Living in an unhappy marriage can feel like no life at all. The imprisonment of feeling trapped and seeing no way out can extinguish your vitality and your hope for the future. But even in the worst of experiences that beg for an escape route, divorce isn’t necessarily a panacea. Whether or not you wanted the split, you probably didn’t anticipate thinking, “I have no life after divorce.”
It goes without saying that healing after a divorce is different for everyone. Just as there are so many unique factors and influences that come together in the commitment of marriage, so there are in a divorce.
Not only are there differences in divorce survival from person to person, but there are gender differences in surviving the consequences of divorce, as well. In general, men tend to eventually recover from the strain of divorce, while women tend to suffer chronically. Long-term differences in income and risk of poverty along with single-parenting set the stage for stark differences in post-divorce happiness.
Depending on factors like the length of the marriage and how it ended, divorce may seem like a step off a cliff into a dark unknown. Where will I go? How will I make money? What’s going to happen to my kids? Will I lose all my friends? Will I ever trust again? Will anyone ever love me again? Will I ever be happy again? Why do I feel as if I have no life after divorce? Will I always feel this way?
Before you can get to the point of rebuilding your life after divorce, you have to confront the reasons you feel so lifeless. Even if you’re the one who wanted the divorce, you may be surprised by its emotional impact.
Cognitive science distinguishes between two types of emotional suffering: clean pain and dirty pain.
Clean pain is a natural response to an objective event. Bereavement after a death. Sorrow and grief after a divorce.
Dirty pain, on the other hand, is a subjective self-assault that comes from your processing of painful situations. Negative inner dialogues. Assumptions about others’ thoughts. Presumption of judgment by others. Conjuring up a fatalistic storyline for your future.
If you feel stuck in the belief that “I have no life after divorce,” you are living in dirty pain. You are going beyond the natural consequences of loss and debilitating your future with negative thought patterns that keep you stuck.
There’s no denying that divorce is one of the most difficult and stressful experiences imaginable. It severs all that feels familiar and directed toward the future. It can change children forever and shape their own views of love, family, and commitment.
Here are some common reasons you might be stuck saying to yourself, “I have no life after divorce.” Connecting to these reasons and allowing them to speak can actually help you let them go and embrace a new, happy life.
- You have lost companionship and intimacy.
Unless you throw wisdom to the wind and head straight from divorce to dating, you’re going to spend some time alone. And a lot of that time, at least early on, is going to be painful and exhausting.
You won’t be coming home to someone with whom you can talk. You won’t have a built-in date for dinners out and plus-one events. And you won’t have the intimacy you may have taken for granted, even in difficult times.
That loss is huge. And it is so tempting to seek refuge in the company of someone new. But the loss of your relationship with your spouse will still be there.
- You will mourn.
The loss of a marriage is a death in its own right. Even if you needed to leave your marriage for your emotional or physical safety, you will still suffer a great loss. The loss of love. The loss of your dreams. The loss of your home. The loss of your children.
Life going forward doesn’t have a script, and the life behind you has just closed its book. You will be left to feel what you may not even want to think about.
But grieving is normal. And trying to circumvent its necessity will only prolong the process.
It’s difficult to feel like you have much of a life during the grieving process, but coming back to life requires it.
- If you have children, you will have to co-parent.
Suddenly the simple things like tucking your kids in at night won’t be so simple. Your children won’t be with you all the time, and yet, your ex will be in your life forever.
After all you’ve gone through to separate your lives, you will have to come together for the most important reason of all: your children.
No matter what custody arrangement you decide on, it will place limits on your life. Instead of feeling as if your options have increased, you may instead feel like “I have no life after divorce.”
Yes, you will have time without your children. But you and your ex will have to work harder to coordinate schedules and ensure you are on the same page regarding your children’s lives.
- Your finances may be a rude awakening.
No matter how illogical it may seem, couples often stay together for the money, just as they do “for the kids.” Giving up a lifestyle to which you are accustomed, only to take a major step down in the division of assets, can be life-altering.
You may, for example, have been used to being home with the children while your spouse moved up the ranks in his/her career. Both of you were contributing your all to a common goal.
But only one will walk away with a career and income stream intact. The spouse who has had the career won’t suffer diminished rights to the children. But the spouse who stayed home to care for them may have to start from the ground up on a career.
- The loss of your dreams.
You have spent all these years contributing your individual gifts and passions to a common future and dream. And suddenly that has all been ripped out from under you.
Expecting yourself to simply walk out of your established life into a new dream with a clear path is unrealistic. You will probably feel disoriented, ungrounded, floundering for a sense of who and where you are today, let alone in the future.
And when you don’t have a sense of direction, it’s only natural to conclude, “I have no life after divorce.”
Believing you have no life after divorce is a response to the all-encompassing life-shift that comes from losing your marriage. The idea of future happiness sounds impossible in the early stages after divorce.
You haven’t lost just your marriage and family, you’ve lost a huge part of yourself – at least that’s how it feels. All the qualities of yourself that are essential to dreaming of and building a life have taken a blow. Your sense of life, order, happiness, safety, and assurance has imploded.
But know that your perception of your life – in the present and in the future – will evolve. As you accept and embrace the finality of your marriage and the changes it brings, you will have a new foundation to build on.
Your divorce may have left you feeling lifeless today. But trust that rebuilding your life after divorce will connect you to the happiness you seek for tomorrow.
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