This article answers the question, “Is there a roadmap to follow that will help me make a full and complete recovery from divorce without having to lug traumatic baggage around the rest of my life?” Whether life after divorce is satisfying and rewarding or painful and debilitating depends on how effective your efforts are to recovery from divorce. The current outlook is not very rosy. What will it take to turn things around?
Poor Track Record for the Most Common Approaches to divorce Recovery
The three most common approaches to facilitate recovery from divorce are divorce support groups, individual psychotherapy, and the simple passage of time.
The success of these three approaches is abysmal. Sixty-six percent of 2nd marriages and 75% of 3rd marriages also ending in divorce. In addition, long-term distrust and animosity between ex-spouses is common which does not bode well for the hoped-for trauma-free effects of the divorce on their children.
Obviously, something is wrong with how divorce recovery is currently being practiced.
The Problem of Not Knowing What the Problem Is
The core issue originates from a hazy understanding of the problem divorced people face. Is it the mental problem of depression? Is it an emotional problem of being overwhelmed with a witch’s brew of feelings, including sadness, anger, disappointment, fear, grief, abandonment, resentment, bitterness, rejection, shame, humiliation, embarrassment, worry, etc.? Is it impatience with how long it takes to forget the painful event?
Individual psychotherapy attempts to treat the nebulous problem of “depression.” divorce support groups attempt to treat the non-specific problem of “emotional upset.” And adherents to the passage-of-time approach treat the vague problem of “not enough time has passed yet” by prescribing “let more time pass.”
None of the three approaches specifies a clearly defined problem nor a clear plan of action to solve it.
What is needed is a clearly defined roadmap or plan that specifies the steps to take to solve the problems inherent in making a recovery from divorce.
A New Approach to the Problem
Recent work by this author has identified the core problem to be an almost universal tendency of divorced people to resist making the necessary changes to thrive in their new life situation imposed on them by their divorce. That is, the problem is resistance to change.
This is good news.
We know about resistance to change and there is a roadmap to follow to dissolve it. Plus, the process of dissolving resistance to change also addresses the emotion-based issues raised by two of the other approaches to divorce recovery.
Recovery from divorce unfolds in three stages:
(1) STABILIZE your emotional reactions to your divorce and to your ex;
(2) RELEASE your fear of an unknown future and your distress over your losses; and
(3) PREPARE for your next committed relationship so that you don’t get divorced again.
Within these stages are the 10 steps in a roadmap to recovery. Each step is designed to identify and address a core problem unique to the divorce transition process that threatens your recovery. Here is a short description of each of the 10 steps.
The First Stage: Stabilize Your Reactions to the Divorce
In this stage you begin to dissolve the emotion-based reactions you are having to the divorce, to your ex, and to your current life after divorce. You also begin to reduce your attachments to “how life used to be.” The steps of the first stage are:
Step 1: Disentangle Yourself from Your Ex. You are entering a new, exciting stage of your life. It is now time to take stock of your reactions to your current life after divorce and start separating your life as it used to be from the life it is now becoming.
Step 2: Acknowledge the Trauma That Was Caused. Divorce is a traumatic incident in your life. You must identify what was injured and treat it in order to prevent it from defining the rest of your life. Like Marcia Salmon notes, ” divorce is an incident, not a lifestyle.”
Step 3: Accept Your Ambivalence about. You did not get married to your ex because you hated him or her. There were good times. There were also the not-so-good times. Getting divorced causes ambivalence and second thoughts which need to be identified and dealt with.
Step 4: Clarify Your Goals for the Transition. In the vast majority of the cases, people choose goals for their divorce recovery that virtually guarantee failure. What you need are goals that will lead to a successful life after divorce.
The Second Stage: Dissolve Reluctance to Accept Your New Life Situation
In this stage you remove the barriers to a successful transition. One barrier lodged in the past is your reluctance to give up the good things you enjoyed from your past life with your ex. The other barrier, tied to the future, is the fear of the unknown, the fear of not knowing what the future will bring. Working in tandem, these two barriers create an extraordinarily strong resistance to change. In this stage you dissolve away this naturally occurring resistance and eliminate your reluctance to accept and embrace your new life situation. The steps of this stage are:
Step 5: Dissolve the Effects of Fear. Fear of an unknown future keeps us stuck in the past. You must reduce that fear in order to embrace your future with hope and happiness.
Step 6: Dissolve the Effects of Loss. All life transitions, wanted or unwanted, result in some loss. divorce is no different. However, almost all of us think we have lost more than we actually have. Don’t grieve it if you didn’t lose it.
Step 7: Bring the Relationship with Your Ex to Completion. All relationships end with important things left unexpressed. Figuring out what those things are and dealing with them free you up to move on without the baggage that divorce creates.
The Third Stage: Prepare for Your Future
In this stage you take what you’ve learned from the divorce process and envision a new life that is satisfying and rewarding. The steps of this stage are:
Step 8: Prepare for a Relationship. A successful relationship requires that you get what you need. You must engage your head in addition to your heart if you want your next committed relationship to succeed.
Step 9: Recalibrate Your Life and Create the New You. Divorce offers you an unprecedented opportunity to redefine who you are and how you want to live the next chapter in your life in the most personally meaningful way. Your challenge is to take advantage of this chance to start over with a clean slate.
Step 10: Use the Past to Plan Your Future. Now is the time to take what you have learned and lay out your map for a happy, productive life after divorce. Like Antoine de Saint-Exupery said, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.”
So, What’s the Point?
You have been given an unprecedented second chance at having a happy and fulfilling life. Statistics tell us that without a roadmap to guide you through your resistance to change, that opportunity is doomed to fail. However, if you follow the roadmap outlined in the 10 steps above, you have an excellent chance of turning what was the worst experience in your life into the best thing that could ever have happened to you.