While going through my divorce, I read many helpful books and received plenty of advice from other divorced women. Not all of the advice was helpful but I distilled what really did help me down to five statements that I call my post-divorce manifesto. I continue to remind myself of the following facts every day:
1. I won’t wonder ‘what if’? or hope that my ex will change his mind
You need to accept the reality of your situation. This is especially the case if you did not want the divorce. Once it has taken place, there is no point in imagining that your ex just needs to come to his senses. It serves no useful purpose to keep longing for what was. Some people torture themselves for months after a divorce, asking themselves questions like, ‘Why did this happen to me? Could I have prevented it by doing something differently? When did he stop loving me? It’s natural to think this way at first but at some point you need to accept what has happened. I have a divorced friend who has never managed to reach that place of acceptance. She is still believing that one day she and her ex will get back together, although he moved on long ago. She always encourages me to expect my ex to come back to me but I know I can’t afford to think this way as it anchors me firmly in the past and prevents me from creating a new life for myself. She is proof of the fact that acceptance does not necessarily come with time – it is a choice you have to make. Acceptance does not mean that are okay with what has happened to you. It simply means that you have accepted that it is a reality.
2. Just because he left me, does not mean I’m not ‘good enough’
It’s easy to battle with self-esteem when going through a divorce. Our marriage finally broke down when my ex had an affair. Recovering from the sense of rejection and betrayal has not been easy. When he left me, it affected my sense of self worth, desirability and my capacity to trust. I constantly have to remind myself that I am worthy of love.
I have seen how feelings of inadequacy after divorce can make people do everything they can to try and improve their bodies, from going to gym to pursuing cosmetic surgery. They strive in every way possible to prove that they are thriving and are ‘over’ their ex. I have seen how some immediately fall into another relationship to prove that they are still desirable. Unfortunately, these new relationships often don’t work because they have not taken time to work properly through the grief and pain. They have not really searched within themselves and experienced ‘wholeness’ as a single person. This means that they often enter the new relationship with the wrong motivations and expectations.
The pain of divorce can crush you or you can drive through it and discover who you really are. You may just find that you are stronger than you thought possible.
3. I choose to be grateful
I have made a decision to be grateful for what I have instead of longing for what I do not have. This is not always easy when you are going through dark days. However, I have found that even on the darkest of days, I can always find something to be grateful for. Before I even get out of bed in the morning, I try to think of at least five things I am grateful for – my children, my mother, a roof over my head, the air I breathe, food to eat …. There were days when I didn’t want to get out of bed because I felt there was no reason to do so. Now, when I start with my list of things I’m grateful for as soon as I open my eyes, it seems to give me the impetus I need to get out of bed and start the day. When you’re in a grateful frame of mind, you feel chinks of light in the darkness. I haven’t reached the place yet where the darkness has been dispelled but at least I have more control over my state of mind. There are many things that happen to us in life that we have no absolutely control over but we can choose how we respond.
You can choose to be bitter and trap yourself for years in a negative spiral or you can choose to take steps towards creating a good life for yourself. I have found that bitterness towards my ex ends up souring my life and I have been ruthless with myself in my attempts to avoid it. Sometimes this meant avoiding certain people who brought this out in me. When I first got divorced, I would get together with some other divorcees and we would trash our exes. I must admit that it did make me feel better for a while. There is inevitably anger and resentment that comes with divorce and getting it off your chest can feel good. After a while I realized, however, that my resentment towards my ex would spiral after such a session and before I knew it I was devoting all my energy to thinking about how much he had hurt me. I realized that devoting my attention to my ex kept me connected to him. I decided to devote my energy towards making a happy, healthy life for myself instead.
4. I do not need someone to complete me
Romantic novels and movies often suggest that you need a ‘soulmate’ to complete you. I always felt that my ex and I were a team. With the divorce, it was easy to feel that I was not as good on my own. Two ‘halves’ made a ‘whole’ and together we were a ‘whole’ so I was now a ‘half’. It took work to get over that hurdle. For years I had largely defined myself as a wife and a mother. I had to reach back to a time before marriage and children to rediscover parts of myself that had been buried for years. I cannot blame anyone else for the fact that I surrendered so much of myself and perhaps this contributed towards the eventual break up of my relationship. I now believe that it’s not two ‘halves’ that make a ‘whole’ in a relationship. Each individual in a partnership should be ‘whole’, without the need for someone to complete them, fix them or rescue them. If you are happy with who you are, the other person will simply enhance your already good life.
5. I choose to be a victor, not a victim
Divorce is a painful experience, even if both partners desire it. It is an experience you would not choose to go through if you had any other option. It’s proof that something went badly wrong in your life and can easily make you feel like a failure. Nobody gets married thinking that it won’t work out. You have to find a way to forgive yourself if it doesn’t work out and know that you did what you thought was best at the time. You also have to believe that you are not condemned to feeling unhappy for the rest of your life. Even though you may feel like a victim, it’s up to you not to let your divorce define who you are. Mourn your loss, take a day at a time, be gentle on yourself but at the same time, take full responsibility for your life and your happiness.