Five Steps Toward Midlife Divorce Recovery
Divorce is a multi-layered process that is ranked at the top of the list of stressful life events. Although divorce is a frequently practiced, socially acceptable event, there are some specific steps toward midlife divorce recovery that are important for you to be aware of as you begin your journey toward healing.
Step # 1 – Allow yourself permission to grieve and mourn.
First and foremost, allow yourself the time and space to grieve and mourn your loss. Divorce at any point in marriage is distressing, but divorce at midlife was most likely not in your plans. In the many stages of midlife divorce recovery, grieving and mourning the loss of your marital years together as well as the marital relationship itself is crucial for your healing.
As you experience an abundance of feelings related to the ending of your marriage, resist the temptation to build in filters allowing you to grieve only “acceptable” feelings. Instead, give yourself permission to mourn whatever feelings come to the fore. The more you understand precisely what you are grieving about the loss of your marriage, the more you will be able to heal from aspects of loss that are specific to you.
Remember, feelings themselves are neither right nor wrong. It is what we do with those feelings and how we use them that makes all the difference in the world. Just as the ocean moves in and out and we have no control over that, neither can we control what we feel. Feelings are potential guideposts for deeper learning about who we are and what we need to thrive and grow.
Engrained within the stages of midlife divorce recovery are memories not only of your partner, but also who you became together as a couple. The identity of “we” is hard to let go of. Whatever feelings of shame, embarrassment, shock, disappointment, anger, betrayal, worry for yourself and perhaps for your partner and children, you clearly need to work through it all.
The clearest reason for working through your feelings of midlife divorce recovery is so that you grow more comfortable with your personal experience of the divorce. You do not want to isolate or remove yourself from socializing with family and friends. Depending on whether you are the one who initiated the divorce or the one who was presented with a divorce that you did not want, midlife divorce recovery necessitates emotional healing in order to go forward better into the next chapter of your life.
Step # 2 – Understand what sense and meaning you personally make of your divorce.
Understanding what sense and meaning you make of the divorce event is an important step as you move through midlife divorce recovery. Apart from your spouse’s perception of what led to the divorce, what do you think led to this moment?
Specifically, what led to your divorce? What part did each of you play in the relationship ending? Who was triggering whom? What do you understand now about an emotional process between you that ultimately led to this divorce? What meaning do you take away with you as the marital relationship comes to an end?
Are there aspects of the marital relationship that you now recognize were counter-productive from the start of the relationship? Is it your sense that you were limited in your ability to grow as a person through the relationship? Looking back now, do you think the marriage was a poor fit for you/your spouse from the start? Were there aspects of the relationship that you truly valued while having doubts and feeling wary in other areas? If so, what is your understanding of that?
Are you better able to understand what aspects of the marriage were working and which aspects were not working for you and your spouse? Do you wish you had both communicated about the problems more effectively? Do you understand what may have compromised that communication? What is your bottom line take away from this stage of midlife divorce recovery that will help guide you in the months and years ahead of you?
Step # 3 – Discover and re-discover more about yourself!
By the time we reach mid-life, we generally know a whole lot more about ourselves than we did when we first got married. In many, if not most marriages, we learn to adapt ourselves to accommodate our partner and our partnership. In this third stage of midlife divorce recovery, you are free to learn more about your needs. When you got married, you made compromises for the sake of the marriage and your partner. Now, without that pull to please, you can ask yourself foundational questions.
What is it about you and your needs that you know more about now than when you first got married? What do you know about who you innately are, and what do you want to aspire to in your life that will lead you forward to become happy and fulfilled?
As you openly and honestly assess who you are and what you want in your life, you may begin to recognize aspects of yourself that you forfeited and gave up to keep peace and harmony in your marriage. It is not uncommon to feel sad or dejected as you take this honest look, but I prefer to encourage you to look at the other side; specifically, that whatever aspects you perceive that you lost, can become your new goals moving forward through your midlife divorce recovery.
