“In many divorces, one of the partners does not see the breakup coming and in fact has only a minor inkling that the other parent is dissatisfied with the marriage. And tragically, the abandoned partner may be deeply in love with the spouse who wants out. When this happens, a sense of shock, betrayal and rage can last for many years, if not forever.”
– Wallerstein, Lewis & Blakeslee (2000, p. 272)
Divorce sometimes sneaks up on people. And even when you can see it coming well in advance, it still delivers a shock to the system once the day of reckoning finally arrives. If you’ve been married for any length of time, you’ve grown accustomed to a married lifestyle. Switching from this to single life can be a difficult adjustment to make, and one that many parents struggle with.
The first step in divorce recovery is acceptance of your situation. This acceptance goes far beyond simply acknowledging that the divorce is taking place; it means coming to grips with several other ideas about how your life is changing, and letting go of concepts that aren’t helpful to your situation and which will hinder the recovery process:
A) Place ghosts of the past behind you
Accept that you have nothing further to gain by mulling over the past or beating yourself up about past decisions. If need be, take yourself somewhere quiet and repeat the phrase, “My marriage is over, so where do I go from here?” If you find yourself stewing over thoughts about where things went wrong (as is quite common), be sure to do so with the mindset of how such knowledge will help you avoid similar mistakes in the future.
B) Embrace the mystery
Accept that you may never know the how’s and why’s of where everything went wrong, and that there may not even be rational explanations for what led to the breakup. Relationships are complicated, and they involve forces and motivations that work on a subconscious level, and which often defy explanation. Sometimes things just happen, and the intricate web of factors underlying these events is too vast and complicated to unravel.
C) Accept that life in the short term will be more difficult
Acknowledge that it will take time to adjust to this change, and that how you feel now is not necessarily an indication of how you’ll feel in the future. Anticipate that things will be painful, and that life may get difficult for a while.
Reminding yourself of this is an important coping skill. Research in both medical science and psychology finds that merely anticipating an unpleasant experience and mentally preparing for it can vastly decrease its painful impact. On the opposite end, those who go into a divorce expecting all to go smoothly and for life to be all sunshine and smiles afterwards will endure continued frustration and more severe pain when their rosy expectations fail to materialize. Their denial of the pain to come only worsens its impact when it finally arrives.
So remind yourself that divorce will mean pain, and that this pain is normal. But also tell yourself that this turmoil will eventually subside as you adjust to your new life, and that you’re perfectly equipped to handle it.
D) Own up to the failure
Accept that you did the best you could given your physical and psychological resources at the time. Nobody is perfect in this world, and we all experience failures in our lives at different times and in different ways. In this imperfect world, things don’t always go as we intend them to, and even our best efforts can sometimes come up short. Forgive yourself for things done wrong, and regard these past mistakes as important lessons that will help you in the future.
E) Acknowledge a shift in the relationship
Accept that the end of your romantic relationship does not mean the end of your relationship, period. Take all those regrets you have and shift your focus into establishing the best post-divorce friendship you can have with this person. Your ex is still your children’s mother or father. They are still (and always will be) family. So focus whatever frustration you may be feeling towards building the best post-spousal relationship you can with this person.