Understanding and Addressing Loneliness After Divorce
It has been postulated that loneliness is one of the primary epidemics of our age. Loneliness is much more complex then it may seem; the single person living alone may not be lonely while the married person constantly surrounded with others might be. Teenagers today, never far from their countless social media feeds, report feeling lonelier than generations past. Loneliness comes not from the quantity of our social connections, but from the quality.
Loneliness is so much more than the ache of being isolated. It is associated with a greater risk of depression and an increased chance of death though all means. We are a social species; like Maslow’s young monkeys proved, we have evolved to form relationships. And we only thrive when those relationships thrive.
Understanding Loneliness After Divorce
Your spouse probably knew you better than anybody. Even if the final years of the marriage were filled with conflict, just the fact that he or she knew exactly how to push those buttons is a sign that you were known. And then at some point, either before or after the split is made official, you became persona non grata in his or her eyes. And that’s the door sliding shut on your solitary confinement.
If you do not have children or your children spend time visiting their other parent, you are facing the haunting echoes of an empty home. The barren space mirroring the chasm in your heart. It’s a strange feeling, being alone, when you’re used to another person being there. Even if your spouse traveled frequently leaving you home, you may find that the finality to this emptiness gives it more weight.
The end of a marriage is the end of so much more. Like the ripples from a stone thrust rudely into the waters, the impact of the divorce carries far and wide. You may lose friends. And many of the friendships will certainly change. It’s a cruel joke – when you need connections the most, they fall apart.
Some of loneliness after divorce is inevitable. There is a void that takes time to fill. There are changes to adapt to and a curve to learn.
But you don’t have to sit idly by. You may feel as though you’re in solitary confinement, but the only locks on that door are the ones you secured yourself.
Addressing Loneliness After Divorce
The first step in combating loneliness is understanding your social and relationship needs. Are you an introvert that thrives on alone time and only needs a few close connections? Or, are you happier when you are surrounded by people? It’s an important distinction. The introvert can feel lonely and stressed if in the center of the action, whereas an extrovert can feel painfully isolated even in the company of a single close companion. Know thyself. And create a world that matches your needs.
So many rebound relationships are entered into in an attempt to patch that intimacy void left by a departing spouse. It never works, at least at first. It takes time to form connection; a new relationship, no matter how exciting, does not yet have that vulnerability and intimacy of an established one. Instead of looking to new partners to fill that gap, turn to existing relationships. This is a great time to nurture that bond with a close family member or your best friend. Those relationships tend to take a back seat when you’re married. Invite them to sit shotgun.
In divorce, you lose people. So go find more. Invite a coworker to lunch. Accept the invitation to a party. Join Meetup.com and sign up for a group that interests you. Get to know your local grocery clerks; a smile and some brief chatter from a friendly face can change your entire day.
Cultivate your passions. What did you used to enjoy doing as a child or young adult that you no longer do? This is your opportunity. Pick up that paintbrush again. Brush the dust off that guitar. Sign up for the soccer league. When you’re engaged in what you love, you don’t feel lonely. Even if you’re the only one in the room.
One of the most devastating elements of loneliness is the feeling that you don’t matter. That you could exit the world today and no one would even notice. So make an impact. Join a volunteer organization. Become a Big Brother or Big Sister. Spend time with the elderly at a retirement home and gain wisdom from their stories. Or, register to rock newborns in the nursery and gain hope from their innocent eyes.
Ultimately, loneliness is a choice. And inaction is choosing to remain isolated.
So if you’re feeling lonely, do something.
And get busy.
Divorce can make you lonely.
But you don’t have to stay there.