After a divorce, feelings of rejection are common. When a long-term relationship comes to an end, the pain of rejection is often severe for the person who has been left. It may be unreasonable for the person to feel this sense of rejection but it is severely debilitating none the less.
When my husband of 32 years betrayed me and lied to me, a sense of rejection was one of the hardest emotions to overcome. The warning signs had been there for some time – subconsciously I was aware that our marriage was in trouble. I remember waking up one morning and thinking “I’m in an unhappy marriage”. My father and mother were a perfect example of a happily married couple and the idea of divorce was foreign to me. Even admitting to myself that I was not happy felt taboo. I quickly brushed the thought aside. Financial difficulties had put a great strain on our relationship and when my husband moved away from home to take up a job, the cracks started to show.
The shock of discovery
The day inevitably came when I had to face the fact that he was having an affair. My humiliation was public as photos taken by the other woman appeared on Facebook. My friends saw them before I did and had the unenviable job of breaking the bad news. What I had subconsciously suspected was now a reality and my body went into shock as it absorbed the truth. This was not way our story was supposed to end.
Rejection sets in
Once the initial feelings of shock and disbelief wore off, the relentless sense of rejection set in. I did not think I would battle so much with this feeling but it was more insidious than I imagined. If someone who had once loved me so much did not love me anymore, there had to be a good reason. Where had I gone wrong? Could I have done anything different? Was I unlovable?
Helen Fisher, an anthropologist who has studied the chemistry of romantic love says “We humans are soft-wired to suffer terribly when we are rejected by someone we adore – for good evolutionary reasons.” Scans of heartbroken individuals show activity in the same area that’s active when a person experiences other forms of physical pain – like toothache. Evolutionary psychologists believe that experiencing rejection as physical pain gave our ancestors an evolutionary advantage. If they experienced pain on rejection, they were more likely to modify their behavior and remain in the tribe where they were safer.
Finding ways to cope
1. Accept what has happened
I lived with a sense of unreality for some time after my divorce. However, I was also determined not to remain stuck and I knew I had to accept my new reality. A friend of mine went through a divorce years ago and she still thinks her husband will come back to her although he has moved on long ago. I needed to accept that my plans for the future were irrevocably altered and would not include my ex-husband.
2. Realize that it’s normal
Rejection is a perfectly normal feeling following a divorce. It may not be reasonable but it is normal. Certain social experiments have shown that when people are rejected by others who don’t even know them, they still feel pain. This pain becomes overwhelming when it’s someone you know and love.
3. Recognize that you need to go through it
You can’t just wave a magic wand and expect the feeling of rejection to disappear. It will eventually fade but you need to go through it to move beyond it. You may try to distract yourself from your pain with food, alcohol, drugs or medication but it does not disappear. If you recognize that you have to go through it, this is a step towards your personal growth.
4. Don’t feel that it’s all your fault
You have to realize that your marriage involved two people and you cannot take the full responsibility for your divorce. The person who has rejected you is influenced by his past, his present circumstances, his values and his world view. Just because your relationship has come to an end does not mean it’s your fault. Before you end up criticizing and blaming yourself, consider that it is as much about what is going on in your ex-spouse’s life as it is about you.
5. Embark on a process of self-discovery
You are a unique person with your own purpose and talents. Just because your marriage is over does not mean you are inferior or inadequate. You are worthwhile in your own right. Your self-esteem has taken a knock and much of your energy is being used to process all the emotions. That’s why you question yourself and why it’s so important to rediscover what you love about yourself.
It helps to pursue interests you may have enjoyed before you were married that you gave up because your partner did not enjoy them. Picking up an old hobby may help you to rediscover facets of yourself that are undeveloped. Enjoying new experiences is another way to overcome the negative emotions, like rejection, associated with divorce. One of my unexpected pleasures now is to jump on my bicycle and go for a ride (I was given the bicycle by good friends after the divorce). It helps me to recapture the sense of freedom I used to feel as a child. Taking up writing again has gone a long way to helping me rediscover myself and come to terms with my divorce.
6. Share your feelings
Speak to someone you trust about how you feel. It is easy to start thinking irrationally when thoughts are continually churning around in your mind. When we share our feelings with someone else, perspective tends to return. If you don’t feel free to share your thoughts with family or friends, go for counseling or join a support group. If you have no-one with whom you can share your feelings, it will be more difficult to find healing.
7. Find supportive relationships
We all have a need to belong. When we get rejected, this need becomes destabilized. Friendships change when a marriage breaks up and you may lose some of your ‘couple’ friends. I kept most of my ‘couple’ friends but the relationships did go through a shift. We used to all get together on Saturday nights and although I was still invited, I was now the odd one out and it made me very conscious of how different my life had become from theirs. I found other ways of being with them that were easier for me – I would visit them individually for tea or go out for breakfast with them.
Fortunately I have a supportive family and I am lucky enough to still have my children close by. Being with those who accept and support me really helps to ease the feelings of rejection.
Some divorced people start dating to boost their self-confidence. It does work for some, but for others it makes things worst. If you do start dating, just be sure you are ready to accept more rejection.
Don’t be defined by your divorce
You don’t have to be defined by your divorce. Don’t develop a victim mentality. Focus on what you can control and what you can change. Get a new haircut, buy some new clothes, set some new goals – not because you want to get your ex back but because you believe you are worth it.