Divorce affects so many of my clients in the Bringing Sparkle Back clinic. Some are acrimonious, others are amicable. Some involve children, others not. Some are joint decisions, others are one sided. Some offer a sense of relief, others cause heartbreak. Some cause you to carry guilt, others to feel anger and resentment. Whatever the circumstances and however you got here, you have arrived at destination 'new life'. You have an opportunity to start a whole new chapter in your life, on your terms and start living a life you have either been yearning for or have been dreading the sheer prospect of. Where do you start and how do you move on?
First and foremost you have got to allow yourself to deal with the emotions you are feeling. Regardless of who left who, or whether this was something you wanted or not, you need to allow yourself permission to deal with the emotions you are feeling post divorce. You will feel a sense of loss (even if it's something you wanted). That loss may be losing your home, not seeing your children every day or losing your extended family, and friends. There are inevitable financial losses, loneliness, a change of lifestyle, imagined losses of what might have been, and of memories of what once was. You may perhaps feel like a failure for your marriage not working out and a huge amount of guilt where children are involved. You may feel sheer relief to be out of your marriage and 'free', which might also make you feel guilty for not feeling heartbroken.
Because you are dealing with emotions of grief and loss you need to allow yourself to grieve. You will go through stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance post divorce. There is no formula on how you move through these stages, or how long these stages last. It's quite normal to regress back to stages at any point.
Denial will prevent you from moving on because acceptance means letting go of what was. Denial allows you to hide from the facts in order to deal with the pain. Other forms of denial include telling yourself your ex is still in love with you, not believing that they are in love with another person, or holding on to snippets of your past life together.
Feeling angry and behaving in an angry way is your minds way of protecting you from the emotional pain you are feeling. You may feel angry at your ex for cheating on you, for moving on, for being happy when you are not. You may feel angry at yourself for not doing more to save your marriage.
In this stage, your thoughts will be focused on how to win them back and thinking, "If only..." and "What if?" Bargaining is a way of trying to rationalize what happened. Bargaining may also come in the form of revenge toward your ex, and possibly his new lover. You hope that your ex will get what is coming. You may be thinking, "I want them to be as miserable as I am," or, "I wish they would split up". In your head you may even have romantic ideas of them coming back to you.
During the depression stage, you may feel a deep sadness over the loss of your marriage or the fact you are alone. This stage is even harder if your ex has already moved on. You may for the first time in your life be spending entire weekends alone, without your children and the loneliness sets in. This overwhelming fear may revert you back to any of the other stages of grief.
Acceptance comes when you fully accept the fact that your marriage is over. It is at this point that you are ready to build a new life for yourself. Acceptance is letting go of the past. Even with acceptance, you may still find yourself dealing with anger, blame, resentment, jealousy or guilt. However, your emotions get less intense as time goes on. For the most part, you feel indifference for who your ex is and what they are doing. You have separated your life from theirs. You've effectively cut the chord.
The truth is, unless you let go, unless you forgive yourself, unless you forgive the situation, unless you realise that the situation is over, you cannot move forward. Letting go doesn't mean forgetting. It just means you decide to accept what is and start living. You are strong and you have a whole new chapter to start writing and living. You can't write that new chapter if you keep re-reading the last one. Who knows what the future has in store for you. I can guarantee though, that if you allow yourself to grieve and to let go of all that heavy baggage, the future will be a sparklier one.
Catherine Asta Labbett is the founder and owner of Yorkshire based 'Bringing Sparkle Back' Psychotherapy, Relationship and Life Coaching for women who want to sparkle again.