by Sheva Ganz
The end of a bad marriage can feel like a much needed relief but can also be painful, stressful and overwhelming. While many assume that divorce is a process of closure, if you are not prepared to let go and move on, you can be stuck in your unhealthy relationship long after it has ended. If you are divorced, something wasn’t the way you intended or wanted it to be, but without taking the right steps to uncovering what went wrong, you will likely end up making the same mistakes all over again. This process is not about shame or guilt so ditch the self-criticism and embrace curiosity.
Here are 10 steps you can take to transform the turbulence of change into an opportunity for growth and healing:
1. Recognize that you don’t know. Life is a constant cycle of things coming together and falling apart. Healing within this process comes from allowing space for all this to happen, which means making room for grief, relief, misery or joy without trying to understand it. When we think that something is going to bring us either happiness or pain, we actually have no way of really knowing. Understanding that we don’t know is an important step in this process. When there’s a big life disappointment, it can feel like the tragic end of a story, but it might just be the beginning of a great adventure.
2. Nothing more than feelings. Humans have a broad range of emotions for a reason, so allow yourself to feel them. Following a divorce, it is important to recognize what you are feeling and natural to feel sad, angry, frustrated and hurt. It is equally important, though, not to attach a story or judgment to that feeling or react and lash out from that place. Simply feel.
3. Challenge your thoughts. The thoughts we have play a powerful role in our lives, triggering our emotions, forming our beliefs and directing our actions. When life doesn’t go the way we want or expect, negative thoughts can take over, which only lead to more suffering. Notice your thoughts and question: How true is that? Then look for evidence that disproves that thought.
4. Give up the victim card. It seems counterintuitive, but playing the victim is a method of self-protection, trapping us in pain in order to excuse us from accountability and taking action. Being the victim means someone or something else has control over you. Make an empowered choice and take responsibility for your life and your life choices.
5. Know your fears. We all have fears, usually triggered by events in our childhood, and they are often at the root of our relationship issues. We may fear abandonment, rejection or loneliness, and then make subconscious and destructive choices that ensure our fears won’t play out. Review your relationship, looking for trigger points and see if you can identify the fears that may be responsible. Knowing your fears can help you successfully navigate future relationships.
6. Learn your love language. In his book, The Five Love Languages, Gary Chapman introduces the revolutionary concept of love languages. We each speak a main love language, giving and receiving in ways that we know and understand. If your partner doesn’t speak the same language, it’s no wonder things broke down. The five love languages are: words of affirmation; acts of service; gifts; physical touch; and quality time. Learn yours.
7. Date yourself. It is tempting to rush right out of an ending relationship and into the arms of a new one. Don’t. Take some time for yourself, rediscovering what you find fun and exciting. Look for interesting things happening in your community and take yourself out. Truly learning to enjoy being alone by focusing on yourself will help you build positive and healthy relationships in the future that aren’t based on dependency.
8. Change it up. Challenge yourself to do things that are new, different and out of your comfort zone. The power of doing, as opposed to thinking, can rewire unhelpful habits and patterns, and new behavioral experiences lead to new thoughts. A divorce is a clear sign that something didn’t go right, so break out of old patterns by doing something different and differently.
9. Cocoon. Surround yourself with people who love you and treat you well. Now is a great time to take stock of your social circle to ensure that not only do you have people in your life who support you, but also encourage your growth. Be on the lookout for people who are happy, positive and proactive.
10. Create. One of the best ways to connect to your feelings is to tap into the power of creative expression. Find a medium that speaks to you—art, music, dance, writing—and allow yourself to get absorbed by the process. You’ll be amazed by what comes out. Using painful experiences as a platform for art is a great way to experience memories instead of trying to bury them—all playing a large part in the healing process.
Remember, the failure of your marriage doesn’t mean anything other than what you want it to mean. Rather than looking back on it with pain and regret, try and find the small parts of it that you are grateful for, looking for ways it helped you become the person you are or the person you’d like to be.
Sheva Ganz is a mental health counselor and expressive arts therapist who works with children, adolescents and adults. She has specialized training in education, play therapy, creative movement and the therapeutic use of yoga, meditation and trauma recovery. Her current practice, A (re)Creative Life, focuses on using creative tools and strategies to navigate the challenges of divorce for adults and children. For more information, call 954-449-5335, email [email protected] and/or visit ARecreativeLife.com.