It is not uncommon to be down on yourself or even to feel sad during this stage of midlife divorce recovery. Yet, it is critically important that you not be harsh with yourself as you grow and discover more about yourself.
Feelings of vulnerability can actually help you to become aware of more that you want to become and achieve moving forward.
If there are ways that you compromised who you are to try to make the marriage work, you made those choices for all the right reasons that were honest for you then. Now, moving forward you can and will make different decisions and choices that will help you to heal in this midlife divorce recovery process.
If there are ways that you adapted to fit your partner’s needs that are not cohesive for who you genuinely are, then continue the process of discovery and re-discovery of yourself through the divorce! Use this stage of midlife divorce recovery to your advantage as you discover and re-discover more about yourself!
Step # 4 – Pray.
As you experience change and major loss while working through midlife divorce recovery, it is important that you make time for prayer.
Apart from needing time and space to pour out your many feelings of disillusionment and confusion to your God who loves you so much, prayer is also a time for you to listen and be guided.
Through prayer you are not only asking God for what you need, but you are also going to stay attuned to guidance and grace that God pours into your heart as you listen to God’s guidance in response to your prayer.
No one knows your inner self and your heart’s intentions better than God does. As you take new steps forward in a changed and uncertain land, allow God to be your guide and your friend. Allow God to help you to heal.
In fact, working with a prayer journal as you move through midlife divorce recovery is something I highly recommend. A prayer journal consists of a notebook where you journal your thoughts, feelings, joys, sorrows, vulnerabilities, wishes, dreams, and goals each day.
A prayer journal is where you write out the specific needs you are asking God for today. In your prayer journal, you ask God for guidance on choices and decisions that you are close to making.
In your prayer journal, pray for those in your life you care about. Pray for your children, family, friends, and in-law family members you care about. You know that they may not fully ever understand this transition in your life but pray for them to support and encourage you forward.
Write whatever you are feeling. Remember that while feelings are not right or wrong, we all need help and guidance as we try to understand our feelings. Then, one day – whether that be weeks or months later — go back and read your journal. What has changed? What have you achieved that you previously enlisted God’s help in? What steps do you still need to take to go even further in your journey? What will you ask and thank God for today?
Step # 5 – Avoid Unnecessary Interactions with your Ex-Spouse.
When a couple has been together for as long as you have, interactions with each other through this fifth stage of midlife divorce recovery can be thorny.
Although you may feel drawn and pulled toward each other, interactions with your ex-spouse may well be filled with memories and emotions that remain unresolved. In fact, these unresolved emotions may have been part of the quagmire that led to the divorce, specifically because they were unresolvable between you!
What makes this stage of midlife divorce recovery particularly thorny is a magnetic pull many couples feel toward each other. Intellectually you know that certain topics and conversations will lead to nothing good. But emotionally it is hard to let go.
That magnetic pull is trying to fulfill an emotional need you have to remain connected. It is difficult to let your intellect guide you to just let go when you feel the pull to remain emotionally connected with your spouse through midlife divorce recovery. Any connection at that moment might seem better than the emptiness you feel for letting go.
This is not an easy issue. Through midlife divorce recovery not “biting the bait” and getting back into dysfunctional interactions might be the hardest thing you need to accomplish. By contrast ask yourself “What does biting the bait accomplish?” You generally feel worse when you engage in counterproductive conversations that only lead you to feel defeated and misunderstood again.
Also, because of the longevity of the relationship in midlife divorce recovery, you both know each other extremely well. You know exactly what buttons to push to get a rise out of the other. Again, this may be your psyche’s unconscious way of remaining connected to your former spouse, but at a price that holds you back from moving forward well.
In summary, none of this is easy work. Letting go after years of being together in midlife divorce recovery is not an easy task. However, it is a necessary one for you to heal, feel better about yourself, and move on.
I am here to help you through this process if that would be helpful. Understanding the divorce process and having worked with many people as they have worked through their midlife divorce recovery process, I am available to help coach you through the most difficult aspects of your divorce. Please contact me here.
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