When you’re navigating or coming out of a divorce, I don’t want you to just want to “get through it.” I want you to grow and improve from it. Going through our life’s biggest challenges will only be painful if we don’t use that pain as a catalyst to gain insight and knowledge that would have never otherwise been possible. I help my clients use the toughest stuff, like divorce, as a platform for creating meaning and finding greater self-understanding.
As I mentioned in my last post about helping you get through the initial anxiety of divorce, we live in a world where 50% of first marriages and 60-70% of second marriages end in divorce. What's the deal with the higher percentage of second marriages ending in divorce? It's that people tend to carry their psychological problems with them to the next relationship, and second marriages often have added strains like blended families and stepchildren (Glass, 2003). Your marriage may have ended because you hit marital rock bottom and recovery felt impossible. Or perhaps successfully working things out and rekindling things just wasn't a viable option, as in cases with addiction, repeat infidelity, lack of safety, or a partner’s personality disorder.
Whatever the reason for the end of your marriage, I believe that you deserve not to carry your problems with you into your next relationship. I believe that you have much to learn from what you've experienced to ensure that you’ll be thrive as an individual and feel more clear in your future relationships.
So let’s talk about my top ways to help women recover from a divorce in a way that paves the path for personal growth and meaning. Use the following questions to begin to consider and self-reflect, which will help you identify the areas where you might be able to become an even better person who lives a far better life because of your divorce.
1. How do I experience and receive love? Usually, we give love in the ways we wish to receive it; not in the ways our partner wishes to receive it. This can make us like ships passing in the love department of our marriages. Many of us spend a lifetime feeling less than loved by our partners because we’re missing each other’s love signals; that is, we don’t digest love the way our partner dishes it. Is it possible this happened in your previous marriage?
By knowing how YOU experience love and security in a committed relationship, you'll be better able to communicate this to your future partners. For example, you might think, “I always found myself wishing my husband would bring flowers home, and he never did.” You may be someone who feels loved by receiving gifts and thoughtful gestures. There is no shame, only winning, in getting to the place where you can let your future spouse know that by bringing home flowers, he’d make you feel like you won the lottery. No spouse is a mind reader. It’s a setup for failure to believe that our spouses will somehow be able to intuit how we intake love. Use your past marriage to remove the guesswork, be armed with knowledge, and help you and a future spouse both win. (The quiz to learn your LOVE LANGUAGE here).
2. What are my relationship patterns? Think back to your childhood, then track close friendships and partnerships up to present day. How do you communicate when things get tough? Do you wall off? Cry? Get flooded? Shut yourself in your room and avoid? Get silent? Attack it with logic and do all the research on how to fix things? Begin to identify your own patterns of how you communicate in moments of high stress or high stakes in relationships.
These patterns are usually closely related to your attachment needs, which begin in childhood and are fulfilled by our parents, but then suddenly drop off and stop being seen as important once we become adults. Guess what? Our attachment needs never go away. We just get bad at recognizing and giving in to them…. It gets hard to be vulnerable, to take risks in love, and to feel we can rely on our partners. So we self-protect by doing things like walling off, exploding, attacking, and retreating. Know your patterns so you can stop yourself mid-dance in your relationships now: start with friends and family. You'll deepen your connection to those closest to you, get more confident as you have more positive interactions, and practice changing the cycle.... setting yourself up for a better future with your next partner.
3. How’s my self-esteem? Do some honest thinking about where you look for feedback. Do you look to the outside world to reflect back how you feel about yourself? Does your partner’s view of you establish your sense of self worth? What parts of your self esteem feel solid, and what parts could stand to be improved? Begin to identify the parts of yourself that you may need to double down on to increase your sense of self-confidence and personal security.
One of my clients recently couldn't figure out why she was panicking every time someone asked her out on a dating app. Together, we figured out that her self-esteem had gotten so questionable from the patterns in her past relationships, that she perceived almost every interaction with a potential interest in the outside world as a threat. Her sense of self was shaky -- and for good reason, she'd had her heart completely stomped on. But we had to break the cycle of self-protection that was coming from her currently low self-esteem to allow her to open up her heart (and body, which was stuck in a panic attack) to dating again... and to do that in a healthy, confident way.
Now is your time to gain the footing in yourself to feel steady in and good about who you are. That way, you can be looking outward from a much more stable inner place. That's going to serve you both personally, and in your relationships, as you move forward.
4. What are the possible benefits of not being in my marriage that it was hard to see when I was enveloped by fear of being alone or starting again? Begin to allow yourself to explore the positive side of your divorce. What gifts of life might arise from having gone through this challenge? What strength might you derive from having to face something you didn’t plan on facing, and how might that serve you now and in the future? This is where you begin to find meaning in the pain.
If you can't yet see any possible benefits, can you explore the idea of acceptance? Sometimes, we spend so much energy railing against something negative in our life that we won't be able to change no matter what. What would it be like for you to get to a place where you're able to say, "I don't have to like what happened, but it happened, and I have to live with it." When forgiveness just simply isn't possible, I work with clients to seek genuine acceptance in their hearts. There can be a lot of freedom in giving yourself permission to accept the unacceptable aspects of life that are just plain out of our control.
Now’s the time for you to do the much deserved work on yourself. If you find yourself dreaming of being in another relationship, you’re not alone. Getting through divorce can be lonely. You miss having a partner and someone to do life with. You miss the physical connection and the knowledge that you have someone there. At the same time, this time is an opportunity for you to get to know yourself solidly. Counseling and therapy can help you achieve this. By knowing yourself, you’ll help your next partner know you, too, from a place where you’ve made sense of your past and feel clear about who you are and what you need in the present…. All of which will lead you to a better future. Call me at 860-339-6515 if you’d like to begin to work together to find meaningful self-growth from your divorce.
Lauren L. Drago, MSEd, LMHC, LPC is a women's therapist and counselor, providing individual counseling in Old Saybrook, CT and online in greater CT, NY & PA. She specializes in working with smart, insightful and capable women to overcome stress, anxiety, loss of identity, self-limiting beliefs, perfectionism, marriage strain, and the pressure of "trying to do it all." Lauren has a passion for helping others to achieve the happy, fulfilling, productive, and meaningful life they deserve. She believes that every woman can and should live out her personal definition of her own best life. Call (860) 339-6515 to schedule your free initial consultation.