Few couples hold hands on their wedding day imagining that one day they will be looking at each other from opposite sides of a divorce negotiation. But today, 50 percent of marriages and 70 percent of second marriages end in divorce. There are many reasons couples decide to divorce, but whatever the cause, the heartbreak, grief, and pain that comes with the territory can make it an emotional minefield.
Why do 70 percent of our second marriages end in divorce? The truth is, we often divorce with the belief that if we could only find a better partner, everything will be different the second time around. But the reality is that unless you've learned from your experience and grown in significant ways as the result of your divorce, you risk merely recreating different versions of new problems in your future marriage or relationships.
I counsel my clients to emerge from the heartbreak and uncertainty of divorce to create incredible growth, opportunity and possibilities they would have never before thought possible.
How to get there? First, you've got to weather the storm of the initial crisis. Today, I'm going to focus on grounding you during the early stages of your divorce so that you can get to the place where you actually can begin to grow, learn, and change in a better way because of your experience.
One of my clients, whom I'll call "Tess", ended up unexpectedly divorced after dedicating her life to raising her kids. She faced financial and personal instability as she stepped out of her previously comfortable life. First, we first took on the crisis of all the feelings that come from this unexpected change. Once we'd worked through the initial big emotions, we were able to look at the ways in which she and her husband had stopped communicating their love and connection to each other early on. Tess had recently begun a new relationship, but she found herself coming up against the same old problems she had in her marriage: battles of will, subtle manipulations, uncertainty and insecurity about whether she was really cared for. We were able to take a close look at Tess's role in those patterns. We identified behaviors and beliefs she's adopted over time that were trickling into her new relationship without her even realizing it. Now, as Tess works hard to change, she's in the driver's seat of her life. She's creating an amazing new sense of independence, and a solidly better understand herself. These days, we spend sessions reflecting on her newfound confidence in herself, her brighter outlook, and the healthier relationships she's fostering with her kids and extended family: and this is a far more hospitable and stable place for her to be able to someday invite a new love into.
To be able to get to a place where your divorce no longer defines you, but that instead you're constructing a BETTER life because of it, you first have to get through the initial heartbreak, grief, and trauma of the end of one of your most significant and meaningful life relationships. Here are my top five tips to navigate the initial emotions of divorce, so that you can emerge from the chaos and begin to get in charge of your life again.
TOP 5 TIPS to GET THROUGH the INITIAL ANXIETY of DIVORCE
1) Writing as a release valve: Keep a journal to jot down all those tough thoughts that intrude when you're trying to get to sleep. It will help you emerge from the cycle of sadness or despair when you can vent those thoughts and feelings to the page. Writing your thoughts down takes the pressure off. It creates a safe receptacle for the seemingly endless ruminations that can come with the territory of divorce.
If you're not someone who likes to keep a journal, I suggest a locked note on your phone. We all keep our phones with us 24-7. When your new reality makes you panic while in line at the grocery store, open your notes section and let your anger, sadness, and questions pour out. Another helpful activity can be writing a letter to your soon-to-be-ex or ex-spouse. Say all of the things you want to say. Let it all out, and don't hold back. Hang on to the letter in a safe space for as long as you need; you'll know when it's time for it to hit the shredder. Or, write it and discard it immediately. You'll feel relief in having given yourself the permission to say what you need to say.
2) Challenge your negative assumptions and beliefs: When you're writing or thinking, catch yourself staying stuck in a pessimistic cycle that only assumes and projects the worst. Common assumptions and beliefs I hear from my client include: "my divorce is embarrassing because it reflects a personal failure to the world" or "I’m going to be alone for years" or "I’m unlovable." Ask yourself: Where is the evidence for those beliefs? Remember that feelings are not facts. Feelings are states of being that, if we let them, gain enough power to define our life. Don't let feelings drift into fact territory. Pay attention to your recurring negative thoughts and begin to consider and test out more hopeful, productive and accurate ways of thinking.
3) Avoid absolutes: Catch yourself when you use the words “always, never, won’t, can’t.” They easily work your way into how you talk about your marriage or divorce, and how you think about it. Examples include, "I’ll never recover from this," "I can’t get over what’s happened", "my spouse was always out for himself; no wonder this happened", or "I'll be alone forever." Nothing in this world is absolute. If you use absolute words, you're creating rigid rules for your experience that will certainly foster hopelessness and more pain.
Instead, use qualifiers like, "It's hard to imagine how I'll recover from this, but I've recovered from difficulties in the past and I believe I can do it again," or "right now I am having trouble moving past what's happened," or "I'm lonely right now, and that's tough." Giving yourself wiggle room will allow you to step into your own relief when the time is right.
4) Begin to consider the ways in which your greatest pain may become your greatest gift: While heartbreak is gut wrenching, allow yourself to teeter into the territory of considering what of life's gifts may arise from this challenge. Perhaps there's something you've wanted in your life for a long time, but never fully allowed yourself. Can you even envision yourself decorating a space exactly the way you want, having to bend or cater to nobody else’s differing tastes, and making your home a new personal oasis? Will you be free of loving someone else more than they loved you? Will surviving your divorce after your spouse had an affair take a cheating husband off your hands and help you find the honest partner you deserve? There are many ways in which this crisis could become the gift you could have never imagined.
Begin to ask yourself: "what is the flip side of what I'm going through? what are the positives? what might come of this that I would have never understood, felt, experienced, or made possible if I'd never been faced with this?"
5) Find your tribe: In the midst of her divorce, one woman took 5 trips to reconnect with 5 different friends she'd lost her connection to over the course of her marriage and while she was raising her family. Surround yourself with old friends who've loved you no matter what, and find new friends who can identify with what you're going through. One of the great strengths of women is the ability to band together and provide immense emotional and personal support in times of need. Immerse yourself in the relationships that will nurture you with love, fun, and understanding. These should be non-judgmental, compassionate people. The ones who don't tell you what you should be doing or feeling, but that simply allow you the respectful and supportive space to be yourself right now. You'll know the relationships that don't allow this right now, and you should feel free to move away from those.
You can also look for divorce support groups, or simply begin to reach out to other women in your community who have gone through divorce and come out the other side. It can be a huge relief to connect to others who truly understand what you're going through. Don't stay isolated.
I hope these tips help you navigate the initial anxieties and uncertainties of divorce. One you begin to breathe again, your eyes will begin to open to new possibilities and unbelievable growth that become possible from life's greatest challenges. In my next post, I'll guide you through how to find meaning in what's happened, and then, ultimately, begin to vision an even better life. Call me today at (860) 339-6515 for your free initial consultation. Together, we'll gently challenge the auto-pilot you may have been on in the past, to create the best possible version of yourself as you step into your new future.
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.