After the assets are split, the custody is worked out, the house has sold, and there is even a small glimmer of hope that you could love again, then what? Most recently divorced people focus on getting on with their lives, adjusting to the changes, and figuring out what it means to be single again. Yet, there is one aspect of the healing process that many people leave out: forgiveness.
The concept of forgiveness is confusing to most of us. We associate forgiveness with letting someone off the hook. We take the hit of the pain while the person that hurt us moves on. What if we forgive and they do it again? None of it seems fair which is why most people struggle with forgiveness.
As a Marriage and Family Therapist I hear a lot of stories related to hurt feelings and broken hearts. It's never easy when someone you love hurts you and divorce is often the most complicated of the heart break scenarios. You took vows, made promises, and had big plans for a life together. Marriages deteriorate in heart breaks, big and small, over the course of time. Forgiving and forgetting often gets more and more difficult. When we feel misunderstood, slighted, and/or powerless, we often hold on to our anger because we don't know how to make our partner understand or acknowledge our pain.
The real harm comes when we hold on to the hurt, reliving slights in our heads, reminding ourselves and others how hurtful, insensitive, and selfish our ex was. I remember what it was like when I was getting divorced. I would be feeling good one minute, and the next, I was reliving something that happened years ago and feeling terrible again.
The thing is, our brains can't tell the difference between something that is happening and something that we imagine is happening. That is why scary movies are so scary and why we can get angry at something that happened in the past. When we relive heartbreak in our head or through conversation, our brain and body reacts as if that pain and stress were happening right now. That stress is damaging to our body, to our emotions, and to our future.
Forgiveness is the most effective way out of the pain but it doesn't happen over night. Start by paying attention to the your thoughts because your thoughts lead directly to your emotions and moods. Begin by softening the edges of your thoughts related to your ex. Yes, they made mistakes but you did love them enough to marry them. Let yourself remember some of the kind, tender moments that you shared. Let yourself accept the idea that they also experienced feelings of hurt, rejection, and loneliness along the way.
Many people fear doing this because they think remembering the good will make it more difficult to move on but the opposite is actually true. You need to have a balanced view of your ex and the marriage so that you can move forward with balance in your mind and heart. If you find yourself recycling the same argument or marriage moment over and over again in your mind, consider why. What does that memory represent to you? Was it the moment you knew the marriage was over? The moment you stopped feeling emotionally safe with your partner? What is unfinished inside of you related to that moment?
Go beneath the anger of the memory and comfort those emotions. Feeling deeper emotions of sadness, shame, and rejection can be very difficult and sometimes overwhelming. Sometimes we hold on to the anger because we fear the unknown of the future. Work with a therapist or relationship coach to learn how to access and process these deeper emotions so that you can move forward and create something new.
Next, learn to forgive yourself for all the judgments you have been holding about yourself because guess what? You are human, too. Yes, you made your fair share of mistakes, and hurt your fair share of feelings. Learn from your behavior but don't keep beating yourself up. Be gentle and kind to yourself. Release the idea that you failed or the marriage failed. Focus instead on the good you created, and all that you learned during the marriage. Explore any religious or spiritual beliefs that may be getting in the way of forgiveness. Finally, learn to see this new beginning as a blessing, not a mistake. You now have a blank canvas and you get to paint any life you want. Few of us get a "do over" to the level that divorce provides, so take full advantage of that opportunity.
Kanya is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with a Private Practice in Paoli, Pennsylvania. She is a highly sought after Relationship Expert and author whose work has been syndicated by the Huffington Post and Fox News Magazine. Kanya specializes in coaching single women who are ready to create meaningful relationships and helping couples deepen their levels of intimacy and closeness. Find out more about Kanya and download her new e-book for women.
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