Divorce sucks. There's no easy way to say it. If you've been there, you know that it can be one of the most stressful life experiences, even if it's something that you know is right for a relationship. It can harden you and make you believe that you won't be able to trust another person again. That person that you once trusted with your secrets, your vulnerabilities, and your heart may suddenly seem like a stranger, if not your worst enemy. You may be astonished at how ugly your once treasured, but now estranged spouse may appear. Fighting over money, kids, the couch, the dishes... the "little things" become incredibly big and important. It can leave you broken hearted and bitter.
If you know what I'm talking about, then you may be wondering if you'll ever be able to love, and let alone, marry again. The question becomes, how do you let go and move on after a painful divorce?
Start with your story.
Every moment of pain or joy in our lives is defined by the story we create about an experience. You have the power to reframe your story about your divorce, and any of the circumstances surrounding it. If you're feeling angry, hurt, or betrayed, it's easy to get stuck in a rut and feel like a victim. This only serves to intensify your pain and keep you in a disempowered state. Instead of feeling angry at your spouse, or victimized by their actions, try to find the silver lining in the experience. There is a gift in every situation, even the worst ones, if you look for it. Seeing the world through a lens of gratitude and optimism has profound healing powers.
Take a leap of faith.
Sometimes leaving even the most miserable relationship can feel terrifying. Your mind can create a lot of stories about what it might look like on the other side... loneliness, the fear of starting over, or never finding someone else to love. Sometimes you just have to take a deep breath and let go. Build faith and trust that there are endless possibilities for love.
Make friends with grief.
Grief can feel like a never ending black hole of emotion. You may feel that if you "go there", you'll never get back to normal. Sometimes we'll do anything to avoid the pain of grief. But denying or ignoring your hurt feelings will only make them come out later and in more unhealthy, painful ways. Allow yourself to feel all of the emotions that arise, even when they feel unbearable. Cry. Get angry. Feel the loneliness. Be present with your pain so that it can release. Ignoring emotion gives fuel to your pain, and creates deeper wounds over time. Grieving can feel like a roller coaster of emotion. Go for the ride and trust that in time, your feelings will become less intense. It won't last forever. Promise.
Have a goodbye ritual.
We have marriages, funerals, and baby showers to mark transitions in our lives. Why not mark a divorce with a party, or a funeral (depending on how you feel). Give yourself the clear message that you're saying goodbye. If you have a picture of the two of you, bury it in your yard and plant a flower over it to mark new growth. Burn the picture in a flame. Print out emails or texts from your spouse and throw them in the trash. Even better...have the ritual with your ex-spouse, if possible. Can you mark the end together with mutual respect for the loss of your love?
There is no right or wrong way to date after a divorce. Some may be ready to move on quickly, some may need more time. It is your decision. It is helpful to pay attention to how you're handling your emotions. Self-awareness is the best guide. If you're dating quickly after a divorce, ask yourself if you've taken time to grieve. Have you experienced what it feels like to be alone? Are you quickly moving into a serious relationship? Some people want to rush into a relationship right after a divorce, but this can often be a way to ignore the pain. It's helpful to take time to explore what went wrong, what went right, and to define some goals for future relationships so you don't repeat any unhealthy patterns. Therapy, self-help experiences, books, and coaching are great ways to help you get clear.
Love yourself back to life.
After divorce, everyone has their own timeline for healing. The key is to be gentle with yourself, and allow yourself to move through the ups and downs with understanding and compassion. Nourish yourself. Spend time with friends. Spend time alone. Fill up with that which heals you. Most of all, remember that there is are many opportunities in the world just waiting for you, and closing the doors to a relationship that no longer serves two people will create space for new love to arrive, when you're ready.