Divorce may be extremely painful, but it also forces a unique opportunity for personal growth. The very fact a divorce is occurring serves as a tangible indicator that something is very wrong which must be addressed. Issues may have been overlooked for years as couples settled into the comforts of marriage or other distractions of family life. The sheer jolt of divorce being alone and adjusting to the single lifestyle allows us to learn from mistakes, break vicious cycles, and become healthier and happier people.
“When people go through a divorce, it is definitely an opportunity to work on change within themselves, says Donna Wilburn, a licensed marriage and family therapist at the Heads Up Guidance and Wellness Centers of Nevada. “Individual therapy can be so beneficial to a person during a divorce. It’s an opportunity to focus on your own personal growth without the distraction of a partner.”
Wilburn suggests to her patients that they spend at least six months learning about themselves and growing healthier before they begin dating. While in this six-month process, they can learn about their unhealthy patterns in past relationships, about their fears regarding being alone and about their relationship with themselves. Ironically, by taking time off from dating, Wilburn’s patients often find a much healthier relationships in the future.
“It’s really amazing when someone comes in with unhealthy relationship patterns — I call it broken radar,” she says. “A few months later, they can clearly see red flags early on and avoid dysfunctional partners before they even start dating.”
Studies demonstrate that we pick a partner of equal emotional health as ourselves. So it’s crucial to be healthy emotionally in order to find an equally healthy partner. Divorce can be an opportunity to learn how to be an emotionally healthy person.
• Overcome the fear of being alone and get comfortable going places as a single person.
l Eliminate or reduce anxiety about entering into another relationship. Part of this is learning that you don’t have to keep picking the same type and, as a result, experience the same pain.
• Improve self-esteem. Feel confident that you are worthy even if you are single.
• Stress management. Being a single parent is tough and you need to manage your time and stress.
• Detaching: letting go of and moving on from the last relationship. This includes letting go of anger from the break up.
• Fulfill your own needs. Stop relying on someone else to satisfy physical or emotional needs.
• Learn and practice team parenting with your ex-spouse. Positive co-parenting not only helps your children but brings incredible peace into what had been chaos and stress.
• Create a new identity. Who are you now that you aren’t focused on being a wife? What are your dreams for the future?
• Find a job. Many times women haven’t been in the work force for a while, and the financial stress and job search only worsen divorce stress.
• Avoid addiction. Many people try to numb the pain with some sort of addictive activity such as alcohol, drugs, sex or gambling. Better to face the hurt instead of complicating the situation.
Marriage and family therapists can help anyone turn divorce lemons into a lifetime of lemonade. Local licensed therapists may be found by visiting the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists’ database at TherapistLocator.net