Do you feel like it’s taking way too long to get better after your divorce? Take a look at why you feel that way.
My first counselor told me that the trending opinion of therapists about divorce recovery was that it usually takes about one year of recovery for every five to seven years of marriage. I shot back, “I don’t have that long. I might be dead by then!”
Other divorce recovery experts said to expect one month of recovery for every year you were together. That would have put me at about three years of recovery. I shook my head. Still too long.
The grief work of breakups – especially midlife divorce – is difficult, complicated and long.
The unique grief of heartache is hard work. You feel like crap. You wonder if you’ll ever be happy again. Nothing tastes good. You can’t sleep. Concentration is almost impossible. You sigh a lot.
Here’s the deal: Recovery from divorce after a long marriage, always takes longer than we want it to and longer than we think it will. And according to our friends and family, longer than it should. People who care about us (who haven’t been through divorce) just want us to hurry up and feel better.
Family and friends often just don’t get it
People who have no experience with a divorce after a long-term marriage say dumb things like, “Just get over it. You’re better off without him (or her.)” Or they give advice like, “You need to move on!” “You should be over this by now!” Or the worst: “You need to start dating.”
Here’s a tip: If the person who is advising you has never been in your shoes, where the person you have invested your life energy and time and love into for 10 or 20 or 33 years like me, they simply don’t get the devastation and loss you feel.
They don’t understand your despair that your partner didn’t think you were worth being faithful to. Or that you weren’t fun enough or sexy enough or attentive enough or smart enough to stay married to. And not only that, by the time you find this out, your ex has usually already hooked up with someone who fits their new definition of who they want.
Related: Learn what to say to a friend who is divorcing.
Our culture is unrealistic about divorce and recovery
Another roadblock to divorce recovery is that our culture doesn’t get it either. In the movies, you seldom see the children having to shuffle back and forth between Mom’s house and Dad’s house and wonder “where is my house?” Our screens seldom show the dysfunction that is the norm with many divorces. There is rarely the mortgage that can’t be paid, or the second job you have to take or dealing with how complicated every single holiday or family function becomes.
Celebrities show up together holding hands and do “Conscious Uncoupling” as Gwyneth Paltrow and her husband did …. and who are now “better friends than we’ve ever been.” Really?!
Plus, there are no cultural rituals to get closure. There is acceptance, but as you’ve probably heard, there is no closure like there would eventually be if your partner had died. With divorce you have to keep seeing the body over and over again and your ex is usually beaming because he or she is finally with, “the love of my life,” while you’re still in the fetal-position-stage of grief.
If your spouse had just been hit by a truck, there wouldn’t be all the doubts about yourself or your worthiness or your faults. You wouldn’t have to realize that they wanted to be in someone else’s bed instead of yours. You wouldn’t keep second-guessing yourself and obsessing about what you could have done differently or what they are doing together now.
On top of that, our culture doesn’t give us time off for divorce grief. We’re expected to be able to move on from the end of our marriage with no trouble at all. If your spouse dies, you get some time to deal with that. Not so with divorce. No one’s dead even though it feels like you are, even though you’re still breathing.
There is no straight line of recovery
Grief work means you have to go through those aggravating “Steps of Grief” on that little card your therapist gives you. It looks so neat and tidy, but in reality it is all tornado and desperation. Those five little steps look like they should take a week, maybe, to get through. In reality it can take years, and even then, one day in the future you find yourself back at the anger stage all over again.
The (not so simple) Steps of Grief:
- Letting Go
Divorce grief doesn’t mean you do a Step of Grief one day and cross it off the list and move on. Steps you’ve already crossed off sneak back in when you hear a favorite song or see a couple laughing and kidding around. Or something out of the blue slaps you down just before an important meeting, and you find yourself trying to pull yourself together in the bathroom at work.
The despair and rage and exhaustion you feel after divorce is hard enough, but then you start feeling incompetent that you’re not dealing with this more quickly. Just remember: you’re lamenting the loss of not just your partner, but the loss of your dreams, the loss of what you thought your future was going to look like, the loss of relationships and connections that went along with your marriage. Those are losses that change almost everything about your life.
Deciding to get better
So, now that we’ve explained how difficult it is to get over midlife divorce, let’s face the fact that we have to get better, or else we condemn ourselves (and people who love us) to a life of heartache and self-pity, which isn’t a pretty picture. In fact, setting up your tent in “Camp Misery” forever would be a tragedy. Sadly, some people end up there.
10 Practical steps that will help you grieve and move forward
- Take care of yourself physically: (Good things you know, but need to do!) Keep your diet simple and clean, dink healthy liquids, get outside every day and walk briskly for 20 minutes.
- Smile, even though you don’t feel like it.
- Move forward at your own pace.
- Simplify your life as much as possible.
- Hit the pause button on some of your obligations.
- Hit the pause button on relationships that are not helping you move forward.
- Avoid numbing yourself with drugs, alcohol, shopping, constant activity.
- Find supportive people who will let you be yourself through the process.
- Set boundaries on your grieving. Set a timer.
