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Category: Loss & Grief

We need to let go of the past we no longer need – while keeping that which is still valuable.

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 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?