Books are written about it. Counselors specialize in it. And yet, there is no magic formula for healing a broken heart after divorce. Just as two people come together to write a unique story as a couple, so each must write a story of healing after divorce.
Perhaps the most unfair, difficult-to-accept reality of healing a broken heart after divorce is that there is going to be pain. Pain beyond what the divorce itself caused. Pain proportional to the love you once gave, the joy you once felt, the investment you once made.
The famous Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran wrote of joy and sorrow as equal influences on the heart:
“When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”
And so it is with healing a broken heart after divorce. The more your marriage meant to you, the greater your sorrow (and pain) will be after it ends. Because it mattered, so too will your path to renewal.
Grieving the loss of your marriage, let alone actually healing and moving forward, can be an emotional rollercoaster.
As if the process isn’t painful enough, divorce is unique in the way it can carry shame, embarrassment, and isolation in its wake. If your supposed support system is urging you to “move on” with your life, you may try to bypass your grief.
The danger in trying to avoid your feelings is that they will always be there until you deal with them. They are as much a part of your experience as your marriage was. And denying them their rightful attention can lead to depression, anxiety, addiction, and/or physical illness. It can also keep you stuck in unhealthy behaviors and relationships.
The first step toward healing a broken heart after divorce, therefore, is accepting that you will have to go through some pain. That means accepting your current reality as just that — a reality. Only then can you address it and change it.
Fighting or resisting your current situation will only keep you stuck in a cycle of pain. Denying your feelings, telling yourself you shouldn’t have them, distracting from experiencing them — all serve to perpetuate the inevitable.
As you go through the stages of grief, you may be surprised by the emotions that come up. You may also be frustrated that ones you thought you had worked through come back up again without warning.
There is an important distinction in dealing with pain, however. It’s natural to be triggered by memories and things that remind you of your marriage. Favorite restaurants, songs, rituals — your mind could go on forever finding reasons to delve back into misery.
Sitting with your emotions is not an excuse to stay stuck by turning your pain into a mental habit. “Every time I hear our song…every time I see a couple holding hands…every time I remember what s/he did to me….”
It’s also, however, not an excuse to disparage your emotions or act as if they are unwarranted. After all, feelings are. Literally, feelings are. They aren’t right or wrong. They are part of your reality and need to be acknowledged for the messages they contain.
Sitting with your emotions is a discipline. It is a commitment to your own healing that says, “I will be a safe place for this pain to tell its story…and then move on.”
Healing a broken heart after divorce is about allowing your pain to move through you. And that requires acceptance and compassion on your part.
Instead of rejecting your anger or your capacity or right to feel it, meditate on it. Journal about it. Ask it to tell you its story. And dare to ask it its story from your ex’s viewpoint.
Whatever painful thoughts and emotions come up, give them your full, undistracted attention. Remember that they have a story to tell, and they want to be heard before they move on. Trust that they are present as necessary agents of your healing. And if you allow them their say, they will eventually go on their way.
Your goal is to find healthy ways to comfort yourself and cope when the pain presents itself.
How you talk to yourself is critical to restoring your self-confidence and strength. And where you choose to place yourself to experience joy and renewal — in nature, with friends, in creativity — is just as critical.
Next, take responsibility for your role in the loss of your marriage. It’s easy to dump all the blame on a spouse who cheated or betrayed the marriage through some other egregious act. But it takes a self-aware person to examine his/her contribution, in all its nuances, and accept responsibility for its effect on the marriage – even if your only contribution was marrying your ex in the first place.
It’s also easy to take credit for “all the little things” you did to show love to your spouse and marriage. It’s very difficult, even humiliating, however, to acknowledge “all the little ways” you withheld love or neglected your spouse and marriage.
But that acknowledgement is an essential key to your healing and growth. In addition to helping you deal with the painful reality of your divorce, it will inspire your personal development into a more evolved person. And that means you will be better prepared for a healthy, deeply intimate relationship in the future.
Perhaps the most liberating — and difficult — step toward healing a broken heart after divorce is forgiveness. And no one is more difficult to forgive than oneself.
You may have a laundry list of offenses for which (you believe) your ex needs to be forgiven. But your willingness and ability to forgive yourself will be the most powerful expression of permission to move on with your life.
Another essential component of healing a broken heart after divorce is gratitude. The mere word may sound counter-intuitive when hurt and resentment are in overdrive. But gratitude, like forgiveness, is incredibly liberating.
Remember that you and your spouse once fell in love. You recognized qualities in one another that were enrichments to your individual and collective lives. And you may have children who will forever reflect back to you the best (and worst) of who you are and were. You have much to be grateful for, and that doesn’t evaporate with a divorce decree.
Finally, plant seeds for your future, both in your mind and in your daily life. Envision. Dream. Learn. Grow. Evolve. Rise.
And, just as you make space for the pain of divorce to tell you its story, make space for hope to write a new one.
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