When you’re the victim of an unexpected divorce, you feel lost at best and destroyed at worst. Just about everything you thought was true about your life is suddenly a lie. You weren’t happily (or happily enough) married. And now, as the dust on the bomb that wrecked your world is starting to settle, you wonder if you can live a happy life ever again – or if you are doomed to wandering around living the miserable shell of a life you’re started to accept as the new norm.
And the truth is that you can live a happy life after divorce – even an unexpected one.
However, to be happy again, you will have to do a few things to help happiness along.
You’ve lost a lot. Divorce is about losing your lifestyle, your security, your kids, your status as a spouse, your dreams for a shared future, and, of course, your spouse. But those are only the obvious losses. There is a myriad of losses that are less obvious, but no less painful.
Suggested Reading: The Secret Grief Of Divorce You Never Talk About
And each of these losses needs to be grieved. Some will require more grief work than others, but they will all require your attention.
The challenge is that grieving after divorce – especially an unexpected one – can become a habit. You can actually get stuck in the grief and/or get stuck feeling sorry for yourself – neither of which are conducive to knowing you can live a happy life again.
You also don’t want to attempt to numb the pain away. Some unhelpful coping strategies to be on the lookout for include: drinking too much, shopping too much, inappropriate sex, eating too much, eating too little (aka the divorce diet), and taking drugs inappropriately.
So how do you appropriately deal with grief after a divorce?
- Learn more about what to expect from grief. A good place to start is with Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s seminal work on grief.
- Accept that your marriage is over. Much easier said than done when your divorce was unexpected, but it is possible.
- Consider professional, expert help.
- Create a support system of friends and family members who are supportive and have your best interest at heart.
- Avoid trying to think your way through the pain. You’ve got to feel it to release it even if it is incredibly uncomfortable.
- Look for the lessons in your pain. You can view emotions as guides. They guide us toward things we like and away from things that hurt if we pay attention to why we’re feeling what we feel. They can actually help us to become better versions of ourselves. (And isn’t that exactly what you need when you’re wondering if you can live a happy life again?)
The opposite of forgiving is blaming. And it’s oh so easy to blame your ex for the destruction s/he has perpetrated in your life. After all, it is because of his/her decision that you’re divorced and that your life has been destroyed.
Yet, blaming, no matter how much you can justify it, keeps you stuck. It keeps you tethered to your ex and to the past. It prevents you from being happy now.
So, forgiveness is necessary – not because you agree with what your ex did, but because you want to be happy again.
Then there’s the little voice inside your head that blames you for the divorce. The one that says if you’d only said or done this or that, then you wouldn’t be in the situation you’re in now.
You need to forgive yourself too. By doing so you’ll free yourself from the past. You’ll give yourself the opportunity to discover the lessons in the past, so you can do differently going forward.
Allow yourself to start imagining what being happy again would be like. What would you do? What types of people would you spend time with? Where would you live? How would you spend your free time?
When you first start dreaming, you probably won’t know what being happy again would be like. And that’s completely OK.
Just begin by imagining what happy feels like. Then, as you take time, again and again, to dream about being happy, you’ll slowly start discovering your answers. With these answers, you are able to begin building your plan for creating a happy life for yourself.
Right now is the best time and place to be living your life – even if it isn’t ideal.
You can’t change the past. The more you try to do that, the more at risk for depression you become.
You can’t fast-forward to the future. The more you try to do that, the more impatient and stressed you become.
Now, right now is all that any of us have. The more present you can become to what’s real for you in this moment, the more ability you’ll have to change your circumstances and to have a happier life.
Love isn’t necessarily about finding another partner. When it comes to creating and living a happy life after an unexpected divorce, love is first about appreciating and valuing yourself. It’s about self-care and being kind to yourself.
Love is also about enjoying what is. That doesn’t mean you have to pretend that everything is great. It just means you can cultivate the ability to find joy and/or beauty in what is.
The only way to grieve, forgive, dream, be present and love is by being courageous. Moving forward into the unknown is scary. Yet, divorce gives each of us who faces it the opportunity to be more than we were before and bravely create a new vision for our lives.
Choose to be happy
Implicit in each of these suggestions is the desire to be happy and at least a small belief or hope that you can live a happy life again. (You definitely have this desire, belief and/or hope or you wouldn’t have chosen to read this article.)
Choosing to be happy will make each step of your journey easier. It will help you to remember what’s truly important to you.
Within each of these suggestions for creating a happy life for yourself is effort. It won’t necessarily be easy to forgive or choose to be happy. But the effort and struggle are worth it.
By putting in the necessary work, you will stop being the victim of an unexpected divorce. Instead, your divorce can become something that happened. And, it can even become the event that gave you the opportunity to create a different vision for yourself and a new happier life.
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