It’s not just children who must cope with feelings of loss after a divorce. When a marriage ends, each partner is left to struggle with a number of losses of their own. They often feel things like…
- A loss of security
- A lost sense of belonging
- A loss of love, intimacy, and affection
- A loss of hopes and dreams for the future
- A loss of certain possessions, along with any sentimental value they might bring
- The loss of a home and/or environment
- A loss of a way of life
- Lost economic status
- Loss of pets
- Loss of daily contact with children
- Loss of a sexual partner (at least temporarily)
- A loss of hopes and dreams for your children’s future
- A lost sense of direction and purpose in life
The sum of these losses can create much of the turmoil parents experience, and can also undermine a person’s sense of security or wellbeing. Loss is our long-standing nemesis; the dreaded shadow we’ve struggled against since infancy when we began forming attachments with people, things, and our environment in general. Divorce creates a number of changes in our life, all of which can feed into this sense of loss. The following tips help you cope with these feelings of loss.
General advice for dealing with loss after divorce
- Focus less on the ending and more on the adventure of the experience
People tend to disproportionately dwell on the way things end, often to the detriment of some wonderful experiences in the beginning and middle. Combat these feelings by reminding yourself of all you got out of the marriage, even if it may not have ended precisely the way you planned it:
- The marriage gave you some wonderful experiences. Even though it may have dealt some pain along the way, it also likely brought you some of your happiest and most memorable occasions.
- The marriage gave you what we hope is the most important and wonderful aspect of your life, and that’s the children.
- The marriage taught you many things about relationships – both the good and the bad, but all of it useful.
- The marriage was a learning experience that matured you in a number of ways.
- The marriage was an important chapter in your life that played a pivotal role in your self-identity.
- Don’t equate change with loss
Remind yourself that change doesn’t necessarily mean loss. Just because you’ve lost these dreams within this particular relationship, that doesn’t mean they’ve been lost altogether. In fact, with change often comes significant gain, even if it engages in a little bit of creative destruction in the short term.
- Recognize the value in failure
Remember the famous line by Thomas Edison. When asked how he had the perseverance to continue trying after so many failed attempts at his famous invention, he reportedly replied, “I didn’t fail, I just discovered 10,000 ways how NOT to make a light bulb.”
Philosophers and successful people alike have long recognized the importance and usefulness of failure in our daily lives. Failure is life’s ultimate instructor, and mistakes our most important teacher. So as disruptive as a failed marriage can be, it’s only a loss if you fail to learn from it and don’t grow wiser and more mature from the experience.
Ways to tackle feelings of loss in specific areas
- Document the sense of loss you are struggling with
One of the prerequisites to overcoming these feelings is to document precisely what they are and where they’re coming from in the first place. So sit down with a pad of paper and write down as many of your anxieties as come to mind, or keep a folded piece of paper in your purse or pocket, and as you feel yourself grappling with negative thoughts, pull it out and record what these focus around. Once you have a list, sit down and analyze each one to see if it traces back to a sense of loss. It seems like a rather rudimentary exercise, but doing this can give you a sense of direction that won’t come simply from haphazard rumination.
- Challenging this sentiment
Once you have a good understanding of what these feelings are, start to tackle each one according to the following criteria:
Go beyond the goal, and think about the specific things the goal is based upon. Is it founded in elements that have a direct impact on the quality of your life? Or is it based more off of intangible beliefs or ideals about what life is supposed to be? Are these your goals, or are they messages others have taught you to believe? Friedrich Nietzsche once remarked that “the most fundamental form of human stupidity is forgetting what we were trying to do in the first place.” Most people become so wrapped up in the fantastical scripts that get weaved around our goals that we lose sight of what these goals were based on to begin with. If you take your goals in life back to their fundamental stage – having a fulfilling life, rich experiences, providing kids with a happy childhood – you’ll discover that there’s many ways to accomplish these goals in any number of circumstances. The path to a fulfilled life is still there, it simply didn’t weave in the way you expected it to.
- Find ways to fill the gap.
Think about what other ways you can provide you or the kids with the type of ideals your goals were focused upon. You want them to have a happy home? Think about what you can do to make your home a joyful place. Don’t want your kids to come from a “broken home?” Focus on ways you can continue a sense of family throughout this process. Remember our earlier statement that divorce harms through the elements it creates, not the action itself. Your goals are the same way. For whichever one was shattered, there are ways to make up its elements elsewhere. All you have to do is find them.
- Set new goals.
Sometimes simply setting new ideals for ourselves can help to take our mind out of the rumination stage and get it focused on more productive thoughts. Think about what will make you and your children most happy in your current situation, and spend time imagining these scenarios in the same way you might have imagined your wedding day before you ever got married.
All relationships are destined to end in loss. Its just a matter of where, how, and why that loss occurs.