Cheryl H. Litzke, Ph.D., LMFT

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Grieving and Growing Through Divorce: 5 Steps to Weathering Your Heart's Winter

Posted on January 1, 2014 at 9:50 AM

In the winter, flowers die. Grass too. It all shrinks and shrivels—not because something was done wrong, but because it’s necessary for future growth. This, too, is the story of divorce.

But it doesn’t feel like it. Divorce doesn’t feel natural, like winter’s frost. It feels like a death, a terribly tragic, unbelievable, please-wake-me-from-this-nightmare death. That’s how many divorcees describe it, and they’re right to feel so broken. It means their hearts were truly invested.

Divorce isn’t always necessary, but when it is, it takes a toll on all parties involved. Often, even the meanest and most volatile couples are coming from a place of hurt and loss: loss of a valued investment and hurt over a perceived failure. The cocktail of emotion is enough to break down the sanest of the sane, the strongest of the strong. It truly is a type of death, so it must be mourned.

Accept that it is necessary

If, after soul searching and repeated consultation, you know divorce is necessary, open your heart fully to that realization. Part of the trauma of divorce is the barrage of what-ifs. What if I just need to try harder? What if I just need to be patient? What if I just need to be kinder/cooler/better/richer/skinnier/prettier/stronger? If it’s simply a matter of your impatience or lack of effort, a divorce may not be in order, but if the issue runs deeper than anything you could fix, lay the what-ifs aside and stand in your truth: This has to happen.

Give in to the sadness

Unfortunately, accepting the necessity of it all doesn’t erase pain. It’s going to hurt, and that’s okay. Don’t deny it. You can’t fully move on until you allow the rush of sadness and pain to pass through. Sure, you can hold it back for a while, but dams are only so strong. Allow it to flow without restriction so there is room for growth and renewal.

Take ownership

Ownership does not mean to internalize the dysfunction of the relationship. (Please don’t do that.) Ownership means to acknowledge your weaknesses, whatever they are, and see any contributions they may have made to the deterioration of the marriage. No, this isn’t fun work, but it is quite beneficial to the person you are becoming. Anyone can point and blame, but to see your own contribution is the only way to build a better, wiser version of yourself.

Search for the good and cherish it

Surely, it wasn’t all bad, was it? Whatever good that came from your marriage, whatever happiness you derived (no matter how short lived), cherish it. This makes it easier to forgive, if necessary, and easier to see that your ex isn’t the big, fat monster he or she may seem to be in the moment.

What’s done is done. Discrediting the happy memories doesn’t change the amount of time and energy you invested in the relationship. Remind yourself that it wasn’t a waste. Some level of good DID exist in your relationship. For that, give thanks.

See it a reclaiming of your happiness

When a divorce is necessary, the happiness has gone. This is your first step in reclaiming it. Congratulate yourself for that. It won’t be a quick or easy task, but it will pay off in the end. Far too many people go through life with their happiness stolen. They let other people, past experiences, and internal dialogue steal away their joy and hold it captive. You have chosen differently. That’s no small feat. Some would rather live in misery than try something new. You have been brave enough to choose the latter.

Believe in your decision. Believe in your resilience. Believe in your strength. It may not feel like it now, but know that flowers will grow again.

 

Bio: Nadirah Angail is an author, editor, and marriage and family therapist. She lives in Kansas City, Missouri and often blogs on love and relationships. She is the mother of two young children, but somehow finds the time to interact with readers on Facebook and Twitter. Visit nadirahangail.com to learn more.

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