While most people know that the process of divorce can be grueling and painful, it’s a common mistake to think that once the papers are signed, the suffering and grief will also come to an end. Enduring the financial, emotional, and psychological pain of separation from a partner you thought you’d spend your life with is excruciating, but it’s a whole other thing to work through the lifelong process of fully healing from devastating loss of any kind.
Maybe instead of sadness, you felt a sense of freedom and celebrated the end of your marriage with serial dating, late nights out, and extensive travel. Maybe you didn’t take the time post-divorce to really dive into the learning opportunities and understand why the relationship ended. Perhaps today, feelings are surfacing and unresolved questions are apparent in your day-to-day life. It’s not too late to fully understand these dynamics.
Here are four ways to overcome the lingering grief of divorce.
Find an Outlet
Immediately after your divorce, friends and family probably readily asked about your feelings and well-being. If even a few months have passed, these kinds of conversations are probably less frequent or have stopped completed. And, when a divorce happened years ago, friends are most likely unattuned to the lingering feelings of grief, regret, or the overarching emotional processing that can manifest overtime or go on for years. You might feel you are hurting or doing your best to cope with residual feelings, alone.
Working with a psychologist who specializes in relationship therapy and/or joining a productive divorce support group are two ways to continue the conversation in a beneficial way. With the rate of divorce as high as it is, connecting with friends or acquaintances currently going through a separation could also serve as an outlet for discussing feelings that continue to arise even years later.
Journaling, reflection exercises, divorce forums, reading, and other online resources can also provide support if external processing is not a comfortable approach.
Get Clear About Your Feelings
Sometimes it's difficult to determine what you are really missing post-divorce. Ask yourself, “Did I like being married to him/her or did I like being married?” It’s easy to confuse missing a person you loved with missing a feeling of security, companionship, or flexibility you might have had as the result of the relationship. And, the truth is that those bi-products of a relationship will most likely exist with other healthy, loving, long-term relationships. Sometimes you miss the “stuff”, the dual-income household, the feeling of family. It can be easy to confuse these dynamics with missing a certain person. Through your grieving, work to separate these feelings and recognize that you can have the feelings of security and belonging that you desire with a new, future partner.
Reflect and learn
One of the best antidotes for grief or pain is to turn such feelings into opportunities for learning and growing. When you take the time to really reflect on your marriage, and fully understand the spectrum of victories and defeats, you’ll be armed with the insight you need to better engage with a future partner.
For instance, perhaps you and your ex-spouse had an excellent understanding of the need for personal time and easily expressed the need for limits and boundaries (for example, by setting aside one night a week to yourself). On the flip side, perhaps you struggled to communicate intimacy needs and had misaligned expectations of the emotional and physical intimacy necessary for the relationship to survive. Recognizing these communication disparities might help you be more attuned to them in future partnerships, although the actual victories and challenges will most likely be unique to the relationship at hand.
Sometimes, a new relationship post-divorce can bring up reminders of unmet needs in your previous marriage. For example, if your new partner misses an important work dinner with your colleagues for whatever reason, it might trigger feelings of neglect or you may feel unimportant, and you may start to question whether you are truly a priority in your partner’s life. The truth is that these bigger questions related to your self-worth probably wouldn’t come to mind if the situation were not a trigger related to a past feeling or relationship dynamic. When things bother you about your new partner, ask yourself whether you are still overcoming unresolved pain from your marriage (or from another previous relationship). Work hard to identify those triggers and not associate them with past pain and heartache.
If you are curious how a relationship therapist might help you better reflect on past relationships and provide insight to accelerate learning and behavioral change, contact our team of psychologists at the Center for Shared Insight, PC. Located in Denver, Colorado, and specializing in relationship therapy related to attachment styles, we offer a free consultation to help you understand whether working together toward your relationship goals and healing is right for you.