Grief is a tricky thing.
When we are conditioned to expect it, as is the case during the death of a loved one, we know that we must be patient ad go through the seven stages, and the idea is that one day, our mourning will be done, and we’ll be able to move on.
So, why do we forget to do this during divorce? Do we think that we aren’t allowed to, because technically, nobody died?
When I was going through my own divorce, I remember telling myself that everything was fine. Despite the roller coaster of emotions I would experience on a daily basis—from anger to sorrow to fear to panic—I would assure myself that it was just part of the process. But what I didn’t know at the time was that I was grieving. I thought for some reason I did not have the right to grieve for somebody who was still alive, much less for a broken marriage where both my husband and I knew it needed to end. For some reason, I didn’t even know it was grief I was experiencing, and when I finally understood the culprit, I didn’t think I deserved to grieve.
It took months to let go of this negative thinking, and the lessons learned during that journey were some of the hardest but most valuable I learned when moving on from divorce.
Not allowing ourselves to grieve during divorce robs us of the chance to heal and move on with life. Robbing ourselves of this grieving process is one of the reasons why, even years after the divorce, we still feel incomplete and our hearts are still broken.
But it doesn’t have to be this way, which is what I learned while processing my own divorce grief. While I am not a mental health professional, these strategies helped me process my heartbreak so that I was able to heal and move on with my life without being bitter.
The #1 thing we forget when moving on: Divorce is like death. It’s okay to mourn your loss.
Obviously, there are differences between ending a marriage and when a loved one leaves this earth. But let’s consider this: it is completely normal to feel like our world has crashed into a million pieces and that we’ll never recover from divorce. When we think about it, we are actually reeling from multiple deaths during divorce, which makes it really hard to move on without grieving:
>> Death of our marriage
>> Death of the life we thought we knew
>> Death of the visions of our future
>> Death of the idea of the partner we thought would be for life
>> Death of our own identity as a partner and a member of a team.
That is a lot of loss to handle. So, why do we swallow our pain and not process it? We must accept that we went through something awful that rocked the life we thought we knew, and we may feel like we’ve been hit by a freight train for a while.
It’s okay to be sad, angry, in denial, scared, sometimes all within 10 minutes of each other. We must allow ourselves to accept that grief, but motivated enough to not let it hold us prisoner.
Turning that Grief into Insight.
I started doing an exercise during my own divorce that helped process my grief in a healthy manner. It helped with introspection during a time when I felt like I would never be able to move on from the sadness, anger, and frustration that seemed to hold me hostage.
What emotions can I not get my head around that seem to be ruining my life right now? My own example is below:
Sure, I am now divorced, but whenever I look at my clean kitchen and tidy living room, I just feel pissed off about how he made a complete mess of the whole place and never helped around the house. And I’m kicking myself for letting it go on for so damn long. I felt like a house maid for years! Why Martha, why?!
I can’t change the past, but what can I do about those feelings right now? Take a look at what I put for your own inspiration.
Your house is clean as can be now because you’re no longer living with a slob. Enjoy it, girl! Feel happy about coming home and not seeing dirty-a** underwear on the couch. Embrace that sense of calm now that everything is just the way you left it.
Moving forward, what mindful intervention will I have for myself?
Whenever I start to feel pissed off when I encounter some sort of trigger, I will work to neutralize it. Instead of focusing on the negative and toxic elements, I will work to turn it into something good. It will take practice, but I can’t move on with my life if I am a prisoner of the hurt and regret.
Learning from our own mistakes but not blaming ourselves.
As with most lessons in life, the things we learn are only as valuable as our willingness and our ability to put them into context, see how, looking back, we would handle the situation differently, and then make a proactive plan to handle things differently in the future. This takes a lot of self-awareness to do, but without it, it’s very hard to not move on and heal. I knew it would be a lot of work to accept this, but once I posed these questions to myself, the self-reflection started to come.
What are some of the things that I blame myself for that I still think about?
I am angry with myself that I didn’t communicate my wants and needs more. It’s hard to move on because I feel bitter that my needs were ignored for years.
What are some of the regrets that I still harbor?
I still regret not saying something sooner. I knew that our marriage was falling apart, but I went along with it, in denial, just telling myself that it would get better soon.
How can I change those feelings into something positive moving forward?
I can’t change the past, but I can use what I learned to avoid similar things from happening in the future. In my marriage, I remember that I didn’t communicate well. In my current relationship, I encourage myself to be open and honest, and remind myself to be courageous, sharing my feelings with my partner. It can be hard because I’m afraid I’ll get judged, but I remind myself that I deserve—and my partner deserves—open communication.
Getting Support and Holding Ourselves Accountable.
Regardless of where we are in the process—whether the papers were signed years ago and we are still wondering how to make sense of it, or we are knee-deep in divorce drama right now, or reeling because our spouse just moved out, remember that one of the strongest things we can do is reach out for support. There are so many avenues out there, whether it’s finding a therapist or divorce coach, going to a grief or divorce support group, we must understand that we do not have to grieve alone.
As a way of ensuring that we will reach out if we need support, we can make the following pledges to ourselves:
By the end of today, I will…
By the end of the week, I will…
These accountability pledges can be as simple or as detailed as we choose—the point is to set that intention to reach out for support, and actually follow up on it. For example:
By the end of today, I will have made a primary list of three therapists I will reach out to.
By the end of the week, I will have called and made an appointment with one of them.
Like any grieving process, healing from divorce will not happen quickly. During my own journey, I remember weeks—sometimes months—going by when I thought I had healed, but some sort of trigger would cause the sadness and grief again.
Yet, this grief is merely part of our journey. And when I learned to accept it, the healing continued.
But when we are kind to ourselves, persistent, and mindful of the fact that we deserve to be happy again, the journey to the next chapter of our lives is entirely possible.
Author: Martha Bodyfelt
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Image: Laura Grafie/Flickr