By Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW
Let’s be honest, a divorce can shake your foundation and make you question your own judgment. You might find yourself second-guessing yourself because the breakup of a marriage can alter your sense of self, belief about safety and security, and understanding about love, family and relationships. The world as you have come to know and experience it is suddenly turned upside down.
There are a lot of feelings and emotions that come with divorce – anger, betrayal, despair, guilt, rejection, uselessness, fear, elation – and they all go with the territory. You may feel confused as you establish your new identity and move on to develop new relationships. It’s normal to desire new intimate partners and to experiment with dating – but be prepared to feel mistrustful and insecure at times.
The trauma of going through a divorce can change your perceptions; and can alter your feelings about relationships and expectations for your future. No one gets married with the intention of getting a divorce so you might find yourself ruminating about what went wrong. Now in the midst of a breakup, your brain is being rewired and reconnecting with the world in new ways. How you choose to do this is up to you. It’s an exciting time with all sorts of possibilities.
Truth be told, that’s exactly what happened to me. During my divorce, it became obvious to me that I had lost the essence of myself in my marriage. Like many women, I was a people pleaser who spent a lot of energy trying to comfort and appease others – neglecting my own needs. As a result, I often put my needs last. In the process, I compromised too much and was left feeling like I had morphed into someone else.
It’s no wonder that I was fearful of falling in love again and getting hurt after my divorce. But I was eager to start over and share my life with someone. However, it has taken me several years to reclaim the joyous aspects of my life and to develop healthy relationships built on love, trust, and intimacy.
Dating expert Sandy Weiner advises: “It can be very challenging to date after your divorce. There are many potential obstacles to overcome, such as learning to trust, feeling good about yourself if you’ve been in a degrading relationship, and balancing work, kids, parents, and your own self-care. It’s a complex process and it takes time to heal after divorce.” It makes sense that experiencing the breakup of your marriage can intensify trust issues.
According to relationship expert, Lisa Firestone, Ph.D. “A new relationship is unchartered territory, and most of us have natural fears of the unknown. Letting ourselves fall in love means taking a real risk. We are placing a great amount of trust in another person, allowing that person to affect us, which makes us feel exposed and vulnerable. Our core defenses are challenged.” Because of your past experience, you might approach relationships warily and come to expect the worst. It may seem at times as if you’re wired to recreate the past. However, with courage and persistence, you can learn to trust again and restore your faith in love.
Learning to trust yourself and developing self-love is an inner journey which involves examining your past from a fresh perspective. If you can’t believe you are good enough, how can you believe a new partner would choose you? Take the time to examine how your relationships have played themselves out, and lessons you have learned from the experience. Try not to wallow in self-pity for too long. Sure, go ahead and wallow for a few weeks, but then try your best to reclaim your life. Joke. Laugh. Regaining your sense of humor can help you accept yourself and to transform your life after divorce.
Here are 8 steps to reclaiming your life after divorce:
- Examine your divorce experience and self-defeating messages derived from it. Develop a mindset that relationships are our teachers. Divorce can be viewed as a catalyst for personal growth. Counseling, blogging, and reading can aid you in this process.
- Develop a healthy response to mistakes and failing. Practice forgiving yourself and your ex for your divorce. If genuine forgiveness isn’t possible, practice acceptance.
- Don’t play the role of victim and begin to make decisions that reflect your strength as a woman. Give yourself permission to “think big” and want more.
- Practice self-compassion as you explore new relationships carefully. You don’t have to pick your next partner on the first date, so take things slowly. Have fun and approach dating as a learning experience.
- Don’t compromise your values. Figure out your core values and stand by them when you enter a new relationship.
- Be more assertive in relationships. If you want to form a new relationship based on trust you need to speak up when something bothers you or you have a request. Dating can help you learn what your non-negotiable or deal breakers are.
- Don’t talk about your ex with strangers or with new dates. This is a huge red flag that someone is not ready for a new partner and will turn off new possibilities.
- Shed toxic relationships and develop healthy ones. Surround yourself with people who support your journey and can allow you to build self-worth. Don’t settle for less than you deserve.
Over time, you will get out from under the shadow of your ex and restore self-confidence. Believing in yourself is crucial to building relationships based on mutual respect, integrity, and honesty. You can’t alter your past, but you can make better choices today. Don’t let your breakup define who you are today. First, you must examine your past and shed toxic self-defeating messages before you can heal and feel good about yourself. You don’t have to let the pain you’ve suffered in the past carry over to current relationships.
Follow Terry Gaspard on Twitter and Facebook. She is pleased to announce the publication of Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-lasting Relationship (Sourcebooks).