It's finally over. The wrangling with lawyers, the fight over finances, the decisions about custody arrangements and the debate over who owns the newer car are done. As you settle into your apartment or reorganize your home, you can't help but think, "Now what?" Well-meaning friends and family members, worried that you will be alone and lonely, urge you to get back into the dating pool. Don't. Not yet. Not until you've done some serious personal recovery work.
Being newly divorced is a time of grieving. Yes, grieving. Even if you are relieved, even if you've spent months or years trying to get out of a toxic relationship and especially if you didn't want the divorce, an important chapter in your life is now over. You are freed from the relationship -- it's true. But you've also suffered some losses. Your identity as a partnered person is over for now. Your future as you thought it would be has been changed. You may have lost your home. There are some people you thought of as friends who have sided with your ex. Others who are coupled don't seem to know how to include a newly single friend in couple-oriented activities and have dropped out of your life. Still others are afraid that divorce is contagious and have distanced themselves. Such losses deserve respect and mourning. To skip right over your feelings of loss, anger, regret, or sadness is to deny yourself an important chapter in healing.
This is also a time for self-reflection. Relationships start with attraction, hope and optimism. Two people move to commitment in the belief that they can make a life together. What happened? The end of a relationship is rarely entirely one person's fault. If you don't take the time to think about your end of the breakdown, you are in danger of repeating the same errors in judgment, thinking, or behaviors that contributed to the relationship's demise.
It's a useful exercise to try to write the story of the slide to divorce as if you are entirely at fault. Not that it is your fault entirely -- of course it's not. But honestly thinking about a story that assigns all responsibility to yourself will show you where perhaps you did make mistakes. Did you ignore red flags at the beginning? Were you so desperate to be in a relationship that you blinded yourself as to who the other person truly is? Did you cave to family pressure to not let this one go? Did you fall into repeating negative aspects of your parents' relationship? Did you give in too much or too little? Do you snuff your own needs and feelings? Are you too angry, too possessive, too passive, too giving? Whatever "too" you are is something to work on. As the old saying goes, "Those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it."
Your inner work isn't complete until you can move to a place of forgiveness -- of your ex and of yourself. If you are still angry with your ex, you are still involved with her or him. You can't move cleanly into a new relationship until you are emotionally freed from the old one. No, you don't have to forget all the mean things that were said or selfish things that were done. You don't have to pretend that your ex is a better person than she or he is. But stepping back to see how your ex is also reverberating from the past or handicapped by unresolved issues can help you have some compassion and perhaps come to a forgiving place.
Finally, forgive yourself. If you are furious with yourself for having spent months or years in a painful relationship, if you are calling yourself stupid for being blind or for allowing yourself to be manipulated, controlled, or cowed, you are still engaged in the relationship. Yes, acknowledge your part, but then move to a more compassionate self-understanding. Forgive your younger you who was less mature, more impulsive, or less wise. Mourn the experience, learn from it, and forgive and you're ready to move on.
Follow Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/MHartwellWalker