Terry Gaspard, LICSW takes a look at some of the issues around the emotional impact of divorce and how to get through to the other side with renewed hope for your next relationship.
The breakup of a marriage is a hard experience to go through but it’s also a catalyst for change and personal growth. If you are newly divorced, 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.
The trauma of going through a divorce can change your perceptions; and can change 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.
An important key to getting out from the shadow of your past is to gain awareness. This might mean taking responsibility for your actions and setting goals to change things you don’t like about the way you relate to intimate partners. Let’s face it, it’s time to move out of the role of victim and examine the choices you make in partners and how you respond to others. Take the time to explore how your relationships have played themselves out, and lessons you have learned from them.
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 intimate partners and to experiment with dating – but be prepared to feel mistrustful and insecure at times.
That’s exactly what happened to me. During and after my divorce, it became apparent to me that I had lost the essence of myself in my marriage. Like many women, I spent the first half of my life trying to please others and putting my needs last. In the process, I compromised too much and was left feeling like I had morphed into someone else. As a result, I was fearful of falling in love again and getting hurt. It took me several years to reclaim the joyous aspects of my life and to develop healthy relationships built on love, trust, and intimacy.
Author and 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.”
Learning to trust is one of the biggest challenges that individuals face post-divorce. 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.”
Reclaiming your sense of self and learning to love yourself 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? 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.
Ways to restore your faith in love after divorce:
- Examine your divorce experience and self-defeating messages derived from it. Counseling, blogging, and reading can aid you in this process.
- Accept reality. 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 allow yourself to play the role of victim and begin to make decisions that reflect your strength. Give yourself permission to “think big” and want more. You alone are responsible for your happiness.
- Practice self-compassion and be patient with yourself as you explore new relationships. You don’t have to pick your next partner on the first date, so take your time 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.
- Ask for what you need. 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-negotiables 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.
- Surround yourself with people who support your journey and can allow you to build self-worth. This may mean shedding toxic relationships and developing new ones. Avoid isolating yourself from others. Don’t settle for less than you deserve.
Believing in yourself is crucial to building relationships based on mutual respect, integrity, and honesty. Over time, as your learn to trust your instincts, you will gain self-confidence. Don’t let your divorce define who you are today. You don’t have to let the pain you’ve suffered in the past carry over to current relationships. Your divorce experience has made you stronger, more realistic, and better prepared for the requirements of love.5