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.
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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.
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.
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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.
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