Yesterday was the anniversary of when I got married. And next month is the anniversary of when my divorce was finalized. Different years, but the anniversaries being so close together make it impossible to forget either one.
It’s been 20 years since I got married, and almost 17 since I got divorced. In those 17 years, I’ve had more than enough time to heal and move on. But here’s the thing: in the early years after the divorce, I didn’t heal and move on.
In fact, I lived stuck in the divorce mud. For at least eight years, I was mired in that quicksand. I was filled with bitterness, anger, resentment, and any other negative feeling you can imagine toward my former husband.
Eventually, I learned how to let it all go. I learned what worked for getting over the divorce — the divorce that was my decision, by the way. And I learned what didn’t work for getting over it.
So instead of telling you the things you should do to get over divorce today, I’m going to tell you what you shouldn’t do.
Don’t cling to the reasons for the divorce
Infidelity, addiction, abuse, growing apart… there are thousands of reasons you might have gotten divorced. And whatever your reasons were, they were valid to you and your spouse and no one else gets to judge whether they were the right or wrong reasons.
But holding on to those reasons after the divorce, clinging to them as if they’re some kind of lifeline keeping you from drowning is what will actually make you drown.
Many of the reasons behind a divorce are painful. They leave behind deep wounds that take a long time to heal. But when you hold on to those reasons, when you keep reminding yourself of what happened, you keep the wounds open and bleeding.
Having kids means you’re stuck seeing your ex, talking to your ex, and otherwise dealing with your ex at least until your kids are grown and possibly for a lifetime. Holding on to the reasons for divorce will prevent you from being able to get along, even minimally, with your ex for the sake of your kids.
Whatever happened to break up your marriage doesn’t matter now that you’re divorced (unless there was abuse, in which case you need to seek legal counsel to handle things for the safety of you and your children). Let it all go and move forward with a clean slate so you can work together to raise your children.
Don’t hold on to blame
In addition to letting go of the reasons, you also need to let go of blame. Whether it’s blaming your ex because they cheated or lied, or blaming them for asking for the divorce, or even blaming yourself for your own behaviors, blame won’t change anything.
It’s possible to let go of the reasons and still hold on to the blame. It’s important to take a deep, honest look and make sure you’re letting go of both. Letting go of blame means forgiving your ex, and yourself if necessary, for whatever happened to end the marriage.
Remember that forgiveness and letting go doesn’t mean you’re saying what happened was okay. It just means that you accept that what happened is what happened and there’s nothing you can do to change it now. It means you let it go so the wounds can heal and you and your ex can manage to raise your kids as peacefully as possible.
Don’t try to force anything
About a year and a half after our divorce, my ex stopped coming to see my kids. About six months or so after that, he stopped paying child support. For the next decade, I took him to court over and over to be held in contempt for not paying child support. It got me occasional lump sum payments but never the full amount he owed and never consistent payments.
Whether it’s seeing the kids, paying child or spousal support, being friends with the ex, or something else, don’t try to force anything. Don’t try to make anything happen, even if it’s what you truly believe is best for everyone.
Let your ex be whoever they are and do whatever they’re going to do. If it doesn’t put you or your kids in danger, tell yourself it doesn’t matter. If it does put you or your kids in danger, or is truly a problem for your kids, take it back to court. But if that changes nothing, don’t beat your head against a brick wall trying to make it change. Accept what is and keep going.
Don’t grasp at false hope
A week after we split, my former husband did something so horrific that it killed any hope for ever getting back together. But until that moment, there had been a small part of me that kept thinking, “If he just gets it together, we can make this work again. We could always get remarried in the future if he manages to get it together.”
When I look back now, I know that even before his actions a week later, that was a false hope. There was never any chance of us making it work. He was never going to change. I was never going to be able to live with him as he was.
Whether the decision to divorce was yours, your ex’s or mutual, accept it as a final decision. While there may be some couples who have gotten back together and made it work, holding on to that hope won’t allow you to get over the divorce. Accept it as final and don’t allow yourself to imagine anything different.
Don’t offer false hope
Your ex wants another chance. Your kids want to know if you two will ever get back together. Your mom thinks you should reconsider because this was a very poor decision on your part in her opinion. There are always going to be people who want you and your ex to work things out.
It would be easier to give them that hope. Easier than explaining very personal reasons behind your divorce. Easier than watching your kids’ faces as their hearts break all over again. Easier than standing firm.
But even if it’s easier, it’s not fair to anyone. And it’s not right. Even if it’s hard, be honest and don’t let anyone hope there’s a possibility of a second chance if there isn’t one.
Don’t make any other major decisions
There are a lot of big decisions that come with divorce. Women have to decide whether to take back their maiden name. Both people need to decide how to divide material possessions, whether to sell the house or who gets it, custody, child support, etc.
Don’t make any other big decisions that you don’t absolutely have to make in the months immediately following your divorce. Don’t decide to move across the country, quit your job, or make a major purchase like a new home or car.
In the wake of divorce, nothing stabilizes quickly. Feelings and finances are both fluctuating as you adjust to your new normal. So skip the major decisions for now so you don’t do something you regret after things settle down.
Don’t try to distract yourself from your feelings
There are lots of feelings that come with divorce and many of them are painful and uncomfortable. No one wants to feel those feelings so it’s tempting to try to distract yourself from them.
Drinking, drugs, retail therapy, and even just pretending everything is fine when it’s not are all distractions from your feelings. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a glass or two of wine, or shopping for something you need or want, but pay attention to how you feel and why you’re doing what you’re doing.
Take some time each day to sit down with a journal and your feelings. Allow yourself to feel whatever you feel. The more you sit with your feelings, as uncomfortable as they may be, the sooner they’ll pass and you’ll start to feel better for real.
Don’t date before you’re ready
Within just a couple of weeks of my divorce becoming final, I started dating a friend. He was a nice guy, and we’re still friends to this day, but it didn’t take long to realize that I wasn’t really ready to date yet. I waited a few more months and tried again — and I still wasn’t ready.
Some people are ready to date right away. Others aren’t. The key is knowing which one you are.
If you aren’t ready to date, don’t date. Whether it’s been a couple of weeks, a couple of years, or even longer, you’ll know when you’re ready to date again. Don’t let well-meaning family and friends try to convince you to date before you’re ready.
Don’t look for faults
I eventually let go of the things my ex-husband did while we were married. But even after our divorce, he continued to do things that irritated, annoyed, angered, and scared me. He gave me dozens of reasons, both big and small, to find fault with him.
And I clung to every one of those faults. I used every one of them to continue being angry at him, resenting him, and outright hating him. I looked for those faults so I could keep feeling that way. And it didn’t do me any good.
Stop looking for those faults. Don’t look for reasons to be angry, bitter, or fight with your ex. If there are legitimate things that you should take issue with, such as abuse or neglect, don’t ignore them. But don’t nitpick for reasons to stay angry.
Getting over your divorce might not be easy. It’s easier when you skip the things that keep you stuck in bitterness, resentment, loneliness or confusion. The best way to find real healing is to listen to yourself. You’ll know what’s right for you and what’s not. As long as you listen to yourself and do what you feel is right for you, you’ll find that you start healing and moving on faster than you think.
Wendy Miller is a Single Mom Coach & meditation teacher. After years of settling for abusive and otherwise toxic relationships, she began using meditation and other tools, to heal herself, set boundaries, and only engage in relationships (romantic and otherwise) that bring her joy. She wants to help other single parents find the love & happiness they seek, including and going beyond romantic love. She lives in Florida with her two sons, where she homeschools while solo parenting, while surrounded by what feels like a zooful of animals.
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