- Give yourself a Wallow Weekend.
- Go to church. It can provide everything you need:
- A place to belong
- Great music
- A place to serve
- A purpose bigger than yourself
Decide you’re not going to let one dumb person destroy your life and then get help to make that decision a reality. I heard this comment from someone in one of my 10-Week RADiCAL divorce recovery classes: “If our partner is dumb enough to leave, we have to be smart enough to let him go.” We can help with that process.
I divorced my cheating wife 2 years ago and left the army at the same time. We were married for 8 years and were together for 12, since high school. I have been trying to handle it but I was unable to cope. Reading this helped a bit. Hearing my own feelings explained so well. Its unfortunate that the group is only for women.
It has taken me 8 years to get to the the point I can (almost) remember the good parts of the 18 years I had in the marriage, and to get to the point where the memories of the bad parts don’t hurt. I don’t think there is a magical number of when you are over it, but when you no longer wish you had it back, because you can see realistically that the bad things like infidelity, gaslighting, physical and verbal abuse were not your fault, and when you realize you would not tolerate them again – then I think you are well on the way. :). I think I am well on the way.
I read all these comments with interest, having ended up after a google search on the anniversary of my divorce (and his subsequent remarriage (what a charmer, eh?), and liked the quote ‘why would you want to be married to your own murderer’.
That’s exactly right. It just takes time to realize that you don’t deserve what you got from someone you trusted, that lied, abused, cheated, etc. etc. For the longest time I thought it was my fault (he did tell me this many times).
Once you are free of hearing all that, you can come to the realization that you don’t want it. :). So, to anyone hurting over being lied to, left, cheated on, abused – it will get better. Don’t know how long. I used Bellaruth Naparsteks dealing with Abandonment and Betrayal, and dealing with PTSD CDs a LOT, and remember the ‘let us hold you in our heart while your heart heal’. I had a good therapist. I had to take meds for a while. But here it is 8 year later….and I’m ok. You will heal.
My first wife of 7yrs left and took the kids in 08 after Iraq… she remarried and had two more kids. Cant say I dont blame her, bonked on the head a little two hard from a suicide bomber and then shot kind of changes a person.
My second wife of 10yrs left 3yrs ago, said she didnt want to have kids with me anymore and that I was a hard man and embarassing I was divorced by text message. Before I could figure out what happened and try to set up marriage counciling for a problem I didnt even know we had, she was in a uhaul on her way from Ky to Portland…. 14 months later she was remarried.
I just want it to end.
I think I set up my tent in ‘camp misery’ as you describe it. Two and a half years after my husband of 22 years left me, I met a lovely man who had lost his second wife some 18 months earlier. He had moved from the south to the north, I had moved from the north to the south – we met on the commuter train when one day he sat beside me. I tried not to converse but spilled my drink, and he helped me. I tried not to engage with him further, but we kept bumping into one another that morning, and when we met again some 6 weeks later, I agreed to meet him for coffee. We became friends, and companions, and brought each other so much comfort with our respective losses that it made sense to marry. We did so 2 years after we met but I’ll be honest, romance had little to do with it, for either of us. We were financially and professionally equal and I was content that we each could support each other forever. It worked, and on many levels, 17 years later, it still does. However, I still miss my first husband daily. I miss the life we would have had, the shared visions we always had (which I don’t have with my second husband), being invested into our children and grandchildren together, growing old together. We met as teens and to me he will always be the boy I met in a record store who was the love of my life, the father of my children, the one whose life and blood bonded with mine. My second husband is 14 years my senior. We are not at the same stages of life, we have no children together. We don’t… Read more »
Yeah. Church. That’s where I met the adulterous whore. No thanks. I work 80 goddamned hours a week so she can have 55% of my income and give it to the married man she was fucking while we were still married and neglects my kids.
I was married for 37 years. I thought we were happy. Our children had left home. I never saw anything to be worried about. Well not until the month before he left. He couldn’t look at me, talk to me.. that made me feel sick.. no he’s not cheating on me.. the feel would go away for a bit… but then it would rear its ugly head. He dropped the bomb .. I’m leaving you! He gave me nothing.. it’s not you it’s me etc.. I even asked him if he was cheating with a woman who worked at the golf club he belonged to. No.. she used to flirt with him in front of me.. well guess what folks, it was her and it had been going on for 7 years. I was heartbroken.. I tried committing suicide. It’s 10 years now and I’m too scared to date anyone. I have zero trust and I just don’t want to feel that way again. The 2 of them did some terrible things to me… he stole my car, she actually came into the marital home and as I was trying to call the police she took my phone and threw it in the pool. She then proceeded to beat me up. I couldn’t do anything… I was numb.. the police said I should’ve thrown a punch but that’s not me. They couldn’t charge her because there were no witnesses. I still think about that.. the proof was the bruises. HELP I don’t know what to do. I now suffer chronic depression and possibly PTSD… I did very well in my divorce and own my own home BUT I’m lonely. I no longer trust men. I’m stuck…my confidence levels are rock bottom. I feel like I’m in a dark never ending… Read more »