Love, Family

5 Mental Challenges Of Midlife Divorce (That Make You Stronger)

Midlife Divorce

Since my divorce about five years ago, for the most part, the divorce and being alone are rarely on the forefront of my mind.

One of my relatives recently squeezed my shoulder, stared straight into my eyes, and whispered in a sympathetic voice, "How are you?"

I thought to myself, "What happened that I don't know about yet? Who's sick? Who died?" It took me a moment to realize that she worried about my single mom status.

I guess I hadn't thought about it in a while. "Uh ... things are good."  I replied, actually feeling a little guilty.

The road to feeling comfortable and not constantly thinking about what could have or should have been is bumpy. The battle in your mind is insidious simply because you're your most heartless opponent.

You know all your insecurities inside and out and can't help but pick at the most sensitive areas. The following will look at five of the mental battles that are sure to arise when you find yourself suddenly single in middle age.

1. Distinguishing between being alone and being lonely

The rate of loneliness has doubled over the last 30 years. Recent studies indicate that approximately 40 percent of Americans (both married and unmarried) report being lonely.

The first step to stop loneliness is to recognize that it is a state of mind and not a state of being. When fighting this mental battle, one seemingly obvious approach is to always keep busy and never alone.

However, being busy and surrounded by people is only a cure for being alone — not for loneliness. Some relationships can make you feel inconceivably lonely in a crowded room, but being thoughtfully alone can forge a path to renewal and serenity.

Often, the best cure for loneliness is simply spending time alone for a while.

2. Finding comfort in being socially single

So, you want to go out but you have concerns about being uncoupled. One of the difficulties after my divorce was that I felt like I was a threat to couples.

I felt that maybe the women believed I was trying to find a new significant other in their husbands or perhaps divorce became a more real possibility suddenly to those around me.

Was it all in my head or was I actually a perceived threat? The answer: maybe a little of both.

Don't spend too much time worrying about being a threat because that's not something you can control. Rest easy as long as you know you are not poaching men from your friend group.

We all have enough insecurity to worry about without trying to prey on appease insecurities of others.

3. Empathizing with unhappy couples

I had a friend who divorced about six months ahead of me. She left her husband, finished her doctorate, and passed her state boards just ahead of my schedule.

But when it came to our marriages and subsequent divorces, the dynamics were very different.

She would ask how I was doing and then had this super-power to take whatever I said and relate it directly to her current situation. Even though I knew how frustrated I felt talking to her, it was still a struggle for me not to do the same thing to others.

Learning to empathize with others after going through such a powerfully personal and difficult situation is a tough battle. As a therapist, it was an immediate and necessary battle to win because empathy is what I get paid to do.

There was a period of time when I would hear about a client's anger and frustration with their relationship and be thinking, "What's wrong with you? Just get the heck out!"

Like my friend, it took some time to stop comparing other people's relationship situations to my own. Therapists (and good friends) need to take good mental inventory to keep from letting their own issues crop up when we should focus on others.

It is a sure sign of maturity to realize that sometimes when friends complain, they just want you to listen. When given such overwhelming emotions, we must exercise our empathy "muscle."

4. Appreciating your own middle-age wisdom

I still have days when I am an emotional 13-year-old — insecure, looking for my place in the world and sure that no one really likes me. You have to love PMS.

On the other 26 days of the month, I really like my 40s. What I found was that I am now old enough that people take me seriously, and it's kind of cool that handsome young men no longer intimidate me — probably because they are opening doors for me and calling me ma’am.

In your 40s, you covet every moment because you now understand the gift of time — time with your children, time volunteering and the time that you share with those who deserve it. It's not about building your future; it's about living your present.

5. Realizing the true power of independence

I have become more involved with other interests because I am independent. In addition to my children's busy schedule, I have found time for a speaking club, community groups and even a few hobbies.

It's amazing how much time you can find when you are no longer bogged down by frustration and overwhelming anger. Independence is powerful, but you must fight the mental battles to gain this power and pursue your own interests.

Independence is a common desire when in a bad relationship. Now that you are single, revel in it.

These are only five of the many mental battles you fight when you find yourself in the strange and unexpected situation of being suddenly single in middle age. Take heart because every battle brings new strength.

If you allow yourself to understand that mental battles are only in your head, you can fight them while knowing that true reality connects to unlimited possibility.