It doesn’t matter who does the filing, divorce is painful for both parties. When it comes as a surprise, it can be difficult to let go of the relationship and move on. Surviving the emotional pain of a divorce or a “conscious uncoupling” sometimes means you have to completely break the ties that used to bind and find a new self-identity. For some, the emotions that come from an unexpected divorce can be as deeply damaging as a wounded warrior suffering from PTSD, and so, recovering may require both TLC and tough love.
The Emotional Cost of Divorce
In 1967, two psychologists, Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe, developed a “Life Change” scorecard that they used to assess the level of emotional stress that had a medical and physical impact on 5,000 patients in their study. They rated 43 events, and patients were assigned a score based on the number of events they experienced. Each event was also given a weight, and the larger the weight, the higher the likelihood the patient would become seriously ill.
On that list, the only event more stressful than divorce was the death of a spouse.
With the death of the spouse, there is closure. You know what happened in the majority of deaths and you know the spouse or significant other is gone. But when it comes to divorce, there are often more unanswered questions than answered. Why did it happen? Could I have done something differently? Could I have done more, less or better? When those answers elude you, the unanswered questions can sometimes become that annoying sound in the back of your mind. Like the dripping of a faucet, it can become louder than anything else in the room.
Allow Yourself to Grieve
When a relationship ends in divorce, the resulting emotions are similar to the death of a spouse or significant other, and so is the process for healing. Allow yourself that time to heal. Take care of yourself in that process, but don’t allow your emotions to overwhelm you. If necessary, seek professional counseling to help you through the process. Self-care is an important step in the healing process, and making sure that you stay well physically and emotionally is important.
Seeking help with processing this loss is no longer the shameful stigma it once was. It is also not an indicator of blame for the marriage failing. Sometimes a counselor can help you understand why it may have happened and what you can do differently moving forward. Ultimately, that is the goal in the healing process: for you to heal and move on in your life healthier and wiser.
In relationships, there often stops being an “I,” “me” and “my,” and you begin to think in terms of “us,” “we” and “ours.” Getting back into the habit of thinking of yourself first can be challenging. You may or may not want to go back to the person you were before the relationship. Post-divorce can be a time of redefining and rediscovering who you are. For some, this process can include a change in appearance, such as a new haircut or color. For others, it can be a change in larger material things, such as moving from a large house to a smaller apartment or trading in the soccer-step-mom van for a smaller, sportier vehicle.
You may choose to go back to school to finish a degree you had put on hold, or start a new career following a dream you had put aside. You might pursue hobbies that had interested you before the relationship, such as painting or photography, or take up ones you had never considered before, such as hang-gliding or scuba diving. Sometimes the process of overcoming fears can rebuild self-esteem and make you realize you are indeed stronger than you thought.
Take a Vacation or Staycation
Taking a physical break from your surroundings can also be healing. It allows you to literally “think outside the box” that may hold painful memories. You may choose to go on an all-inclusive cruise to somewhere you’ve always dreamed about, where all you really have to do is show up and they plan the rest. Such a trip gives your heart and mind time to rest without needing to plan or worry about the wheres and hows of a vacation.
If such a vacation is not possible, you can take a staycation in your area instead. Staycations are often a better alternative because they can be done more frequently and often on a moment’s notice. They can give you the adventure of a weekend getaway exploring places close to home, often without a great deal of expense. Even better for your carbon footprint, consider a staycation within bicycling distance. Sweating out your grief can be just as healing.
It would be foolish to say there is no anger in the end of a relationship because anger is part of the grieving process. However, holding onto that anger, bitterness or resentment can have a negative effect on you emotionally. Often the best revenge is to learn to be happy without them and in spite of them because it will strengthen who you are in future relationships. Happiness should never be dependent upon someone else because it is an internal job.