Divorce is not an experience any of us wish for. No one enters into a long term relationship genuinely considering what might happen if it came to an end. Thanks to endless romance novels, fairy tales and Hollywood blockbusters we learn early in life that marriage is ‘forever’.
Everyday life is (well in my experience anyway) so far removed from Disney or even most Hollywood romantic comedies that few of us have anything but our own direct experience of family, parents and other close friends to compare ourselves to when it comes to marriage.
And sadly the same can often be true of our experience of heartbreak. Falling out of love is again not something we are taught to manage, it is usually a horrible experience full of loss, pain, betrayal and uncertainty. It is not something we dream of, plan for or even contemplate until the end is close and as such a divorce can hit like a tonne of bricks and with it, so can the emotion.
It is no surprise then that those of us experiencing heartbreak struggle to see any light at the end of the tunnel. But the thing is, if you look for one, you will find it. Perhaps not in the first week, but certainly as the dust settles, as you allow yourself to rebuild and as you start to move forward.
Over the past 15 years I have worked with over 2,000 people experiencing divorce. And I can honestly say to you that almost all of them were able to find a place after their divorce where life was ok again. But what does always fascinate me are the people that take all that their divorce brings them, as unwelcome as it was, and turn that on its head as they allow their divorce to change their life for the better.
Take Naomi who in the last few weeks shared her story about the great betrayal she experienced as her marriage abruptly came to an end. A little over a year down the track and she has found a new home, a new career and a whole new direction. Of course she did not plan for this, it was not her ‘first choice’ but when things were just not going her way she pulled her socks up, held her head high and followed her new path with confidence.
Then there is Debbie, a friend who also recently shared her story of her recent ‘first date’. I assisted her through her divorce many years ago now so I have had the privilege of watching her transformation in the years thereafter as she pursued her career, grew her business, travelled the world and became a grandmother. As she wisely sums it up- ‘when life gives you lemons make margaritas’.
And so therein lies the key- to give yourself the best shot of letting your divorce change your life for the better, you have to be tenacious, optimistic and determined. No matter what the world throws your way, you have to see it as an opportunity rather than a challenge. Now I don’t mean that there won’t still be days where things are tough, where you wish your life wasn’t yours and when you hope for something to change. But I expect that those days existed even before your divorce- just perhaps not so many all at once.
There are four things I have seen the likes of Naomi and Debbie embrace as they allowed their divorce to turn their lives upside down (in a good way!) –
1. Let go of anger and instead focus on positive emotions. For me it is gratitude and kindness. When I feel myself getting stuck in negative emotions and feeling sorry for myself for too long, I stop and give myself a good strong talking to (in my head of course!) I remind myself of what I am to be grateful for, and at the same time, of all that others don’t have that I do. And then I practice kindness. Whether it is with myself, friends, family or strangers I do believe that you get back what you give. And so I strive for kindness in the hope that it will ultimately find its way back to me one day.
2. Focus on the good not the bad. Take a pen and paper and each morning and night write down one thing that you can be proud of. It might be something you are grateful for or even that act of kindness. It might be a small thing, but when your heart is broken this shift in your thought pattern is a big thing and if you start to train your brain to look for the good not the bad before you know it life will start to get back on an even keel.
I have seen some friends do this every day on Facebook or Twitter. One dear friend does this each evening and it has nothing to do with divorce but for her but came out of the death of a loved one. Each night she shares with the world what she is grateful for- and each night she makes me smile as I appreciate her kindness in allowing us into her heart. If you don’t believe me try it for a week each night (in your diary or if you are really brave get it out there on Facebook) and see what happens.
3. Look for new opportunities and take them when they appear. Just like Alice in Wonderland it is time to open some new doors and discover what lies behind them. It may be nothing, it may be something but the point here is that if you don’t try you will never know what may have been there. Embrace the unexpected, don’t expect every new experience or opportunity to lead to a pot of gold but enjoy them for what they are.
If someone asks you out for a movie- go. If no one asks you, but there is a new film you really want to see- go by yourself. If you are someone who has never really been into exercise, change. Your divorce will probably mean you have time to yourself that you may not have been used to for a while, so be ready to fill it! Do something you have always wanted to do but could never do before. Join a new class, sporting team or social club- just find something that you enjoy that is different to before and that you can look forward to.
4. Start each day peacefully and with a positive heart and mind. I am a morning person and I am eternally grateful for this. Regardless though of my energy for mornings I know that if I don’t start my day calmly and with a few moments of just ‘being’ with the world, my experience for the rest of the day will be a challenge. For me, I take a short walk each morning with my daughter where we chat, we look for birds, tell each other silly stories and smile. It probably takes 20 minutes (the time depends on how long our friend Bruno takes to make my coffee!) but that is all I need. Working full time, this is sometimes the only time I have with my daughter during the week that is just for us and I know that for me, if I start each day this way I feel settled.
Each morning, get up ½ an hour earlier, walk outside and around the block or down the lane or anywhere you like for just 20 minutes. If you have kids, take them. Load them up in the stroller or on their bikes and take them. Use this time to be in the moment, to be present and to take in the beauty of the world around you. Just talk and walk and look for the beauty and you will find it. (and if you are like me and happen to live in the City walk to a café, grab a coffee and walk home. It is a $4 investment I am happy to make almost every day for my sanity!)
A divorce will mean change in many facets of your life and with this change will come loss, sometimes even the loss of your own identity. While it may be very, very hard to find, there will always be a silver lining if you can just start to see the world in a new light. No doubt it won’t be there every day, but if you take the time to focus on something positive you will move through your divorce with a lot more ease than some. Take each day as it comes. Use this time to learn about who you really are and don’t be afraid to change the bits that you don’t really like. Your divorce will change your life- but it is up to you if you let it change your life for the better.