When your marriage is over, it’s normal to experience a wide range of feelings and to lose confidence in yourself. These emotions include: rejection, anger, sadness, guilt, regret, loneliness, or even relief. One woman I counseled, Karen, 48, was struck with a profound sense of dread about how she would be able to face the second half of her life alone.
Karen put it like this: “It was sudden and dramatic when I found out about Dave’s infidelity. I always told him that if he cheated, our marriage would be over. But it was still a struggle to end our twenty-year marriage and have to explain it to our four kids. I lost my confidence for a while because I believed I wasn’t good enough if Dave chose to have an affair.”
She continues, “My kids blamed me at first because I didn’t give them the details of Dave’s infidelity. But after a while they understood why I filed for divorce. I no longer love Dave but the finality of our break-up was painful. I work hard at not bad-mouthing him because he’s their dad and he didn’t cheat on them. Most days, I tell myself I’m not sure how I will make it alone.”
Self-defeating thoughts can grab you because you’re vulnerable and trying to come to terms with the changes that are occurring in your life. However, it’s important to realize that these feelings are a normal part of grieving and letting go after a break-up.
While it’s normal to go through a period of self-reflection when your relationship ends, it’s crucial that you keep things in perspective. Losing a partner, even if you made a decision to end the relationship, like Karen did, can disrupt your life on so many levels because your ex-partner was undoubtedly a part of your daily routine. As a result, breakups can weaken your ability to sleep, eat well, and function at work and in social spheres.
To complicate matters, studies have discovered that experiencing a the end of a relationship can leave you with a diminished self-concept (those things that make you unique). This makes perfect sense because your identity probably became incorporated with your partner’s sense of self and now, you’re left with the task of redefining who you are as a separate person.
In his groundbreaking book, Rebuilding: When Your Relationship Ends, Dr. Bruce Fisher coined two terms that shed light on how individuals experience different emotions depending on their role in the breakup. He writes “Dumpers are the partners who leave the relationship, and they often feel considerable guilt; dumpees are the partners who want to hang on to the relationship, and they often experience strong feelings of rejection.”
For instance, Karen made a decision to end her long marriage after six months of counseling. She initiated the process, filed divorce papers, and expressed some relief but also guilt during our last counseling session. On the other hand, her husband Dave expressed feelings of sadness and rejection about Karen asking him to leave. Dave stated: “The hardest part of moving out was coming to the realization that even though I made a horrible mistake that ended Karen’s trust in me, I didn’t want the divorce, even though Karen warned me.”
Further, if you were the person who was left (or the dumpee) feelings of rejection and loss may cause you to feel lowered self-worth and self-love. Be patient with yourself! As you learn to let go of self-blame and to love yourself again, your feelings of rejection will lessen and you’ll have more energy to relate to others in healthy ways.
If you find yourself ruminating about what went wrong, this is normal. Part of the grieving process at the end of a relationship is accepting that the marriage you thought you had no longer exists. While these feelings are more common for dumpee than dumpers, both people typically experience a grief process.
Here are 6 ways to heal from a breakup:
- Accept your feelings about the breakup and don’t judge yourself. This includes your emotional reactions such as sadness, anger, fear, rejection, and guilt. Crying can release tension and help the healing process. Don’t be surprised if you shed tears at unexpected times and feel intensely sad and perhaps a sense of relief afterwards.
- Gain awareness of the reasons your relationship ended. This includes some examination of your part in the relationship ending. Don’t get stuck in these thoughts but it’s helpful to gain insight so that you don’t repeat the same patterns in the next relationship.
- Work towards a routine for exercise and eating healthy meals. Are you taking care of yourself physically and emotionally? If not, devise a plan to nurture yourself and get your well-being restored (regular exercise, eating a balanced diet, etc.).
- Forgive Yourself. Focus on those things that you can control. You can’t control the past but you can begin to let go of hurt feelings. Attempt to forgive yourself and your former partner – or at least accept his or her behavior. This doesn’t mean you condone hurtful actions, but they simply have less power over you! Consulting a counselor, support group, or divorce coach may help to facilitate forgiveness and healing.
- Attempt to see relationships as teachers. We learn a lot about ourselves from loss and can approach a new relationship with our eyes wide open. Just because your relationship is over, it doesn’t mean you’re inadequate or inferior – or there’s something wrong with you. Give yourself a break.
- Surround yourself with supportive people. It may be a challenge to be around people at times but you might just want to force yourself to accept an invitation to a party or something simple like going to a movie with a friend. Take a risk and make a choice to spend time with friends and family members who can enhance your self-confidence and avoid those who bring you down or can’t accept and support you.
- Try out new interests. Get energized by a new hobby like kayaking or needlepoint and invite a friend to join you. Consider something that causes you to go outside your comfort zone such as a dance class or glass blowing.
An essential aspect of recovery from divorce is taking an inventory of how your feelings may be impacting your behavior. This process can help you gain a healthier viewpoint. We all have self-talk that influences the way we feel and behave. For many people who are suffering a loss, this internal voice can be excessively negative.
Fortunately, we have a choice about whether we pay attention to negative self-talk. If you spend time paying attention to this critical inner voice, you may notice that it is relentless. Instead, work hard at seeing this negative self-talk as an observer and do not take it to heart. Substitute negative self-talk, such as “I’m not worthy of love” with a positive affirmation such as “I’m worthy of love and all life has to offer.”
Another important aspect of rebuilding after divorce is whether you are falling prey to a victim mentality and to make self-care a priority. Asking for support from a close friend and/or counselor after divorce can be help you regain your self-confidence and allow you to talk about feelings that you might not want to discuss and process with most people. Keep in mind that you don’t have to be defined by your relationship ending and that dealing effectively with loss can cause you to better define who you are as a worthwhile person!
Follow Terry Gaspard on Facebook, Twitter, and movingpastdivorce.com. Terry’s book “Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship” was published by Sourcebooks in January of 2016.
Follow Terry Gaspard on Twitter, Facebook, and movingpastdivorce.com. Her book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship is available on her website.
Terry’s book, The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around, was published by Sounds True in February of 2020.