By Jerald Young, Ph.D.
This article answers the question, “Now that the divorce is final, what’s so wrong about sitting back and taking it easy?” If I want to enjoy my life after divorce, what should my mindset be for divorce recovery ? Getting divorced was pretty much about reacting to what the other side did. Recovering from divorce is more about taking action on the post-divorce issues and problems in order to create a successful life after divorce.
(This is the 14th 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.)
Active or Passive: What will You Choose?
After the divorce is final, you are at the proverbial “Y in the road.” Cheesy as that phrase might be, it is accurate in describing the basic mindset choice everyone who gets divorced must make: (1) Should I take a passive role in my recovery, roll with the punches, and let time heal the hurt? Or, (2) should I take an active role and work through all the roadblocks and issues that are preventing me from finding contentment in my life after divorce?
It is not easy to choose the healthy and happy path for your life after divorce. But the passive alternative, though easy to make, will bring you a lifetime of unmet expectations and regret. The choice is yours to make. What will it be?
Our Culture Tells You to Be Passive
The dictates of our culture are passed down to us primarily by our family, friends, loved ones, teachers, coaches, religious leaders, TV, and movies. The consistent message we get tells us to take the passive route since there is nothing you can do to heal the pain except let enough time pass.
My sister-in-law took the passive route. Several years before I me her, she got divorced. Her husband had had a very public affair with a friend of my sister-in-law. She was mortified. Every time her ex was mentioned in casual conversation, she always had something cynical or critical to say about him. She wouldn’t let it go. She never had another long-term, committed relationship. Twenty-five years later she died of cancer. If time were to heal her hurt, certainly 25 years should have been enough. It wasn’t.
The time-honored prescription of passively doing nothing and letting time heal the trauma doesn’t work. The trauma just settles deeper and deeper within us and then leaks out sideways when something happens that triggers the pain and fear from the past.
The Alternative Path: Be an Active Participant in Your Recovery
Thanksgiving dinner does not magically materialize on the dining table ready to be served. A lot of time and work go into the preparation of the traditional autumn feast.
Likewise, a successful divorce recovery requires time, work, and preparation in order to attack and dissolve your reluctance to let go of the pain of the divorce and the attachments to how life used to be.
This reluctance is mainly emotion-based resistance to change.
Emotion-based resistance can arise from several sources. For example, fear, loss, grief, anger, resentment, crashed self-confidence and esteem, shame, embarrassment, failure, dashed dreams, and vanished hope are but a few of the issues prohibiting you from having a satisfying life after divorce. These problems will not magically resolve and go away by themselves.
Therefore, you need a plan of attack designed to dissolve each source of resistance. What works with this type of resistance to change initially is empathy followed by a structured way to confront the fear of an unknown future, identify actual losses suffered, and then dissolve away the distress over what was actually lost. Depending upon time alone to achieve this is folly.
What “Active” Choices Do You Have?
Two common ways people take action to address these issues are divorce support groups and therapy. While both are better than the passive choice to let time heal everything, neither support groups nor therapy provide the targeted resistance-dissolving action needed.
A better active choice is to tailor your work to the specific “roadblocks” caused by divorce that you must deal with. This can be done by working with a divorce recovery coach.
So, What’s the Point?
Passive is easy. Active is hard.
However, if you want to recover from your divorce and the trauma it caused, you must take positive action to solve the specific problems caused by your divorce. These problems will not solve themselves. You must take control of your future by actively dealing with the current damage your divorce has caused.
The alternative? Run the risk of waiting 25 years for them to “fix themselves” and ending up wasting the rest of your life like my sister-in-law did.