be forever. You thought you would beat the odds. But you didn’t. Your marriage is over. You know it in your head. But your heart can’t seem to adjust. No matter what you do, you just can’t figure out how to let go.
What Are You Trying to Let Go Of?
Everyone understands that, when a marriage ends, you lose your spouse. That’s hard. But, the truth is, in divorce, you lose so much more than your spouse … and that’s harder.
When you get divorced, you lose your partner, your lover, and sometimes your best friend. You lose at least half of your net worth, your financial security, possibly your home, and probably your lifestyle. You lose a big chunk of time with your kids, and most likely a bunch of your friends.
Most of all, you lose your identity. You are no longer a married person. You are no longer somebody’s husband or wife. Your role and your future become instantly fuzzy.
That’s why letting go after divorce is so damned difficult. You’re not just trying to let go of your spouse. You’re trying to let go of a part of yourself, and your dreams, too.
Why is Letting Go So Hard?
The other reason that it’s so hard to let go after divorce is that ending a marriage stirs up a tsunami of negative emotions!
On top of feeling sad or upset that your marriage is over, you may feel angry at your spouse for treating you the way s/he did. You may be hurt by your spouse’s cheating or embarrassed by some of his/her bad behavior.
You also probably feel like a failure. After all, you couldn’t make your marriage work. So you must be a failure, right?
As if all of that wasn’t enough, you also probably feel a lot of blame, shame and sorrow. You blame yourself for not trying harder. You shame yourself for not being good enough. And, you feel sorry for yourself and your kids for not having the perfect family.
You’re terrified that you’re destroying their lives and sorry for ruining their childhood.
With all of those heavy emotions dragging you down, it’s no wonder that you can’t figure out how to get go!
Motivating Yourself to Let Go
The first step in learning how to let go after divorce is to understand what’s holding you back in the first place. You also need to figure out exactly why letting go is important to you.
Both of those things seem so simple.
Obviously, you know that you need to let go. You know that you can’t move on with your life until you let go of your past. You also realize that hanging on to your spouse after you’ve been divorced for years is kind of creepy.
The last thing you want is to be the person who still has wedding pictures hanging in the bedroom for years after their divorce!
At the same time, knowing that you should let go is light years away from actually being able to let go. That’s why connecting with your “why” is so important.
If you’re struggling with understanding why you can’t let go, try asking yourself these questions:
Questions to Ask Yourself When You Want to Let Go, But Can’t
- Is your life where you want it to be right now? If it is, great! Then why do you want to let go? Chances are if you feel like you still have to let go, you also feel on some level that your life would be better if you weren’t still obsessed with the past. Think about what hanging on is costing you. If you’re not where you want to be now, that’s even more reason to understand and feel how unhappy you are because you can’t let go.
- What are you gaining by holding on to the past? No matter how painful hanging on is, if you can’t let go, you’re getting some benefit from hanging on. If you weren’t, you wouldn’t cling to the past like a passenger on the Titanic clinging to a lifeboat. Maybe hanging on makes you feel secure. Or it gives you the illusion that your dream o
If being happily married isn’t dead. Once you understand what you get by holding on, you will also understand better what you need to do to let go.
- What will you gain if you let go? There’s an old proverb that says you can’t fill a cup that’s already full. Hanging on to the past gives you no room to create something new and beautiful in the future. What could you have if you were willing to let go of what you’re hugging so tightly right now? Would you start a new life? Find a new love? If you think you don’t want those things, why not? Is it because you think getting them is impossible, or that you’re not worth it? Says who?
Answering these questions will help you understand your reasons for holding on. It will also help you realize why letting go matters so very, very much.
Armed with that insight, you’ll be ready to tackle how to let go.
7 Tips for How to Let Go
1. Grieve your loss.
You can’t let go of feelings you still haven’t allowed yourself to feel. There is no shortcut. You’ve got to let yourself be sad, mad, disappointed, and everything else that you feel. The longer you stuff those feelings down and pretend they don’t exist, the longer they will stay with you. Like it or not, the only way out is through.
2. See a therapist.
If you want to work through your feelings more efficiently, work with a therapist. S/he can help guide you through your pain and problems. A good therapist can also help you understand the role that you played in the demise of your marriage and forgive yourself. Taking responsibility for your actions, and forgiving yourself (and your spouse) for what happened in the past is an essential step in working through your feelings so you can move on to a better future.
3. Project where you want to be in 3 – 5 years.
According to Sasha Von Varga, a licensed clinical social worker who specializes in psychotherapy, mediation, and collaborative divorce, creating a vision of the future can help you let go of the past. Ask yourself, what would have to change in order for you to be able to get to where you want to be? (HINT: Make sure that whatever has to change is something under your control. Trying to go backward in time and un-do your divorce, or change your ex is not going to work.)
4. Make an “Expectation Box.”
If you’re still angry or upset about your divorce, chances are those feelings are coming from your unmet expectations. Maybe you expected your spouse to treat you differently. Or maybe you think s/he “should” have tried harder. Those unmet expectations are a big part of the reason you feel so bad right now: things did not turn out the way you expected. See yourself placing your expectations in a beautiful box in your mind. When you’re ready, you can examine those expectations to see if they still serve you. If not, you can change them, or let them go.
5. Be Honest With Yourself.
If you’re torturing yourself about letting go of your marriage because it “wasn’t that bad,” STOP! Spend an afternoon remembering what your relationship was really like. It wasn’t perfect. Remember the hard times and the bad times. If you were blindsided by divorce because you thought your marriage was fine, but your spouse didn’t be honest about that! Clearly, your marriage wasn’t what you thought it was. Maybe your spouse wasn’t the person you thought s/he was. Do your best to take off the rose-colored glasses and see your marriage for what it was.
6. Clean Your Space.
If your home is filled with mementos from your marriage, get rid of them! You don’t have to throw them out. Just put everything that reminds you of your ex in a box in the basement. (If your kids want to keep pictures of their other parent around, let them keep them in their room.) Once you’re done, buy yourself a few new things. Re-arrange the furniture. Paint the walls. Re-claim your space so that it reflects your new life.
7. Visualize Life on Your Terms.
If you could create whatever life you wanted (without your ex!), what would it look like? See that. Feel that. Let yourself dream. If you can’t imagine what kind of life you want, think about the life you had before you were married. Think about the things you’ve always wanted to do, but haven’t. Maybe you want to travel. Maybe you’ve always wanted to write a book, or paint a mural. Do something that will help you do those things. Focus on the happy and fulfilled person you want to be.
All of these tips can help you gradually let go of the pain and the past. But, they’re not magic.
It’s not as if you can say to yourself, “Okay. Now I’m going to grieve the loss of my marriage. Then I’ll be done. Forever.” Human beings don’t operate that way!
No matter what you do, or how hard you try, you’re going to go back and forth. Some days you’ll feel better. Other days, you’ll feel like all you’ve been doing is spitting in the wind.
Don’t give up.
You didn’t get to where you are in one day. You’re not going to get to where you want to be in one day either.
If you mess up, and you find yourself balling your eyes out over some romantic comedy you knew you shouldn’t have watched, it’s okay. Don’t beat yourself up. Let yourself cry. Just don’t let yourself do the same thing tomorrow.
Letting go is a process. It takes time. But you can do it. Your heart will heal. You will go on. When you do, you will open yourself up to loving and finding love again.