Some milestones in divorce are clear – the day the decree is final, the day you establish your own home and the day you go on your first date.
But the most important milestone? The one that anyone who has ever been through divorce eagerly awaits?
That one is more subtle.
So how do you know when you have moved on after your divorce?
The Memories Lack Emotional Punch
When I first used to share with others that I had been left by my partner of sixteen years, I felt as though I had come down with some super-bug. My limbs would shake, my temperature would rise and I felt as though my stomach was trying to run away (perhaps to catch my runaway husband).
Over time, these physical symptoms dissipated – the stomach would twinge rather than threaten to expel its contents, the shaking was reduced to a slight tremble in the hands and the internal thermostat was regulated.
And then one day, when I had to tell my story, I realized I had no physical – and no emotional – reaction. It just was. The events had become fact. Not feeling.
When you can remember bits of your past and share your story without feeling like you’ve been punched in the gut, it’s a sign you’ve moved on.
The Divorce Is Not Used As An Excuse
“I can’t afford that.” “I’m not ready for a relationship.” “I’m afraid to open up and be hurt again.”
I said it all.
And as long as I said it (and acted upon it), I was allowing the divorce to hold me back. Decide what I could and couldn’t do.
And that was a clear sign that I hadn’t moved on.
Yeah, it’s not always easy.
I’ll be damned if I let it hold me back.
When you can accept that the divorce may have set your floor but that it doesn’t dictate your ceiling, it’s a sign that you’ve moved on.
You Can Appreciate the Good In the Marriage
In the beginning, I could not accept any good in my former marriage or my former husband. I had to make it all-bad so that I could make it all-okay. Because when an unwanted divorce arrives on your doorstep, the best way to accept it is to pretend that you wanted it.
In time, good memories starting sneaking in through the cracks in my hastily-built wall. I remembered the goofy, gangly kid that I fell in love with, the unsure but determined young man that accepted a move across the country and a chance at a real career and the confident (seeming, at least) guy that accepted accolades in his work. The moments we shared started to bubble up to the surface and with them, smiles.
The beginning and the middle became separate from the end. And I grew to appreciate what was good without either overanalyzing it looking for cracks or following the tracks to its demise.
When you can treasure what was good in your marriage without dwelling on why it is gone, it is a sign that you have moved on.
You Take Responsibility For Your Role
I used to get angry – really angry – whenever somebody suggested that perhaps I had some part in my marriage’s demise.
He was the one who cheated. He was the one who lied. He was the one who stole. He was the one who gaslighted and manipulated and intentionally kept me in the dark.
It wasn’t my fault.
But what I didn’t understand at the time, is that it was my responsibility.
Not to take on the burden of what happened (or to excuse him of his part).
But to do the hard work of self-reflection and taking ownership of my decisions and actions. So that I could learn from what happened and make different choices going forward.
When you no longer see yourself as a helpless victim and you choose to accept responsibility for your own well-being, it is a sign that you have moved on.
You No Longer Avoid Triggers or Memories
I avoided that road for a long time. I would drive twenty minutes out of my way just so that I didn’t have to go by my old neighborhood, with its sign sporting letters that my husband milled and painted.
In fact, the old house was an epicenter of a circle with a ten-mile radius that, upon entry, would make my skin crawl with its negative energy and promises of unwanted and triggered memories.
And then one day, I drove from my new home on the other end of town to a friend’s house, down the street from the no-go place completely on autopilot. And without realizing it, I drove right past the old neighborhood and felt nothing.
It was the best nothing I’ve ever felt.
And now that neighborhood, that area has no particular vibe at all. It still prompts memories, but they no longer come wrapped in emotion.
When you no longer feel the need to avoid triggers and memories, it is a sign that you have moved on.
Any Talk About Your Ex Has Purpose
In the beginning, words about my experience poured forth from my mouth like blood from a fresh and gaping wound.
Because that’s what they were – my soul was screaming out in pain.
And then, those words became ones of thinking and organizing, trying to make sense of it all. No less driven, but a little more rational.
Finally, it got to the point where I didn’t need to talk about it at all and now when I mention him or the marriage, it’s only because I’m sharing a story about one of the dogs or a lesson I learned about home-improvement. He’s no longer the focus, just a character that happened to be in the background at the time.
When you only mention your ex as part of a story from your past, it is a sign that you have moved on.
You Are Grateful For the Experience
When you can honestly say that it was the worst thing that has happened to you.
And also the best.
It is a sign you have moved on.
Moving on is not getting over.
It’s moving through.
Moving on is not forgetting.
Moving on is not never feeling pain.
It’s letting the pain go.
Moving on is not pretending it never happened.
It’s in closing that chapter.
And using its lessons to write the next one.