Unlike marriage where both partners agree to marry, it only takes one person to decide to divorce. The other person is stuck trying to make sense of what's happening (legally, personally, spiritually and emotionally) and grieve. Grieve over all the losses: loss of your spouse, your future plans, your relationship, your role as a husband/wife, your status of being married, your home, your combined income, seeing your kids every day, your shared friends, your pet, your dinner companion, your conversations, your having something to do on the weekends, etc.
I was acutely aware of all the ancillary losses my divorce meant to me, but then most divorcing people are. You're probably painfully aware of everything that you'll lose in your divorce too.
The issue with divorce grief is that it can be very easy to get stuck in it. Although we're all aware of the high divorce rates through the world, somehow we tend to believe that our marriage will be different and that we'll beat the odds. So when our spouse decides the marriage is over, we're devastated. Our dreams are shattered and we feel like failures. Your spouse is moving on and leaving you behind to clean up the mess of your life all by yourself. It's just not fair! And yet, it's reality and then the grief kicks in.
Believe it or not, your ex has the right idea. They've decided to move on and you can too. One way to start moving forward out of the grief is by doing an exercise I call goodbye/hello.
- Write a goodbye letter for yourself. Say goodbye to all the things you're sad about losing in the divorce. Be as thorough and detailed as possible and allow yourself to cry as much as you want.
- Write a hello letter for yourself. Say hello to everything you're looking forward to as a result of your divorce. Allow yourself to be as genuinely happy and excited as possible.
When I tell my clients to do this exercise, they often tell me that they know exactly what they are losing, but have no idea what is positive about their divorce. Just in case you're thinking the same thing, here are the top 5 reasons I hear people give for why they're happy about getting divorced.
- Your spouse can no longer nag or control you.
- You no longer need to settle or compromise for what you want.
- Your needs will no longer be ignored.
- You will no longer need to hope your spouse will change.
- You no longer need to sacrifice yourself.
Experiencing grief is a normal part of divorce. Unfortunately too many people spend longer grieving than they absolutely need to because they don't know how to move through and beyond their grief. The goodbye/hello exercise could be just what you need to make sure you don't get stuck in your divorce grief and start moving on with your life.
Your Functional Divorce Assignment
- Write your goodbye letter by hand. This letter will allow you to get out everything that's upsetting you and by writing it by hand you'll help yourself process the emotions more easily than by just typing it on the computer. You will want to allow yourself plenty of time to write your goodbye letter because you will probably start crying while writing it.
- Write your hello letter by hand as soon as you finish your goodbye letter. It's important that you write this letter right after your goodbye letter so you don't get stuck in the grief. This is where you start to find things to look forward to in your life. Feel free to use the list above to get started, but find things that are good about the end of your relationship. One woman I know had to give up garlic for the sake of her relationship, but when her relationship ended she had a garlic feast!
- Do something from your hello letter this week. Maybe you gave up something you loved doing for the sake of your marriage and you wrote about it in your hello letter. If so do that or something related to it this week. Find something in your hello letter that you can start experiencing this week and then do it.
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