Divorce grief is a tricky thing. When we are conditioned to expect it, as is the case during the death of a loved one, we know that we must be patient, go through the 7 stages, and the idea is that one day, our mourning will be done, and we’ll be able to move on.
So, why do we forget to do this during divorce? Do we think that we aren’t allowed to, because technically, nobody died?
Not allowing yourself to grieve during divorce is not giving yourself the chance to heal. And not giving yourself the chance to heal means not giving yourself the chance to move on with your life. Robbing ourselves of this grieving process is one of the reasons why, years even after the divorce, we still feel incomplete, still feel like crap, and still feel like our hearts are broken.
When I went through my own divorce, grief followed me everywhere. But once I started processing this grief with the following strategies that I felt like I was actually moving on without being bitter or resentful. Although I am not a mental health professional, doing the following went a long way in helping me heal.
The #1 thing we forget when moving on: Divorce is like death. It’s okay to mourn your loss.
Obviously, there are differences between ending a marriage and when a loved one leaves this earth.
But allow yourself to consider this:
It is completely normal to feel like your world has crashed into a million pieces and that you’ll never recover from divorce. When you think about it, you’re actually reeling from multiple deaths during divorce, which makes it really hard to move on if you don’t grieve:
-Death of your marriage
-Death of the life you thought you knew
-Death of the visions of your future
-Death of the idea of the partner you thought would be for life
-Death of your own identity as a partner and a member of a team
That is a lot of loss to handle. So, why are you going around, thinking you’re fine if you’re still feeling bad? Remember, you don’t have to just swallow your pain and act tough. Be okay with the fact that you went through something really traumatic that rocked the world and the life you though you knew. Unless you’re made of stone or are The Terminator, you’re probably going to feel kind of awful.
But here’s the key: it’s okay to accept that you will be sad, angry, in denial, scared, sometimes all within ten minutes of each other. But the trick comes in being kind enough in making peace with this loss, but motivated enough to not let it hold you prisoner, especially when there are so many beautiful things in this world, just waiting for you to discover them.
Turning that Grief into Insight
You didn’t think you’d get away without an exercise, did you? Below you’ll find the Gain Insight writing prompts, and as always, I’ve given you an example to start get you thinking about how you can apply these strategies to your own situation.
- What emotions can I not get my head around that seem to be ruining my life right now? My own example is below:
- Sure, we’re divorced, but whenever I look at my clean kitchen and tidy living room, I just feel angry about how he made a complete mess of the whole place and never helped around the house. And I’m kicking myself for letting it go on for so damn long. I felt like a house maid for years! Why?!!?
- I can’t change the past, but what can I do about those feelings right now? Take a look at what I put for your own inspiration.
- Hey girl. Your house is clean as can be now because you’re no longer living with a slob. Enjoy it, girl! Feel happy about coming home and not seeing dirty underwear on the couch. Embrace that sense of calm now that everything is just the way you left it.
- Moving forward, what mindful intervention will I have for myself?
- Whenever I start to feel angry when I encounter some sort of trigger, I will work to neutralize it. Instead of focusing on the negative elements, I will work to turn it into something good. It will take practice, but I can’t move on with my life if I am a prisoner to the hurt and regret.
Learning from your own mistakes but not blaming yourself
As with most lessons in life, the things we learn are only as valuable as our willingness and our ability to put them into context, see how, looking back, we would handle the situation differently, and then make a proactive plan to handle things different in the future. This takes a lot of self-awareness to do, but without it, it’s very hard to move on and heal. A few things to start thinking about with how this plays into grieving the loss of your marriage that I want you to think about:
- What are some of the things that you blame yourself for that you still think about?
- I am angry with myself that I didn’t communicate my wants and needs more. It’s hard to move on because I feel bitter that my needs were ignored for years.
- What are some of the regrets that you still harbor?
- I still regret not saying something sooner. I knew that our marriage was falling apart, but I went along with it, in denial, just telling myself that it would get better soon.
- How can you change those feelings into something positive moving forward?
- I can’t change the past, but I can use what I learned to avoid similar things from happening in the future. In my marriage, I remember that I didn’t communicate well. In my current relationship, I encourage myself to be open and honest, and remind myself to be courageous, sharing my feelings with my partner. It can be hard because I’m afraid I’ll get judged, but I remind myself that I deserve—and my partner deserves—open communication.
Getting Support and Holding Yourself Accountable
Regardless of where you are in the process—whether the papers were signed years ago and you’re still wondering how the hell to make sense of it, or you’re still knee-deep in divorce drama right now, or you’re reeling because he or she just moved out, remember that one of the strongest things you can do is reach out for support. There are so many avenues out there, whether it’s finding a therapist, going to a grief support group or divorce support group, please understand that you do not have to grieve alone.
As a way of ensuring that you will reach out to someone if you need that sort of support, make this pledge to yourself. Look at your options for
- By the end of today, I will…..
- By the end of the week, I will….
These accountability pledges can be as simple or as detailed as you want—the point is to set that intention to reach out for support, and actually follow up on it. For example:
- By the end of today, I will have made a primary list of 3 therapists I will reach out to.
- By the end of the week, I will have called and made an appointment with one of them.
As with any loss, moving on does not happen overnight, and the grief process is rarely a straight path. But the compassion and mindfulness you give to yourself in the process can go a long way in helping you heal and move on.