“I can’t imagine being happy with any else but her,” the message in my inbox said. The “her” in question was his ex-wife, who had recently initiated an unwanted divorce. “Do you really believe that it is possible to ever be happy with a new person?”
I asked my journal that same question after my divorce, afraid to voice the query aloud as though that would give my concerns more power. Even while I felt disgust at the realization that I had been sleeping with a stranger, I still fought the connection I had forged with him over sixteen years.
I tried to imagine myself with another man – a generic, faceless one – and I would be instantly snapped back to an image of my ex as though industrial strength bungee cords still tied us together. I thought of how comfortable I was with him and I searched the men in my periphery questioning if I could ever be so vulnerable with any of them. I reflected back on the intensity of the love that I had felt for my ex and I wondered if I would ever experience that again.
I couldn’t imagine ever being happy again with anyone else.
And I’m so grateful that I didn’t allow my imagination to keep me from trying.
Here are five truths to consider if you find yourself wondering if you can be happy in a new relationship:
Your happiness is anchored in you.
When you’re with someone for an extended time, the boundaries can begin to blur. Something that makes them happy, makes you happy. And it’s easy to begin to believe that your happiness is dependent upon them.
Yet it’s not and it never was.
True happiness and satisfaction in life comes from living within your own beliefs and values. It is found in living a purpose-driven life where you know who you are and what you have to give. It is in a sense of curiosity and playfulness. And, yes, it is in the relationships you form with others.
Here’s the important part – the root of happiness and the ability to create it is not found in another person or when your external circumstances change. It is in you. Always has been. Always will be.
Believing it only existed with your ex holds you back. Believing that you can find it in someone new leads you astray. Finding containment within will never let you down.
Your marriage wasn’t perfect.
And it may not have even been good.
I know. Tough pill to swallow. I choked on that one myself for a couple years. But once I accepted it, everything else started to fall into place.
You see, I thought I had a good marriage. A great marriage, even. We never fought. We had great intimacy. We had common goals and values (or so I was led to believe). Much of the responsibility for that illusion lies on his shoulders – he needed for me to believe that things were good so that my suspicions would not be altered. And some of the responsibility falls on me. I needed to believe that the marriage was great because I was too afraid to entertain the alternative.
By allowing myself to see the reality of the relationship, it helped to let it go and by recognizing its imperfections, it also aided my belief that I could be in a happy relationship again.
I used to believe that I had a great first marriage. Now, I believe that its ending was proof that it wasn’t great. And I’m okay with that. I can now look back and smile at the good moments while at the same time accepting that not all was good behind the scenes.
And I’ve taken those hard-won lessons from that relationship and put them to good use in my life now. I’m beyond happy in my current marriage and happier still that it isn’t perfect.
Different can be better.
After an unwanted divorce, all you feel is the loss and all you know is what you had. There’s a tendency to smooth over the rough edges and idealize the person who left. The sense of deprivation causes a panicked grasping, an almost-obsessive need to try to hold on to whatever you can of your former partner. Every ounce of your being is focused on the void you feel and you naturally seek to want to stuff your ex back into that space to fill that hole.
Sometimes this manifests through repeated attempts to win the ex back or a more subtle yet persistent pining for the one who left. Other times it shows up by trying to sift through the single scene looking for a doppelgänger to replace what was lost.
You miss what you know and you don’t know what you haven’t had.
A new relationship will be different than the one you had. And different can be better (especially if you learned from your mistakes).
The grooves you followed in your old relationship will be rough at first, as you trip and stutter over the worn patterns with a new partner. But soon, you’ll find your own music.
The strengths of your ex may not be mirrored in the new partner. Yet they carry their own gifts and you may find they bring out new ones in you.
You won’t relive your early twenties with them, broke and optimistic. Yet you will share more experience and wisdom and the confidence that comes with them.
Happiness in the new relationship is found in recognizing what makes it unique, not in trying to make it a carbon copy.
Rather than see this as a burden, view it as an opportunity. A chance to start again, to start better.
Fear restricts; hope frees.
Fear weaves a web more intricate than any spider. Fear holds you back stronger than any restraints. Fear narrows your vision more than any blinders. And when you’re wondering if you’ll ever be happy with another person again, you’re listening to fear.
But hope frees.
Fear tells us that the future will be worse than the past. Hope reminds us not to jump to conclusions.
Fear threatens that we’ll always be alone. Hope reminds us that connection is the natural outcome if we’re willing to be open and vulnerable.
Fear warns that we’ll never find happiness again. Hope reminds us that contentment is always present when we know where to find it.
Love doesn’t come with lifetime limits.
I’ve never seen love advertised as, “Limit 1 per customer.”
Yet we often live as though that were true.
Just as parents can find the love for each additional child, you can find the space within you to love again.
Eight years ago, I couldn’t ever imagine being happy with anyone else. And now, I can’t imagine having to go back to who I was with before. Because now, I’m happier than ever.