By Jerald Young, Ph.D.
This article answers the question, “What makes recovering from divorce so difficult?” A higher percentage of second and third marriages end in divorce than first marriages. If we actually learn from our divorce experience, the percentage of second and third divorces should decrease, not increase. If subsequent divorce rates are any indication, the track record of how well we recover from divorce is truly abysmal. Why is that?
(This is the 4th article in a series of articles describing how contentment and satisfaction with life after divorce depends on being able to dissolve the very human resistance to the changes that divorce imposes on our lives.)
A successful recovery from a divorce requires us to make the transition from being coupled with our spouse to being uncoupled and single again. Sounds straightforward. Dare I even say “easy?” Oh, were it only that simple!
How Desperately Will We Cling to the Status Quo?
A few months after my first divorce was final, my ex invited me to come visit our daughters for a week. I leapt at the offer. When I got there, my ex and I fell into the old, familiar daily routines we had lived for ten years, including rekindling intimacy as if we were still married.
In retrospect, I was still holding on to parts of “how life used to be,” the old status quo. This prevented me from taking advantage of all the good my new life situation offered and kept me locked up in my fantasy of the past.
We Fight to Maintain the Status Quo
Having a successful recovery from divorce demands: “You have to let go of your attachments to how life used to be. You must give up your attachment to the old status quo. You have to change.” However, we almost always reply, “No way! Not even if it would be in my best interests to do so. I am not going to do it!”
The status quo is the on-going, consistent existing state of affairs. In divorce terms, the status quo refers to the existing state of affairs before the divorce, that we had come to take for granted. The status quo promises predictability and reassures us of (the illusion of) control in our lives. It gives us a stable “foundation” for our life. Who wouldn’t be attracted to that? Who wouldn’t want to embrace and hold it dear?
We will cling fiercely to the stability promised by the status quo, even in the most dire situations, in order to prevent, or at least delay, the terrifying changes a divorce brings.
Once again, resistance to change wins.
Resistance to Change – The Root of All Divorce Recovery Evil
The Achille’s heel of a successful divorce recovery and the guardian of the status quo is simple, garden-variety resistance to change. And, even though dissolving our resistance to change is the one thing that will set us free to enjoy our life after divorce, we almost always refuse to do it.
What is resistance to change? It is the very human, emotion-based reluctance to accept a change in our lives, even if the change is for our own good. Change means casting the status quo aside and we just do not want to do that.
The emotion-based reluctance to accept a change is driven by two primary emotions, fear and loss: (1) our fear of an unknown future, and (2) our distress over what we have lost from how our life used to be. These emotions, fear and loss, spawn a whole host of related emotions that overwhelm us and paralyze most efforts to release our attachments to the memories of the past, the old status quo.
Resistance to change is present in every major life transition, including divorce. Its elimination is necessary to move on and thrive in your new life after divorce.
So, What Can You Do?
You must become hypervigilant and ruthlessly critical about your attachments to the status quo of your past. You should be willing to release your grip on the status quo and venture open-mindedly into the next chapter of your life, your future. You need to be courageous enough to figure out what specifically it is about your new set of life circumstances you are having trouble accepting. That is, you should determine what parts of your past life with your ex you are trying to drag along into your present life. In other words, you must make the effort to dissolve your resistance to change!
The stakes are high. If you don’t successfully recover from your divorce, the odds are over 60% that you will end up back in divorce court. And, the single most important thing you can do to successfully recover from your divorce is to release your death grip on the status quo and dissolve your resistance to change. Only then will it be possible for you to access and enjoy all the good that your new life offers.