By Jerald Young, Ph.D.
This article answers the question, “How will I know if I have fully recovered from my divorce?” I know. It sounds like a stupid question. Won’t I “just know?” However, it turns out that what most of us were told constituted a “successful recovery from divorce” was wrong. Not only wrong, but a major reason why second and third marriages have astonishingly high divorce rates of 66% and 75%, respectively. So, let’s start with the end in mind with the question: What will a “successful recovery from divorce” look like when you get there? At some point or another we all ask, “When can I be sure I have finally recovered from my divorce and can move on with my life unencumbered by debilitating baggage?”
The Traditional Measure of a Successful Divorce Recovery Is Wrong
Our culture defines the traditional measure of a successful recovery as: “You are recovered from divorce when you resume serious dating, find your next Mr. /Ms. Right, and enter into a committed relationship.”
Our friends and relatives probably urged us to start dating as soon as possible. “Get back out there and start dating to find your true Mr./Ms. Right.”
It is a very seductive criterion. If the trauma you suffered was caused by the failure of a committed relationship, wouldn’t it stand to reason that finding a new committed relationship is a signal that you have completed your recovery from divorce?
However, unlike what “conventional wisdom” tells us, a successful recovery from divorce does NOT mean finding the next Mr./Ms. Right!
Instead of helping us “get back up on the horse,” rushing to find the next Mr./Ms. Right causes us to “put the cart before the horse” with dire consequences. Finding your next life partner is what you do after you completely recover and have subsequently prepared for your next partner, if you so desire.
What Are the Consequences of Using the Traditional Measure of Recovery Success?
The most likely consequence of believing you have recovered as soon as you find your next committed partner is recreating your past relationship that ended in divorce. One of the values of divorce is to enable you to learn from your past relationships, and, using that knowledge, to choose differently the next time. To run out and seek a new committed relationship invites you to deny the enormity of the life transition divorce represents. As a result, you tend to shove the strong, divorce-related emotions beneath the surface and to avoid working through the very feelings that hold the key for making your next relationship successful.
What Is a True Measure of Your Recovery from Divorce?
If we use as the standard for a full and successful divorce recovery to be a satisfying, positive, and productive “life after divorce” that enables us to function well in all our relationships, then meeting the following eight criteria is necessary.
- Confident about the future.
Whether as an act of faith, or as a reasoned conclusion based on a lifetime of blessings in disguise, seeing the future as holding good things for you is essential for a full recovery.
- Content with present life as a single person.
You are OK as you are. You do not need to change your marital status to be OK. Success as a single person leads to success as a couple, if you so choose.
- Grateful for the past.
You are able to appreciate your past life experiences – all of them – including the marriage and divorce you are recovering from. You can learn from everything.
- No ill will toward ex.
Nothing locks us into a straitjacket of the past like continued anger towards your ex and how he/she “ruined your life.” Remember the saying: “Anger is defined as: Where I drink the poison and expect you to die.” (Anonymous)”
- Cooperative with ex for the sake of the kids.
Your kids’ development is a priority that transcends personal feelings about each other, or anyone or anything else. Being able to function effectively to manage the tasks of co-parenting is essential for a successful recovery.
- Prepared for a new relationship – NOT remarriage.
Getting remarried is not a sign that you have recovered from your divorce. You must learn from past relationships what you require versus what you want in future relationships. You must be able to distinguish between the contributions from your heart and the demands of your head when considering a new committed relationship.
- Confident about dating.
No one wants to get divorced again! Unfortunately, the statistics predict you will – unless you use a different process to choose your partner this time. Getting clear on how and why to do it differently is necessary for engendering confidence if and when you want to begin dating again.
- No personal attachments to ex.
Legal attachments cannot be removed, especially if you have kids. However, personal attachments can and should be dissolved in order to have a successful recovery from divorce. As long as we have tentacles reaching back to things in the past, it is impossible to take full advantage of what the present has to offer.
So, What’s the Point?
Actual recovery from divorce is more slippery than we might first think. It does not consist of the culturally promoted criteria of finding your next Mr./Ms. Right. Oh, were it only that simple!
Divorce recovery success actually is more complex than that and consists of meeting an interlocking collection of eight criteria that, taken together, reflect your readiness to move into the next chapter of your life, free from the baggage of the past and well-armed with a solid foundation of hope for the future.