By Sarah K. Ricciardelli
Grab the sappy cards and heart-shaped chocolates, folks – it's time for Valentine's Day. But if you are divorced or going through a divorce, the last thing you may want to celebrate is romance. Instead of worrying about a date, take this time to check in with yourself. A divorce is a big life event and deserves attention so you can process it appropriately. Atlanta's relationship and divorce experts, including some local divorcees themselves, share their wisdom to help you work through this in a healthy way.
First Things First
Take stock of the state of your divorce. Are you still in the process?
If so, ask yourself these questions to better understand your approach:
- Am I attempting to punish my spouse during the divorce process?
- Are my actions helping us heal or creating deeper wounds for both of us?
- Are we alienating any children that may be involved?
Divorce lawyer Jarrod Oxendine of Suwanee firm Clark, Oxendine & Sauls LP says some people have a hateful, no-holds-barred approach to divorce cases, which is often understandable when both parties are hurt and emotions run high. Sometimes family and friends may even encourage you to take this angle. But in most cases, he cautions, "It is best to obtain a calm, rational, reasonable and otherwise professional approach during the divorce process." This way, you can avoid the common pitfalls that lead to an even harder separation.
I Just Called To Say...
After you've signed on the dotted line – no matter how that process went – you have to consider what type of relationship you will have moving forward. Consider these questions:
- Are there kids that my ex and I need to co-parent?
- If so, how often and through what means will we communicate?
- If not, do I still want to communicate with my ex? Why?
While it may feel like communicating with your ex is healthy after a divorce is finalized, Oxendine suggests otherwise. "I only advocate communications with an ex if children are involved," he says. In that case, communication about your children's school schedules, extracurricular involvement, social boundaries and emotional health will all be important. And don't forget to discuss how you will approach family traditions, such as holidays or birthdays, now that you're separated.
But if there are no kids in the picture and you still want to keep up communication, consider why. If the divorce was a difficult one but you still keep in contact, Oxendine warns, "One of you is likely operating with an ulterior motive." If you split on amicable terms, your desire for continued communication may just be an old habit. Either way, consider giving yourself the space to process this event on your own, without the input of your ex.
A New Normal
Whether your separation came out of the blue or felt like it was years in the making, it requires adjusting to a new normal. But that's easier said than done, according to Single Atlanta matchmaker Lisa Lyngos. "When you get married, have kids, get into a career, you are painting a mural of your life. When it messes up, you may feel like you are reeling." Try to ground yourself with some concrete questions like these:
- How has my daily or weekly routine changed?
- What elements of my old routine would I like to preserve, and what do I want to get rid of?
- What are my goals? How have these changed from my goals before the divorce?
- What am I thankful for?
Focusing on your routine can help you prioritize parts of your life that you truly enjoy. Maria Sullivan of iDate says there's an important distinction to make here; is it the person you are missing or the lifestyle you had during the relationship? "Once you can figure out what you are missing, it helps you to move on," she says. For example, if a lack of family dinners has you feeling lonely, make a standing dinner date with close friends one night of the week. That will likely fill the space better than trying to meet your ex for a meal. As Lyngos points out, "With divorce, it's a clean slate. You get a chance to start over."
As you evaluate your routine, don't be afraid to push a little further and consider how your big-picture goals may have changed now that you are separated. It may be tough now that "growing old together" isn't top of mind, but it's worth it. Life coach Keisa Davis of Be You Be Now says, "It's never easy dealing with these emotions, but healing starts when you begin to open yourself to being vulnerable to your feelings."
And at the end of this brainstorming session, take time to acknowledge what you are thankful for. Even though you likely never pictured yourself in this situation, there is some good to be found. Focusing on that, Davis says, "will begin to brighten your path to a better life and future."
The Silver Lining
Even though some are more painful than others, all of our experiences can teach us something. Whether by yourself, with friends or with a therapist, review your divorce and past relationship through these lenses:
- Do I fully understand what caused the end of the relationship?
- What did I learn about myself?
- What do I expect from a future partner?
- What could I do differently for a future partner?
These answers, in addition to helping you see some positive growth from the experience, can also help you gauge whether or not you're ready to consider another relationship. Master hypnotherapist Valerie Cobbin with Brighter Tomorrow Hypnotherapy says friends and family may urge you to get out and date as soon as possible. But anyone processing a relationship that has broken up should "accept whatever mistakes they made in the relationship before moving on to a new one."
Natalie Elliott, a counselor with Atlanta Counseling Institute, says self-care is the next step to seeing the silver lining. "Simple things like adopting a spiritual practice, an exercise regimen and getting enough sleep are often all you need to do," she says. "These things will help keep you and your health on your mind," which you may not have had the time, energy or dedication to do before now.
And once you have some distance from the divorce, the silver linings may become even more evident. Davis, for example, is a divorcee of nine years and can easily list some positives. She says, "I'm amazed at my strength. Today I am a better woman because of this experience." So wherever you are in the process, you'll take steps forward and steps back. The important thing is to keep asking the tough questions and empowering yourself to grow.
Valerie Cobbin, Brighter Tomorrow Hypnotherapy – www.brightertomorrowhypnotherapy.com
Keisa Leprell Davis, Be You Be Now – www.beyoubenow.com
Natalie Elliott, Atlanta Counseling Institute – www.atlantacounselinginstitute.com
Lisa Lyngos, Single Atlanta – www.singleatl.com
Jarrod Oxendine, Clark, Oxendine & Sauls LP – www.cosfirm.com
Maria Sullivan, iDate – www.idatetips.com