There’s no handbook for enduring what may be the post painful experience of your life, but here’s some advice from a guy who’s been there.
Recently I received a message from a childhood friend of mine, and it was an e-mail that cut right to the point. Her marriage of several years was very likely headed for divorce. She was having a very difficult time with this, and she wondered if I could offer any advice.
My heart broke for her. Having just passed the one year anniversary of the filing of my own divorce I understand all too well the road ahead of her. Later that evening I spent a few hours responding to her message with what I believed were the most important lessons I learned from my own divorce. Some of these were learned by taking the advice of others or by trying to do what seemed right at the time, other lessons I had to learn the hard way. Here are the tips that I shared with her:
#1– If you file papers, you’ve made a final decision.
Don’t torment yourself by second-guessing or asking the what-if’s. And along the same lines — don’t file unless you’ve made that final, unequivocal decision. Vacillating back and forth is painful for both parties if the instigator waffles.
#2 — During the process, find a way to treat each other civilly.
Even share an attorney if possible (saves SO much $$). Be courteous, but professional. Try to avoid either extreme (that means intimacy or being TOO friendly; it also means try to avoid the fights and pettiness). If you can manage this, it makes a terrible situation a little more bearable.
#3 — Find your catharsis.
For me, it was running, hiking and music. Those long runs, hikes in the majestic Rockies, or finding just the right song to fit my mood was my salvation on many days and gave me an outlet for my emotions that I could feel good about.
#4 — Track down a therapist.
A good one. Being a stubborn male who was unimpressed with our marriage counselor, I waited too long. By the time I admitted I couldn’t move forward on my own about two months after the whole thing was finalized, I had allowed myself to sink into a very dark place. Don’t make the same mistake.
#5 — You will discover your true friends.
Pay attention! They are the ones you can call when you’ve hit rock bottom (for the third time that day.) They are the ones that check on you, consistently get you out of your dingy apartment and provide those first glimpses of hope that life might really go on. I guarantee a few of the ones you least expect will be the first to pass judgment or vanish. But I also promise that a few you least expect will grow closer to you as you learn their true worth.
#6 — Don’t push yourself into dating (or mating) again too soon.
I think many of us feel pulled to do this. There is the urge to explore Plenty of Fish or Tinder; maybe sign up for that Match.com Groupon. But using others as a Band-Aid doesn’t make the wound heal faster. And it would only make things worse to meet someone you might be truly compatible with until you’re ready and (at least mostly) baggage-free.
#7 — Let your family love you.
If they want to visit, let them. If they send you a plane ticket to return home for a time, go. Maybe reacquainting yourself with the haunts of your youth will remind you there was life before marriage. Regardless, your family likely will be very concerned. They loved you first, and probably loved you best. Make sure you return their calls. You will need them.
#8 — Do a few things to challenge yourself, to remember you are still vibrant and alive!
For me, I’ve always been a runner, and in the six months after my separation and divorce I ran four half’s and a full marathon! It made me believe I was still capable of achieving big goals. Set a few goals like that for yourself, and put some energy into making them happen.
#9 — Don’t put a time-frame on your feelings.
When you have good days, rejoice in them. On the bad days, acknowledge your feelings. Understand they come from a very real place. Live them to the extent they need to be lived and process them. Don’t let anyone convince you that grief has an expiration date. It’s a very personal thing, and you are allowed to do it as your needs require.
#10 — Read things that remind you that you’re OK.
There are a lot of great resources out there that I found helped me with further processing and helped me to understand I wasn’t alone. The Divorce section of the Huffington Post has been a staple. Brene Brown is also a favorite author of mine, and although much of her stuff isn’t about divorce specifically, I’ve found it to be very insightful. Lastly, Divorced Girl Smiling is another website that is often more tongue-in-cheek, but still has good reads. Finding books, blogs or websites can be useful references and remind you that others have fought the same battle you now wage.
Unfortunately there is no magic bullet; no special elixir that will eliminate the pain or hurt or rejection. It’s a process to endure, and hopefully one from which to grow and learn a bit about ourselves. While I finally am at the point in my journey where I embrace my new life and feel like a whole person again, I ache for my friend as I know all too well the anguish ahead. But I trust that at the end of her journey awaits the peace I discovered at the end of mine.
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