The journey from “in it” to “past it’ can be a long one. There are the practical matters to deal with, the disassembling of the lives and the parsing out of assets and custodial arrangements. Then come the emotional matters, the endless tears of grief for marriage past and future, the choke of loneliness and the strangle of rejection. And finally comes the hope, the excitement of possibility and the ever-growing strength and wisdom from the struggle.
Everyone’s path after divorce is a little different. Some curve this way, others that. Some follow a gentle slope and a clear trail while others seem to climb endless mountains that require scrabbling over rocky and dangerous terrain. Yet even with their differences, there are two milestones that we must pass before we have truly moved on.
These milestones may come early in the process or they may not happen for years. They are not sequential, either one may present first or they may appear around the same time. Some people adjust to them readily while other may pause at the landmark for quite some time.
Milestone 1 – Establishing Intimacy With Someone New
I almost wrote, “Entering fully into a new relationship,” but I didn’t want people who are choosing to remain single to skip over this section, because it applies to them too. Establishing intimacy does not have to occur on a romantic level, it simply means that you have been able to let down your guard and let someone – anyone – in.
But the truth is, most people eventually find themselves in a new relationship. Once once you do – whether it be 6 months later or 6 years later – you are going to find little nuggets of unresolved issues from your divorce.
Because the truth is that there is only so much healing that you can do on your own. Some of it can only occur within the context of a relationship (again, not necessarily a romantic one).
Therapy can help with this – as you begin to trust your therapist, you learn how to have faith in others, as you practice revealing your vulnerabilities, you become more comfortable showing your weaknesses. But this type of intimacy is somewhat artificial, more playing house than building house. It’s meant to be your training wheels, not your entire ride.
Divorce does a number on your ability to trust and your willingness to be open. And the only way to fully rebuild those areas is with another person.
Milestone 2 – Accepting That Your Ex Has Someone New
In the beginning, most people seem to be on some sort of seesaw when it comes to their exes – with their happiness on one side and their perception of their ex’s happiness on the other. So when the ex is up, you inevitably plummet down.
And it’s a hard landing.
There are so many emotions that can come from seeing the ex with someone new. Everything from, “It should be me” to “Why do they get to be happy after what they did?” The emotions have a tendency to turn ugly, bitter words spewed in an attempt to avoid the tears beneath.
Seeing your ex move on can prompt an acute sense of rejection, of being discarded and left behind like a broken piece of furniture waiting on the curb. This is particularly intense when the someone new came into the picture before your picture was removed from the frame. There’s a natural blame and anger directed at the “other,” the interloper who came in and took what you saw as yours.
And that’s the hard part.
Your spouse was never yours to own, to possess, to control. They made their choices. And you make yours.
You can certainly choose to hold onto the justified anger and the feelings of rejection.
Or, you can choose to step off the seesaw and let your ex do their thing as you take that next step forward.