“You have to grieve...” You have likely read this phrase or heard it from a friend a number of times by now. After a while, it starts to sound like a mystical rite of passage required by unnamed gods of love. But in the back of your mind, you know it’s probably true. And yet you already feel so lousy, you can’t imagine feeling any worst. Here are five myths about what you should be doing to grieve the loss of your marriage or long-term relationship in a healthy way:
Myth: You Can’t Date
Fact: You likely can’t imagine the thought of dating at this moment but if you can, you are NOT abnormal. People grieve in many different ways. Sometimes the feeling of being lonely and imagining a future alone can be lessened by allowing yourself to at least entertain that you could in fact date. It doesn’t mean you will. If you decide to date, remind yourself now is not a time to commit to anything — you are vulnerable and need time to recover your equilibrium. Yet, entertaining romantic company from time to time may buffer the loneliness you experience and will remind you there’s still a romantic future out there for you.
Myth: You Beat Yourself Up
Fact: Perhaps you feel that your divorce or break up means you failed. You think you messed up and you messed up big. Now the only way to make it right is to beat yourself up with everything you perceive you did wrong and with everything your ex accuses you of doing wrong. This relentless self-attack will get you nowhere and is not part of healthy grieving. Instead, consider doing a relationship autopsy in which you take a calculated, rational look at the facts of the relationship, both your role and your ex’s. (I describe how to conduct a thorough relationship autopsy in Breaking Up and Divorce 5 Steps). It’s okay to make a goal of specific things you would like to improve about yourself when it comes to your next relationship, but do not engage in global character assassinations, as in “I am a loser, doomed to a life alone.”
Myth: You Cry All of The Time
Fact: Healthy grieving doesn’t mean you have to sit around and cry all of the time alone in a dark room. But it does mean you accept that with divorce comes a healing process. Recognize where you are in this process from time to time. The stages include: Denial — “this can’t be happening.” Anger — “I don’t deserve this!” Bargaining — “Maybe if I change something about myself I can get my ex back.” Depression — “What’s the point of life anymore.” And eventually, Acceptance — “I can still be happy despite this loss.” People go in and out of these stages. There is no set order. Develop awareness for where you are at any given moment. Accept that it does take time, but, eventually, if you allow it, you will reach acceptance and regain your balance.
Myth: You Are A Perfect Parent
Fact: Perhaps the most frequently experienced aspect of divorce for parents is a gut wrenching fear for the emotional welfare of their children. This particular fear, more than any other, keeps many stuck in unhappy marriages. The fact is — if a relationship is consistently unhappy, filled with chronic anger and/or anxiety, kids are often better off when divorce provides greater stability. As parents emotionally adjust to their divorce, they typically criticize themselves for not being more perfect. As you come to terms with all that is changing in your life, it’s impossible to be a perfect parent. The single best thing you can do for your kids is to emotionally tune in and be empathetic. If your children express upset over something unrelated to your divorce validate their concerns — “I understand, I can see why that makes you angry.” Do make room for their feelings about the divorce; directly ask what they are feeling, listen with empathy even when you can’t immediately cure their pain. Don’t persistently talk down your ex; that will not help your children.
Myth: You Shouldn’t Have Fun
Fact: Let’s face it if you are facing divorce or a difficult break up, life has taken on an all too serious hue. Your financial future, the wellbeing of your children, perhaps even your home — it’s all on the line. And it’s all you can do to stay in balance and not fall from this tight rope you are walking. If you find yourself momentarily forgetting about what’s at stake, cracking a smile or enjoying yourself even for one brief moment, you shame yourself. Your internal dialogue begins to say that if you enjoy yourself at all, it means you are somehow okay with all that has changed. And of course, you are far from okay. So, if you have a decent, funny, energizing or good moment — fan the flames and make it spread. Encouraging moments of levity within yourself and with others will lighten your load so that you can keep enduring for the long haul. Enjoying a laugh or a good time doesn’t mean you have forgotten about what’s at stake — it means your giving yourself a deserved break.