5 Things to do After a Divorce
Almost half of all marriages in the U.S. end in divorce. This statistic can sound very bleak when you’re entering into a new marriage, but if you’re navigating the difficulties of divorce, knowing that you’re in good company can be comforting. Divorce is a difficult situation, and like marriage, couples should never decide to divorce without taking time to carefully consider the decision. I’m Dr. Michael Stokes, a relationship therapist working with couples at Rhode Island Sex Therapy. If you’re struggling after the end of your marriage, consider these five things you can do after a divorce to start healing and moving forward.
1 – Forgive Yourself
First and foremost, divorce is not a failure. Sometimes, marriages just don’t work out. At the end of the day, not being able to make a marriage work isn’t anything to be ashamed of or make yourself feel bad about. It will hurt, but you don’t need to take all of the blame on yourself. So, take a deep breath. Accept that your marriage ended. Take responsibility for your role in the relationship breakdown. Now, tell yourself – it’s okay. You are forgiven. You are still a valuable person with love to give, and you deserve to be satisfied in your relationships.
2 – Forgive Your Ex
Now that you’ve forgiven yourself, it’s time to forgive your partner. Even if you’re angry. Even if you don’t want anything to do with them, you can still choose to forgive them. Forgiveness will look different for everyone, and in some cases, you don’t even need to tell your ex that you forgive them. Instead, consider how healing it can be to let go of the anger, resentment, and pain. Choose to forgive your ex for the injuries they caused, their failures, and the ways they let you down in the marriage. Then, allow yourself to let go of the negative emotions and start moving on.
3 – Grieve
Once you’ve forgiven your partner and yourself for your roles in the end of your relationship, it’s time to really process the loss. The end of a relationship, just like any other loss, will take an emotional toll, and it’s important to recognize your loss and make time to grieve. The grieving process may involve crying and eating a pint of ice cream in one sitting while flipping through your wedding album. Let yourself feel your feelings. Give yourself permission to wallow. Then, make a point of looking to the future and the opportunities ahead of you.
One form of grieving you may want to consider after divorce is a marriage dissolution ritual. Think of this like a funeral for your partnership (as morbid as that sounds). These grieving events are usually just for the couple and any children or close family members who may be impacted by the end of a marriage. They give the involved parties a chance to apologize for the pain and loss, say good bye, grieve together, and end the relationship with peace and grace. Marriage dissolution ceremonies are also a great opportunity to celebrate the good aspects of your marriage. Share happy memories, and especially if children are involved, make sure they know you cherish the gifts of the marriage and will always love them. Parents may also want to include a commitment to communicate with respect for the good of your family. It may sound silly, but creating these moments to celebrate letting go and moving forward can be very healing.
4 – Work on Your Goals
You’ve forgiven yourself and your ex. You’ve grieved. Now what? For many people deciding what comes after the end of a marriage feels overwhelming or depressing, but I encourage individuals to flip their thinking. After a divorce, your life is filled with options. Change is never easy, but it can be a positive thing. Embrace the fact that your life is going to change and start working toward goals that you’ve put on hold. You’ll be surprised how good it can feel to lean into the change and start transforming your life for the better.
5 – Minimize Fallout & Don’t Make Rash Decisions
While I encourage working toward your personal goals and enjoying the opportunities inherent in this big life change, I also caution people not to go overboard, especially not in the first few months after a marriage ends. The initial instinct for many people is to seek revenge or “win” the divorce. That may look like jumping into unhealthy relationships, making big purchases, moving across the country, and other rash decisions that might end up making you feel worse instead of better. Make sure you’re taking time to heal and process your grief before making big life decisions.
Bonus – Schedule Therapy
Not sure how to forgive? Can’t break out of the cycle of grief? Having difficulty determining whether you’re working toward positive change or making rash decisions? This is all completely normal after a divorce. If you’re struggling, you don’t have to do it alone. Don’t hesitate to contact me if you’re interested in individual or couples therapy sessions following a divorce. These sessions may be an important part of your healing process that allows you to move forward and find some peace and stability again. Let’s get started.