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Category: 2. Release the Past

How does resistance to change sabotage our recovery and how can we overcome it?

Divorce Recovery and Loss – Are You Grieving “Losses” You Never Lost?

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 past 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.

If you are still in a marriage that doesn’t seem to be working out even after putting in all the efforts, then, perhaps it’s time to talk to a family divorce attorney to start the process of divorce.

Divorce Transition Success: 7 Tips for How to Make a Smooth Transition from Divorce

Making a transition from divorce is hard. The good news is YOU CAN DO IT. In fact, with some focused effort and a little help from your friends, you can make your divorce transition faster than you ever thought possible.

When I first got divorced, I was at a loss for how to handle it. I thought no one else had felt the shock and shame I felt. Nor did I realize I possessed the necessary personal resources to get through the transition process. I thought I had to make my “comeback” alone if I were to feel good about myself.

I knew I was afraid of venturing into an unknown future but I had no idea how to deal with it – especially the emotion-based reactions I was having. Nor did I realize the importance of dealing with all the hopes and dreams I had lost. In a nutshell, I was a basket case roaming free on an unsuspecting society.

Had I only known that what I was going through was similar to what millions of others had gone through – and the key to a successful transition from divorce had certain steps and phases that had to be walked through.

The following seven tips highlight what I did not know then, and describe what needs to be done in order to thrive in sculpting your next chapter of “life after divorce.”

Tip #1: You’re not unusual – You are not alone

Statistically, there are a lot of us. 40% of first marriages and 60% of all remarriages eventually end in divorce. Emotionally, everyone is pretty much in the same boat. Ambivalence rules the day. Roller coasters are the preferred method of emotional transport. Realistically, anyone you know whose has gone through, or is going through a divorce, can identify with the reactions you are having. You are not alone.

Tip #2: You can make a successful transition from divorce – because you have done it before

You say you haven’t been divorced before? Doesn’t matter. All transitions force us to go through the same process of change – whether it is losing a job, getting married, starting a family, death of a loved one. Whatever. What we’ve learned from these life experiences we can apply to making it through our current transition through divorce.

Tip #3: You already possess all the personal resources necessary to make a successful transition from divorce

Confidence, a sense of direction, and hope seem to be the first to go when making a divorce transition. But, not to worry. You have the ability to deal with it. More specifically, we gain confidence from successfully navigating past major life transitions where we:

  • Find stability of direction from our unique set of personal principles,
  • Obtain courage to press on from our personal sources of hope, and
  • Obtain reassurance that we are on the right track through a sense of gratitude for the good present in the current situation.

Tip #4: You need to recruit at least one “change buddy” for social support and feedback

We need to find people (or at least one person) we can lean on for emotional support and count on for objective feedback while we make our transition from divorce. These folks must have two important characteristics. They must have no personal agenda and they must be able to be honest with you. Only then can you count on their feedback as being objective.

Tip #5: You can and must dissolve the massive resistance to change that comes with divorce

Fear, loss, and uncertainty about what to do next sabotage our efforts to make a victorious transition from divorce. However:

  • We can handle our fear of the unknown future if we have a plan,
  • We can let go of how things used to be — even the good stuff — when we realize there is even more good stuff in the next chapter of our life after divorce, and
  • We can resolve our rational reservations for making a transition with old-fashioned problem solving.

Tip #6: You can and must use what you have learned from going through the divorce process to make your transition successful

Only by using your experience to clarify your future requirements, needs, and wants for our life after divorce, can you capitalize on the great opportunity divorce offers.

Tip #7: You must lay the groundwork for the many changes that will occur in order to make a successful divorce transition

Divorce brings change in our relationships, our health, our financial situation, and our opportunities for creativity and self expression. A successful divorce transition demands that we attend to and plan for this wide range of changes in order to fully and joyously embrace the next chapter in our life after divorce.

Divorce Recovery and Forgiveness: Busting the Myth of the Traditional Understanding of Forgiveness

By Jerald Young, Ph.D.

This article answers the question, “How can I ever forgive my ex after what I’ve been put through?”

Weary from people telling you that you should just forget and forgive your ex and move on with your life? Frustrated by how easy that sounds, but how difficult it is to do? Would you like a new way to “let go” of your ex without feeling you have absolved him or her for what he or she did to you? This article shows you a new way to deal with forgiveness that works without compromising your values or minimizing your experience.

We’ve all heard it before. “Forgive and forget.” “Turn the other cheek.” “Forgive them for they know not what they do.” “To err is human, to forgive divine.”

This is all well-intentioned advice, I’m sure. However, while it might look good on paper, or sound good in a sermon, forgiveness is not that simple for mortal human beings. Nike’s slogan, “Just Do It,” may work on the playing field, but it does not work in the field of human relationships, especially when dealing with divorce.

The Fundamental Difficulty in Forgiving Your Ex

I don’t know about you, but when I got divorced, these socially appropriate prescriptions for what I “should” do could not have been further from my mind. I felt angry, resentful, abandoned, apprehensive, disconsolate, frightened, furious, hurt, and overwhelmed, among others. Well-meaning advice telling me simply to forget it, forgive her, and move on was silly. However, that was all I heard!

Divorce, including recovery from divorce, is a life transition. It takes time. Likewise, letting go of our attachments to how things used to be takes time. This includes our attachments, both positive and negative, to our ex. Letting go of the emotional ties to another is not an act of logic and can’t be accomplished by making a rational decision.

A More Helpful, And Humane, Approach to Forgiveness

Then I ran on to a book by two educators and psychologists, Sydney and Suzanne Simon, entitled How to Make Peace with Your Past and Get on with Your Life. This book puts a human touch to forgiveness. It removed my guilt about not being able to make the simple decision to “forgive” my ex. For the first time I had a way to think about forgiveness that was truly useful. Their book laid out what forgiveness is, and what it is not, and in the process, pointed out the way to let go of the past so we can get on with our lives.

What Forgiveness Is Not

Simon and Simon point out that what all major religious traditions tell us about forgiveness is not scientifically true. That is, forgiveness is NOT
(1) a Clear-Cut, One-Time Decision that is usually communicated by some form of
(2) Public Pronouncement, preferably to the ex, in which we acknowledge a degree of
(3) Self Sacrifice by promising to
(4) Forget what was done to us, and offer
(5) Absolution to the perpetrator, while in the process giving the impression that we actually
(6) Condone what they did.

What Forgiveness Is

On the other hand, they tell us that Forgiveness IS (1) the By-Product of an 2) Ongoing, Internal, Healing Process in which, over time, we Let Go of the intense Emotions attached to incidents from our past with our ex.

Some outcomes of this “letting go” include the recognition that we no longer need our grudges, resentments, hatred, and self-pity. In addition, we no longer want to punish our ex who hurt us because we realize that nothing we do to punish our ex will heal us. That is, it is an “inside job.”

What Does This Means for You and Me?

Some consequences of treating forgiveness as the by-product of an ongoing healing process include:
(1) Don’t expect forgiveness to come all at once. The negative feelings will linger until they are “dissolved away.”
(2) We must take personal responsibility to engage in the healing process. Time alone will not do it. Making a public, or private, declaration will not do it.
(3) Well-meaning people will tell you to do stuff concerning forgiveness, and how you feel about your ex, that is just wrong. We must courteously ignore them while we go about healing ourselves.

The good news is, if we “do the work” required to heal from the pain of the divorce transition, one day we will wake up and realize it has been days or weeks since we had any strong feelings about our ex. This means forgiveness is complete.

So, what is “the work” we have to do? What does this “healing process” look like? Where can I go to get it started?