Do you feel like your divorce recovery is taking way too long? Take a look at why you feel that way and what to do about it.
My first counselor told me that the trending opinion of therapists about divorce recovery was that it usually takes about one year of recovery for every five to seven years of marriage. I shot back, “I don’t have that long. I’m 53 years old and I’ve been married 33 years! I might be dead by then!”
Other divorce recovery experts advised to expect one month of recovery for every year you were together. That would have put me at about three years of recovery. I shook my head. Still too long.
The recovery work of breakups – especially divorce – is difficult, complicated and long.
The unique grief of heartache is hard work. You feel like crap. You wonder if you’ll ever be happy again. Nothing tastes good. You can’t sleep. Concentration is almost impossible. You sigh a lot.
Here’s the deal: Recovery from a breakup, especially after a long marriage, always takes longer than we want it to and longer than we think it will. And according to our friends and family, longer than it should. People who care about us (who haven’t been through divorce) just want us to hurry up and feel better.
The grief and recovery work you have to do especially after a divorce you didn’t want is complicated. You have to grieve the loss of not just your partner, but the loss of your dreams, the loss of what you thought your future would be, the loss of connections and traditions that went along with your marriage.
Family and Friends Often Just Don’t Get What Divorce Recovery Involves
People who have no experience with a breakup after a long-term relationship say dumb things like, “Just get over it. You’re better off without him (or her.)” Or they give advice like, “You need to move on!” “You should be over this by now!” Or the worst: “You need to start dating.”
Here’s a tip: If the person who is advising you has never been in your shoes, where the person you have invested your life energy and time and love into for 10 or 20 or 33 years like me, they simply don’t get the devastation and loss you feel.
They don’t understand your despair that your partner didn’t think you were worth being faithful to. Or that you weren’t fun enough or sexy enough or attentive enough or smart enough to stay married to. And not only that, by the time you find this out, they have usually already hooked up with someone who fits their new definition of who they want.
Our Culture Is Unrealistic About Divorce and Recovery
Another roadblock to recovery is that our culture doesn’t get it either. In the movies, you seldom see the children having to shuffle back and forth between Mom’s house and Dad’s house and wonder “where is my house?” Our screens seldom show the dysfunction that is the norm with many divorces. There is rarely the mortgage that can’t be paid, or the second job or dealing with how complicated every single holiday or family function becomes.
Celebrities show up together holding hands and do “Conscious Uncoupling” as Gwyneth Paltrow and her husband did… and who are now “better friends than we’ve ever been.” Really?!
Plus, there are no cultural rituals to get closure. There is acceptance, but as you’ve probably heard, there is no closure like there would eventually be if your partner had died. With divorce you have to keep seeing the body over and over again and your ex is usually beaming because he or she is finally with “the love of my life” while you’re still in the “fetal position” stage of grief.
If your spouse had just passed away, there wouldn’t be all the doubts about yourself or your worthiness or your faults. You wouldn’t have to realize that they wanted to be in someone else’s bed instead of yours. You wouldn’t keep second-guessing yourself and obsessing about what you could have done differently or what they are doing together now.
On top of that, our culture doesn’t give us time off for divorce grieving or divorce recovery. We’re expected to be able to move on with no trouble at all. If your spouse dies, you get some time to deal with that. Not so with divorce. No one’s dead even though it feels like you are, even though you’re still breathing.
After Divorce, There Is No Straight Line of Recovery
Divorce recovery work means you have to go through those aggravating “Steps of Grief” on that little card your therapist gives you. It looks so neat and tidy, but in reality it is all tornado and desperation. Those five little steps look like they should take a week, maybe, to get through when in reality it can take years; and even then, one day in the future, you find yourself back at the anger stage all over again.
The (not so simple) Steps of Grief:
- Letting Go
Divorce grief doesn’t mean you do a Step of Grief one day and cross it off the list and move on. Steps you’ve already crossed off sneak back in when you hear a favorite song or see a couple laughing and kidding around. Or something out of the blue slaps you down just before an important meeting, and you find yourself trying to pull yourself together in the bathroom at work.
The despair and rage and exhaustion you feel is hard enough, but then you start feeling incompetent that you’re not dealing with this more quickly. Just remember: divorce recovery means lamenting the loss of not just your partner, but the loss of your dreams, the loss of what you thought your future was going to look like, the loss of relationships and connections that went along with your marriage. Those are losses that change almost everything about your life.
Deciding to Get Better
So, now that we’ve explained how difficult it is to get over a divorce, let’s face the fact that we have to get better, or else we condemn ourselves (and people who love us) to a life of heartache and self-pity, which isn’t a pretty picture. In fact, setting up your tent in “Camp Misery” forever would be a tragedy. Sadly, some people end up there.
10 Practical Steps That Will Speed Up Your Recovery After Divorce
- Take care of yourself physically: (Those things you know, but need to do!)
- Move forward at your own pace. Be kind to yourself.
- Simplify your life as much as possible.
- Hit the pause button on non-essential obligations.
- Hit the pause button on relationships that are not helping you move forward.
- Avoid numbing yourself with drugs, alcohol, shopping, constant activity.
- Find a few supportive people who will let you be yourself through the process.
- Set boundaries on your grieving. Set a timer. Don’t let grief seep into every minute.
- Give yourself a “Wallow Weekend” or an all-day pity party.
- Go to church. It can provide the connection, encouragement and inspiration you need.
Decide you’re not going to let one dumb person destroy your life, and then get help to make that decision a reality. I heard this comment from someone in one of my 10-Week RADiCAL divorce recovery classes: “If our partner is dumb enough to leave, we have to be smart enough to let them go.” Get help with that process.
To get started, check out my bio below and visit my website for a FREE 10-day online Divorce Recovery CRASH COURSE.