Letting go and moving on after a divorce
Nina Chen, Ph.D., CFLE, Human Development Specialist, University of Missouri Extension
Divorce is a very painful experience with deep, mixed emotions. It turns many people’s whole world upside down. Divorce is not only a loss of the relationship but also a loss of hope for the future and a loss of shared dreams and commitments. Everything and everyone in the family is disrupted which brings about feelings of anger, helplessness, failure, guilt, depression, hopelessness, revenge, stress, rejection, grief and disappointment. A divorce may also cause low self-worth, lack of confidence, emptiness, fear and uncertainty about the future. The divorce process is challenging on many levels.
If you are going through a divorce, it is important to know that the divorce journey and the healing process take time and patience. You need time to grieve the loss and pick up all the pieces in order to move on with your life. Despite all the emotional baggage and trauma that accompanies a divorce, the difficult experiences can help you learn and grow as a person.
Everyone goes through the divorce journey in his or her own unique way. Here are some general tips to cope with the divorce:
- Allow yourself to grieve. A divorce involves multiple losses, such
as relationship, role, material, systemic, intrapsychic and
functional loss. Grief is a natural reaction to loss. Denial, anger, bargaining, fear, sadness, guilt, depression and
acceptance are common feelings that help people grieve and cope when a
relationship ends. Identifying, recognizing and talking about your feelings can help you review, reflect and remember
the loss. This process of working through the grief helps you regain strength.
- Build a support system. Research indicates that people who have a
good support system recover from a time of transition or difficulty
easier and more effectively than people who lack a support system. Develop a support system
consisting of family, close friends, co-workers or neighbors that you can
talk to and trust. Join a support group where there is a safe place
to share your feelings, acknowledge your losses and work through the
grief. In addition to group therapy, establish a
professional support system with a therapist, counselor and/or mental health professional.
- Accept the divorce and let your marriage go. It is difficult
to let go of a marriage and the past and future that you have built
together and accept the truth of a divorce. The process is just like a roller coaster. You
have to take time to linger over and go through the transition journey. It is not a good idea to rush yourself, skip the process or jump
into another relationship. Here are some ways to accept the divorce:
- Accept what you once had, what you have now and what you may have that lies ahead. Take positive steps to move forward. Take care of yourself, set some
goals and clarify who you are as a single person. This is a good
opportunity for you to reinvent yourself and create personal growth.
- Stop criticizing
and hurting your ex-spouse. Every experience is valuable and
provides us with something to learn. Be thankful for the experiences you had during the relationship that helped you
learn, grow and enjoy life.
- Forgive yourself and your ex-spouse. Forgiveness plays an important role in the divorce journey. Forgiveness frees people to let go of their hurt and brings a sense of relief and freedom. Forgiveness is a gift to release you and lift your spirit. When people cannot let go of bitterness and grudges, their life may become depressed.
- Accept what you once had, what you have now and what you may have that lies ahead. Take positive steps to move forward. Take care of yourself, set some goals and clarify who you are as a single person. This is a good opportunity for you to reinvent yourself and create personal growth.
In order to move on from a divorce and have a new beginning, you must let go of the past and accept your new reality.
What would happen if you don’t let go? Ask yourself:
- Is it worth continuing to hang onto what does not exist anymore? What is the price I am paying?
- Is it worth being chained to my negative emotions and attitudes? What is the price I am paying?
- Are my negative thoughts and attitudes costing me my health, happiness and my relationship with my children?
Here is a quote about moving on by Steve Maraboli, speaker, author and behavioral science academic: “The truth is, unless you let go, unless you forgive yourself, unless you forgive the situation, unless you realize that the situation is over, you cannot move forward.”
Williams, F. R. (1999). Divorce Recovery Group Leader Manual. Divorce Recovery, Inc. Tucson, AZ.
Stile, S. Letting Go After Divorce. http://www.womansdivorce.com/letting-go.html (accessed on February 3, 2014)
Last Updated 02/19/2014