By Jerald Young, Ph.D.
This article answers the question, “Did I really lose everything I think I lost?”
Are you sometimes overwhelmed by everything you have lost in your divorce? Have you ever wondered if you will ever get passed the grief and get on with your life? It doesn’t have to be this way! Read why the picture is almost always rosier than it feels.
Divorce recovery is tough enough without our making it unnecessarily difficult, isn’t it? Aren’t the losses we endure quite enough to deal with without adding more imagined losses to the pile? The obvious answer to these questions is, of course, “Yes.” However, we routinely ignore the obvious when dealing with the fallout from our divorce and increase the difficulty of our recovery by assuming imaginary losses to be real.
Our Emotion-Bases Reactions to Divorce Exaggerate Our Perceived Losses
Divorce brings distress over what we have lost. It also brings a fear of an unknown future. These heightened emotion-based reactions cause us to exaggerate what our actual losses are. Minor issues become huge problems. The real issues get lost in the fog of perception and imagination. Our vision of the situation gets distorted and it becomes virtually impossible to see and solve the divorce recovery problems we are facing. Thus, we routinely think we have lost much more than we have. This makes an already difficult situation even more difficult. It doesn’t need to be this way.
Intangible Losses Are Harder to Grieve than Tangible Losses
Loss comes in two types – tangible and intangible. Tangible losses hurt. Losing the house, car, financial security, or the comfort of the daily family routine is not fun. But at least the nature of the problem is clear and how to solve the problems is known. It is the intangible losses in the form of lost hopes, dreams, and cherished beliefs that cause the most havoc. They are not as clear cut, or obvious and, therefore, are most vulnerable to exaggeration and distortion.
For example, some of the most common laments I hear from recently divorced folks are, “I will NEVER find true love again. I will ALWAYS be alone.” “My best years are BEHIND me.” These people have assumed that their original dream of living a fulfilling life with someone they love and want to grow old with is now utterly IMPOSSIBLE. The loss feels overwhelming. A typical reaction is to jump to the conclusion that we will NEVER realize our hopes and dreams without our ex as our partner.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
A Personal Experience with Unnecessarily Grieving an Imagined Loss
I carry around a picture album in my head with all of my hopes and dreams for the future. We all do. Several years ago, I was married to Anne. I had a picture in my head of what my retirement was going to look like. There was a cabin on the side of a mountain in North Carolina with a huge porch overlooking a big valley with a clear-water stream running through it. Anne and I are sitting in rocking chairs watching three of our grand kids jump on and off the porch, on and off our laps. A pretty picture.
Then reality struck. One afternoon Anne came home and announced, “I want a divorce.” I was devastated, partly because a divorce meant I would never realize my dream of a picture-perfect retirement cabin in North Carolina.
A few days later while grieving the loss my North Carolina retirement dream, I realized, “Wait a minute! I CAN have the cabin in North Carolina if I want it! North Carolina is not going anywhere. The cabin will still be there. Rocking chairs are plentiful.” I did not lose the entire picture. I DID NOT lose my dream. I only lost the person in the picture sitting next to me. I could still have my dream environment, and if I choose to, I could share it with someone new.
The realization that my personal hopes and dreams for the future were not lost was powerful. It gave me some much-needed control over my grieving and divorce recovery process.
So, What’s the Point? Don’t Grieve It If You Didn’t Lose It!
We do not have to grieve anything we did not lose! We can focus on our actual losses, and not waste our time and energy on the imaginary ones.
What I suggest you do when dealing with the loss that comes with divorce, is figure out what you are truly going to lose and grieve ONLY what you actually lost. Ask yourself, “Am I really going to lose all of it? Or, just a part of it? Could it be that I am not going to lose it at all?” You probably should ask a friend to provide a “reality check” to help determine if your assessment of the losses is accurate.
If you do this, your transition from divorce hell to a satisfying, successful life after divorce will be easier, faster and less traumatic. You will also feel some much needed control over your recovery from divorce.